Tyson Chandler wonders why. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)
While a brief video clip offered a pretty complete summation of the Brooklyn Nets' 103-80 destruction of the New York Knicks on Monday, as far as I'm concerned, the players involved in the affair still had to verbally detail the events that unfolded for reporters after the game. And when it came to describing a miserable defensive effort that allowed Joe Johnson and Andray Blatche to combine for 44 points on just 27 shots in leading Jason Kidd's team to 49 percent shooting from the floor, including a 14 for 38 from 3-point range, Knicks center Tyson Chandler didn't mince many words. Not even for his head coach's sake.
"They out-schemed us," Chandler said.
Following Thursday’s disaster in Indiana, Carmelo Anthony said the coaching staff didn’t make any adjustments to Frank Vogel’s moves. On Monday, Chandler went deeper and all but questioned the defensive philosophy that involves constant switching. [...]
"They played to our defense as far as their offensive scheme, knowing our rotations, putting us in vulnerable situations," Chandler said. "[They had us] switching a lot and taking our help guy out of the rotation, which led to a lot of corner 3s." [...]
Asked if Kidd’s familiarity with the Knicks system played a role, Chandler said: "Sure it had a lot to do with it. He and Joe played in Woody’s system and knew how to exploit it. … We were one man short on the rotation." [...]
"I don’t want to switch," Chandler said. "I personally don’t like it. You come in with [a] defensive plan and everybody mans up and takes up his responsibility. Switching should be a last resort and, no, I don’t think we’re built to switch everything."
Anthony was a bit more reserved in his assessment, but did note that the Nets "played to the mismatches" they could create on the defensive end, and that the Knicks were "just scrambling" defensively nearly the entire game.
As Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal noted, this marks the second time in less than a week that Chandler has commented on perceived failings in the Knicks' strategy. From Peter Botte of the New York Daily News, following the Knicks' Friday night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers:
“It’s tough, but the thing is I’m never going to hang my head and I’m going to make sure nobody in this locker room does,” Chandler said after Friday’s game. “The thing is we have to fix it. We have to attack the problem head on. There’s going to be no pity parties. We have to take care of it and fix it.”
Chandler also questioned the team’s approach Friday night, saying “we have to be a little more strategic about what we’re doing offensively and defensively, understand who has it going and what’s working, make it easier on guys out there.”
Chandler said at the Knicks' Tuesday shootaround that he wasn't being critical of his head coach after the matinee loss, but was rather just being honest about what he saw. Be that as it may, honestly, what he saw was what we all saw.
The Knicks' switch-every-screen, double-the-mismatch, close-your-eyes-and-hope-the-rotation-gets-there defensive plan — a staple of Woodson's coaching arsenal stretching back to his days with the Atlanta Hawks; seriously, Hawks watchers like Bret LaGree of the late, great Hoopinion were lamenting this strat six-plus years ago — making things easier not for New York, but rather for the opposition. It often happened to Woodson's Hawks teams (although a bit less so, given the increased number of athletic, defensively interchangeable dudes between 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-10 on that roster). It happened in the Knicks' second-round playoff loss to the Indiana Pacers last postseason. It's happened multiple times this season, like when the Knicks got roasted by the San Antonio Spurs and embarrassed on Christmas by the Oklahoma City Thunder. And it happened on Monday against the Nets.
• Set a screen in the half-court to spark a switch, whether designed to put a smaller defender (like Raymond Felton or Pablo Prigioni) on a bigger offensive player (like Johnson, Shaun Livingston or Paul Pierce) or to get a ball-handling wing cross-matched and singled-up on a Knick big (preferably, of course, Andrea Bargnani);
• Draw the dribble out for a second to make sure that whichever Knick defender is one step away from the mismatch is going to overhelp and/or double-team the mismatch;
• Pass to whoever just got left open;
• Continue passing until someone has a wide-open shot, preferably from one of the short corners. (Had the Nets made more than three of their 10 attempts from one of those short corners, the margin of defeat might've been even more unsightly.)
As Seth Rosenthal of Knicks blog Posting and Toasting wrote, the game remained close and competitive only for as long as the Nets hit merely "some" of those wide-open shots. Once "some" became "many," the rout was on, and the Knicks never adjusted, answered or — after the 9 1/2-minute mark of the third quarter — cut the Brooklyn lead below double-digits.
"We didn't even fight," a disgruntled Anthony said after the game, according to Newsday's Al Iannazzone. "I felt like we didn't fight as a team. Them guys from the jump ball just came in and it felt like they owned us. Just the way we've been losing hurts. We're not losing by two or three or four points. There's a large margin."
Anthony's right there — the Knicks have now lost four straight games by 10 or more points, and have nearly as many double-figure defeats (13) as total victories (15) this season.
Before the season, Woodson said he wanted fewer double-teams on defense. Back in November, he was calling for the Knicks not to switch. If he's rescinded those orders, he might do well to reinstate them; if he hasn't, and his players are just flat-out ignoring him, well, that's a whole 'nother problem, isn't it?
Either way, the status quo's not working out so hot. The switch-happy, double-bringing Knicks now rank 22nd or worse among the NBA's 30 teams in opponents' field-goal percentage, 3-pointers made and allowed, free-throw attempts and personal fouls drawn this season, turning in the league's fourth-least efficient defense (in terms of points allowed per possession) along the way, according to NBA.com's stat tool. Fewer minutes for Bargnani and Raymond Felton — defensive sieves on the ball who don't offer much help off it, either, and who haven't been able to compensate on the other end amid persistent offensive struggles — could also help, although such a rotation shift seems unlikely, especially with just-returned-from-injury Pablo Prigioni seeming less than stellar on Monday, rookie point guard Toure' Murry looking very raw at initiating the Knicks' half-court offense and third-string scapegoat Beno Udrih now reportedly looking for a way out of Dodge.
With any momentum from the Knicks' 6-1 start to 2014 long since bled dry, helpful reserves Kenyon Martin (the Knicks' sole non-Chandler frontcourt defender) and Amar'e Stoudemire (the Knicks' sole non-Anthony frontcourt scorer) likely to miss the rest of New York's homestand, swingman Iman Shumpert back to forcing things and looking uncomfortable, Chandler not yet looking recovered from both his fractured right fibula and his recent upper respiratory infection, and Anthony looking increasingly frustrated as both minutes and losses mount, it sure seems like it's time for Woodson to change something. But with Woodson's defensive identity largely set in stone at this point — even if his defensive reputation has long been at least a bit overstated — it seems more likely that the only switch forthcoming for the Knicks is one that puts a big on a small, or vice versa, and sets in motion yet another panicked defensive rotation.
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