When the Knicks lost to the Thunder on Saturday, there were plenty of excuses to be made. The team was without leading scoring Carmelo Anthony, and were also the visiting squad in Oklahoma City. Moreover, the Thunder stood at 10-2 going in the matchup. All these things considered, the Knicks and their fans could justify the loss, for a change.
Unfortunately, none of those things applied Monday afternoon against the Orlando Magic.
The Knicks, who held a lead all the way through most of the fourth quarter, were led by Carmelo Anthony, who scored 33 points, all on the bad ankle that he actually re-tweaked late in the game.
A big reason why the Knicks commanded a lead through each of the first quarters was Tyson Chandler's steady defense on Dwight Howard, who scored only 8 points (just four in each half). Though Chandler held Howard in check on offense, he could obviously not prevent the Magic big man from going at Amar'e Stoudemire, provoking silly fouls from STAT along the way.
Without Chauncey Billups, the Knicks have failed to find a reliable and consistent third scorer behind STAT and Melo. Because of this, the team will continue to struggle maintaining a balanced scoring attack until that third threat is established, whether it be Iman Shumpert, (the hopefully soon debuting) Baron Davis, or someone else.
Due to his early and ongoing foul trouble, Stoudemire was limited to just 21 minutes on the court, leaving just Anthony to carry the team. To nobody's surprise, however, Anthony conquered the task for much of the game, despite shooting 1 for 8 from downtown. He's never been a stellar long-range shooter, but without many other options on offense, what choice was he left with but to keep taking shots in an attempt to help his team compete?
Many will criticize the Knicks for allowing 17 three pointers by the Magic, who were led by Ryan Anderson's 30 points and shot an overall 48% from downtown. As bad and demoralizing as that may be, it is not the main reason the Knicks eventually fell victim to a 102-93 loss.
Aside from Chandler's effort on Howard, the Knicks never played especially strong defense on the Magic, who shot over 50% from the field throughout the game. The fact is that through more than three quarters, the team was able to overcome their shortcomings on defense, enough to hold a lead. As Coach Mike D'Antoni's teams have demonstrated in the past, if the defensive effort is simply not present, his team can win by filling it up and just scoring more points than the opponent. While this is not an ideal (nor a balanced or healthy) way to win a ballgame, it has been done before.
The Knicks were doing a good job of this for much of the game, but Carmelo Anthony's stamina and consistency seemed to waver, even before he re-tweaked the ankle. As unfortunate as this may be, Anthony can in no way be blamed for the loss.
Ways to avoid this from happening would have been to sit Anthony a bit more early on, perhaps featuring Shumpert (who scored 12) on offense while the Knicks star rested, preventing himself from getting burnt out late in the game. What's more, even with Anthony's production beginning to fade in the fourth, Coach D'Antoni could have looked to pound the ball to Stoudemire, who although he was playing with four fouls, clearly had rested up early on.
This loss falls on the shoulders of the coach, not only for the lack of a sound defensive effort by the team, but because of his inability to make adjustments throughout the game.
The Knicks will look to even their record (which now stands at 6-7) against the similarly styled Suns on Wednesday.
On a side note, the loudest cheers of the day unsurprisingly went to Magic assistant coach and Knicks legend Patrick Ewing, who acknowledged the roaring crowd with both a wave and a smile. Ironically enough, as the game announcer proclaimed "Once a Knick, always a Knick!" in Ewing's honor, former Knicks Quentin Richardson and Chris Duhon checked into the game for the Magic.