Carmelo Anthony

Call it gritty, ugly, whatever — Knicks win over Bucks means playoffs (probably)


Early on Wednesday night it was all Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks offense, it was pretty. But against a feisty Bucks team you knew that wasn’t going to be enough. With these Knicks nothing comes easy. They were going to need defense. They were going to need someone to step up. They were going to need some grit.

How about a key J.R. Smith three and some big stops late with even Anthony rotating out to contest shots?

That was enough. The Knicks gutted out a hard fought 111-107 win in Milwaukee that puts them two full games up on the Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with just eight games to play.

Nothing is set in stone yet, but it’s going to be very hard for the Bucks to make up two games in two weeks. Knicks fans can now start trying to convince themselves they have any chance against the Derrick Rose and the Bulls.

The night that ended so ugly (or scrappy, if you prefer) started out so pretty for the Knicks and their fans

On the second night of a back-to-back the Knicks came out on fire — they hit eight of their first nine shots to open the game (Tyson Chandler had seven fast points on his way to 19 points on 6-for-6 shooting). The Knicks were getting all their points going to the rim and following a 17-4 run scored 36 points (28 points in the paint) in the first quarter on 77 percent shooting. They moved the ball well and got clean looks all quarter long. They had a double-digit lead.

A lead that evaporated like a drop of water in the Sahara. The Bucks went on run right at the start of the second quarter and behind Monta Ellis, who had 21 on 12 shots in the first half, while Mike Dunleavy had 16 off the bench at the break. At the half it was 62-62.

The second half wasn’t nearly as fast paced nor did it feature great shooting. But it was close.

The game was tied at 99-99 with 3:3o left and after three points from Ekpe Udoh off the bench kept it close another three from Ellis put the Bucks up 105-103 with 1:45 left. A road loss and a possibility of missing the playoffs was looming over the Knicks. Anthony — who finished with 32 points on the night — tied it with a jumper, but then Luc Richard Mbah a Moute answered with one of his own to keep the Bucks up two.

That’s when the gutty Knicks showed up. Smith hit a three to give the Knicks the lead. Then on their possession the Bucks scrapped on the offensive boards and three shots — an Ellis eight footer, a Dunleavy three and then a Dunleavy 18-footer — and missed them all. The Knicks scrambled and contested on defense for Mike Woodson like they never did for Mike D’Antoni. It was enough. Steve Novak and Iman Shumpert hit some free throws in the final 20 seconds when the Bucks had to foul and the Knicks got the win.

It wasn’t pretty at the end, but playoff teams win ugly games. The Knicks — despite a roller coaster season, a fired coach, the coming and going of Linsanity, and Amare Stoudemire being injured down the stretch — are a playoff team. They need to close out the season like they closed out this game, but they are a playoff team. They have played like it for Woodson, it may not have been the pretty ball that they envisioned when D’Antoni was hired but it worked. They earned it.

They should celebrate it and worry about the matchups later.

51Q: Can Billy Donovan or Fred Hoiberg repeat Steve Kerr’s success?

Billly Donovan
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Can Billy Donovan or Fred Hoiberg repeat Steve Kerr’s success?

Has any first-year NBA head coach ever walked into a more “win now” situation than Billy Donovan?

The Oklahoma City Thunder are have been considered title contenders ever since they stepped on the court in the 2012 Finals. However, they have yet to return to that stage due to a combination of personnel moves and injuries. Next summer their superstar Kevin Durant is a free agent and he’s the kind of franchise-changing player who will draw 29 other suitors. If OKC is going to keep him they have to prove to Durant he can win it all without having to change addresses. It’s a lot to ask of a rookie NBA coach.

Maybe the guy who can best relate is Fred Holberg, who was brought in from Iowa State to take over a Chicago Bulls team that has not lived up to expectations the past several seasons. He takes over for an innovative coach, but with with a mandate from management to rest guys more, modernize the offense, and lift a team known for physically breaking down up to challenge Cleveland.

That’s setting the bar ridiculously high.

Donovan and Hoiberg can thank Steve Kerr for that — he cleared that bar his rookie season. Kerr came in and made the right personnel changes — starting Draymond Green over the higher-paid David Lee, for example — and pushed the right buttons all season long to lift the Warriors to the level of champions.

Can Donovan or Hoiberg match that success?

It would take a lot of luck — Kerr and the Warriors caught breaks on the injury front — but Kerr laid out a blueprint for how to do it.

The first step was admitting what he didn’t know — Kerr went out and hired top-flight NBA assistant coaches (Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams). The Warriors paid to bring in the experience Kerr lacked.

Donovan has followed that well — Monty Williams and Maurice Cheeks and Thunder are assistant coaches. Both are well-respected former NBA head coaches who can help Donovan with the details, plus help him avoid stepping in some steaming piles of trouble along the way.

Hoiberg and the Bulls didn’t go for the big names, which isn’t to say they don’t have experience and these are not good coaches, it’s just a different tactic. Hoiberg hired Randy Brown — the Bulls’ assistant general manager the past six seasons — and Charlie Henry, who was with Holberg at Iowa State. The Bulls also retained Mike Wilhelm on staff.

The second step for Kerr was to take the time to talk to each and every player over the summer, get to know them, and sell them on his vision. He didn’t disparage the popular coach he was replacing; rather he sold the players on his vision.

Hoiberg and Donovan both did this. What’s more, both are considered very good communicators — their college players love them to this day. Both of these guys realized that they may have left college but they didn’t stop recruiting.

The third thing on Kerr’s list was the primary reason both Donovan and Hoiberg were hired — modernize the offense.

This doesn’t mean changing who gets shots — if you’re Donovan you want Durant and Russell Westbrook to take a lot of shots. But where they get them on the floor and how they come about getting them is going to change — less isolation is a good thing. Westbrook has already said he feels more space to operate in Donovan’s offense. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

“The thing that makes Donovan so appealing from an NBA perspective is that his coaching style will fit in well at the professional level,” CollegeBasketballTalk’s Rob Dauster told PBT right after the hire. “At Florida, he ran a ball-screen motion offense built around floor-spacing, which are offensive concepts that are quite prevalent in the NBA. Not all college coaches will fit in well at the professional level. Donovan will.”

Hoiberg is doing the same thing in Chicago, where the offense under Tom Thibodeau was predictable. Hoiberg is also going to trust his bench more and get guys like Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol more rest in the regular season, so they are fresh come the postseason.

The fourth and final thing Kerr did brilliantly was keep the team focused on the finish line. To use the coaching cliché, trust the process. It was not about wins and losses in December, it was about getting better, staying healthy, and peaking when the playoffs hit. This may have been what Kerr did best — and considering he played for Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, you see where he got it.

Donovan and Hoiberg understand this, but the NBA regular season presents twice as many games as their college teams ever played in a season — and it’s after that things get serious. It’s easy to talk about focusing on the big picture, but both of these men need to walk the walk.

I think Donovan, if everything goes right and guys stay healthy, has a shot to replicate what Kerr did. That is a contending team he takes over, if they can just not devolve into a M*A*S*H* unit again there’s a chance. I think Hoiberg will be a good coach, but I’m not sure there’s enough left in the roster he was given to get out of the Eastern Conference.

But Kerr may have set the bar impossibly high even for two excellent coaches.

Stan Van Gundy rips ‘selfish’ Pistons

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The Pistons had just 19 assists – to 22 turnovers – in their 93-83 loss to the Nets last night.

Stan Van Gundy was none too pleased.

On offensive problems:

I told them in there – that was the first thing – we’re not playing together at all. I thought it was a very selfish performance, and guys wouldn’t just pass the ball to open men. They wanted to see if they could take one more dribble to get their own shot, so the passing angles were gone. I just thought we forced play after play after play. We’re not willing to move the ball

On Reggie Jackson, who scored seven points on 3-of-10 shooting with six assists and six turnovers, and was coming off Achilles soreness:

He was not good at all. He was forcing everything.

On injuries to point guards – Jackson, Brandon Jennings and Steve Blake – hindering the team’s flow in practice and that carrying over to the game:

We could probably make a lot of excuses for our guys, but we were selfish.

Van Gundy is clearly trying to send a message, and the preseason is the best time to do it.

But it’s somewhat troubling he had to do it after this game.

Eight of the 10 Pistons who played against Brooklyn project to make the regular-season rotation. Joel Anthony played over Aron Baynes, and once healthy, Blake could challenge Spencer Dinwiddie to become back up point guard – at least until Jennings is ready. Otherwise, Detroit – with Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Ersan Ilyasova, Andre Drummond, Jodie Meeks, Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver – looked similar to its opening-night lineup.

Van Gundy is blunt, but he doesn’t tell the media things he hasn’t already directly told his players. They appreciate that.

He’d appreciate them getting this message.