The advanced age of the Knicks has been a source of comedy this offseason, but the Miami Heat probably don’t think the Knicks are much of a joke after getting blown out, 104-84, at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks may be short on speed and athleticism with their role players, but it’s evident already that they’re a significantly smarter team than they have been in the past. Spacing has always been an issue on Carmelo Anthony led teams – particularly when Amar’e Stoudemire shares the floor with him. Tonight, however, the Knicks spaced the floor perfectly and actually gave Anthony room to operate from the high post and on the block. The result? New York knocked down an incredible 19 3-pointers, the area where Miami’s juggernaut team defense is most susceptible.
Of course, floor spacing doesn’t mean much without great passing, but the Knicks had that in spades. Even though Anthony’s final stats might not show it (30 points, 10-for-28 shooting, 2 assists), he was a willing passer and had a handful of kickout passes that led to hockey assists. Steve Novak, who may be the best shooter in basketball, was often the beneficiary of great swing passes to the corner (17 points, 5-for-8 from deep). Heck, even J.R. Smith caught the passing bug as a slash and kick player, and finished with 6 of the Knicks 27 assists.
As effective as the offense was, give the defense some credit, too. It’s not easy to hold down a team like Miami, but there was a surprising lack of defensive lapses from the Knicks tonight. Wade (15 points) and James (23) got going a bit at times, but Miami’s role players were almost completely neutralized. Instead of over-helping on Wade and James and leaving shooters alone, the Knicks played the two stars straight up for the most part, aided by having a serious rim protector in Tyson Chandler behind them. Again, that’s smart basketball.
For years now, the Knicks have been assembled like a fantasy basketball team. They were a bunch of individual talents who got their individual stats, and that was it. And although that culture won’t change with one game, and there are still some fit concerns once Stoudemire comes back, it’s nice to think that after years of selfish basketball, the Knicks are finally grown up.