The Knicks aren’t exactly known for their defense, so maybe it’s not a huge surprise that they allowed the Indiana Pacers, a team that ranks just 23rd in offensive efficiency, to put up 63 second-half points en route to a victory over New York on Tuesday. But the way the Knicks allowed this game to get away — on the Pacers’ final possession and with the ball in the hands of the team’s best player — is something that we simply must take issue with.
First, the video: Danny Granger catches the inbound pass with 7.8 seconds remaining, and the game tied at 117. New York’s Shawne Williams is defending him one-on-one and the floor is spread, with both teams seemingly content to let this matchup play out as the gods would have it. Granger dribbles right, and elevates for as clean a look as you can expect in these situations, and calmly drains a 15-footer which ends up winning the game for the Pacers.
Great shot and all that, but two questions immediately come to mind: One, how is it that this is the best possible play the Pacers coaching staff can devise with almost eight full seconds to work with? And two, how is it that the Knicks allow the other team’s best player to get a look like that with the game hanging in the balance?
I used to fault the offensive team for calling isolation plays for its best player in these situations (as opposed to running a cleverly-crafted play that would result in an easy, wide-open look), but after seeing this most recent example, along with many other plays like it over the course of the past several seasons, it’s clear that the defense is just as much to blame.
Let me explain: why in the world would you allow the other team’s best player to break down a defender one-on-one to create space to take a potentially game-winning shot? We’ve seen this with all the greats in recent years — Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and many others. The coach giving the ball to his best player at the top of the three-point arc and basically saying, ‘dribble down the clock, make a move, and win it for us’ seems to be the plan most of the time. But the defensive team can have its say in this, only it rarely ever does.
If I’m a head coach, and my team is tied or has any kind of one-possession lead with under a shot clock’s worth of time remaining, there’s no way I’m letting my opponent’s best player take a shot at the buzzer to beat me. I’m either shifting the defense to his strong side and forcing him to drive to an area of the floor where I can quickly bring help, or I’m sending a double team early in the clock to simply get the ball out of his hands and make someone else beat me.
The Knicks didn’t do this on Tuesday, and Granger beat them easily on his team’s final possession.