Good news: Knicks play much better. Bad news: Still not good enough to beat Pacers.

44 Comments

If you tried to use the words “moral victory” in the Knicks locker room Wednesday night the players’ reactions would have ranged from icy glares to a rant that would have earned them the same fine for swearing Boston’s Gerald Wallace was just given by the league.

There are no moral victories in the NBA. Especially not when you have lost six straight on your home court.

Especially not when you came within a borderline foul on Paul George as he shot a three in the final seconds of regulation, giving him the chance to tie the game at the free throw line (which he did). Despite the Knicks protestations, replays showed Iman Shumpert lightly touched George on the elbow and that was enough to get the call.

In the end a moral victory is how the Knicks are going to have to look at their 103-96 loss to the Pacers in overtime in Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. It’s their only option.

There certainly were positives for the Knicks to take away from this game — the 13-0 run to start the game, the 19 points from Beno Udrih (forced into the rotation with Raymond Felton out), the energy they put out on defense, the fact the way they played would probably have beaten 26 other NBA teams. Just not the Pacers on three days rest.

Still, a at the end of the day the Knicks are 3-8 and about to head out on a rough West Coast road trip that includes the Trail Blazers and Clippers.

New York started out hot, holding the Pacers to 14 points on 25 percent shooting in the first quarter. Yet the Knicks couldn’t pull away against the always tough Pacers defense, scoring just 19 points on 34.8 percent shooting themselves.

On the second night of a back-to-back, the Knicks looked more and more tired and their defense wore down as the game went on. The Pacers put up 31 points on 52.6 percent shooting, plus hit 4-of-8 from three, in the final quarter.

Once again the Pacers defense took away the shots the Knicks wanted to get — New York shot just 46.9 percent inside the restricted area and 40.9 percent in the paint overall, plus they were 8-of-30 (26.7 percent from three).

Carmelo Anthony had 30 points on 10-of-28 shooting, but where you could really see his effort was on the boards — 18 rebounds, nine of them offensive. He tried to carry this team, but he doesn’t have the efficient game at both ends of the floor to take them as far as he wants.

‘Melo was outplayed by Paul George, who had 35 points on 12-of-26 shooting and was 7-of-11 in the fourth quarter and overtime, at one point scoring 11 straight points. Plus his defense was part of the reason it was another inefficient night shooting for Melo.

George hill added 23 and the Pacers are now 10-1. They are a team with an identity on both ends of the court.

The Knicks took a step toward finding that Wednesday but they still have a ways to go.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

Leave a comment

Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

Getty Images
1 Comment

Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — 11 of them in the first half. Houston was up 17 in the first quarter and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

Getty Images
4 Comments

The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

Getty Images
2 Comments

Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.