Mental Errors and Foul Shooting Cost Knicks Late

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After failing to take advantage of a very winnable four-game homestand, the Knicks began their road-trip with a tough loss to the Cavaliers. They actually played hard competitive basketball in this game too. Unfortunately, playing smart is important too, and New York committed some awful blunders late in the game on Monday night.

First and foremost, you have got to make your free-throws. Specifically in this one, it was RJ Barrett (5-of-10 FT), Julius Randle (4-of-6 FT), and Nerlens Noel (0-of-3 FT), combining to shoot a paltry 47% at the foul line. The only other Knick to shoot free-throws was Taj Gibson who made both of his, but had the other three just been average at the stripe, maybe the Knicks don’t lose this game, 95-93.

As I mentioned, the ‘Bockers were playing hard for a good part of the night. They forced 20 turnovers that they turned into 26 points, getting out on the fastbreak more than usual. But when it came down to the wire, once again New York could not get it together. It’s a shame too because if you’re going to upset the Cavs in their own building, this was the night to do so. Cleveland was without Markkanen, Sexton, and Allen–three guys who score in double-figures nightly–but the Knicks could not get it done. I want to break down a lot of different possessions in this one, so let’s get to it.

Tom Thibodeau is known as a defensive minded coach. I understand that. But watching him run his offense sometimes is very frustrating. In particular, it’s his ATO offense. Whenever the Knicks are inbounding after a timeout, Thibs draws up some very predictable plays to run. I don’t even like using the word “plays” either because it gives Thibs too much credit for what he throws out there.

Before we even mention the play at the buzzer, there was the one with 1:12 remaining where Immanuel Quickley took the most egregious 35-foot three-point heave ever. Cleveland’s Darius Garland (13 points) had just knocked down a triple to put the Cavs up three. Thibs called a timeout and the best he could draw up was that? The worst part about it was Quickley chucked that shot up with still 15 seconds left on the shot clock. It obviously missed.

And then there was that final play that somehow made even less sense. Alec Burks threw the inbound pass with 1.7 remaining in the game, going to Julius Randle with his back to the basket, nearly 40 feet away. Randle caught it and threw up a turnaround prayer, missing by at least a couple of feet. The buzzer sounded and the Knicks lost by two.

Thibs’ playbook is just very bland. There is no creativity whatsoever. He doesn’t need to be an X’s and O’s mastermind either but some of the halfcourt sets you see him design just leaves me scratching my head to a point where it starts to ache. It’s an offense that is based off some very generic actions. It’s a lot of drive-and-kick, dribble handoff, iso, purposeless motion off ball, and hoisted up threes. Not to mention it is insanely slow with Randle jogging it up court, taking forever to get the offense into a set.

All I am asking is for something semi-intricate. Maybe a little blocker-mover, double horns sets, maybe something that gets everybody cutting to open up shooters, or any kind of variation of a pick-and-roll instead of the basic traditional one. Randle is now 2-for-10 on shots in the final 10 seconds of a three-point game as a Knick. And those two field goals came last season when there were no fans in the stands. Thibs has to start going to better options late in the game and Randle has to recognize at this point he is not that guy and must make smarter decisions.

Oh yeah! I haven’t even brought up the play that had me the most frustrated of all of them! The Knicks were down one point to Cleveland with 13 seconds left when Randle brought it past halfcourt. As soon as that happened you had Barrett aggressively calling for the ball. Keep in mind RJ led the Knicks on Monday night with 24 points on 9-for-16. But Randle wasted time dribbling east and west to square up Dean Wade. Meanwhile, with the mismatch Rajon Rondo defending Barrett, the Knick wing is still calling for ball so he could isolate & drive like he had just done successfully a few minutes prior (twice in a row, too).

Randle waited until the soft double came with about six seconds left to throw it to Barrett. At that point Barrett had thrown up an unnecessary three-pointer. Some blame goes to RJ for sure. he should have tried getting a shot closer to the basket with time still left. But had he gotten the ball when asked for it, instead of Randle killing valuable time off the clock in iso, maybe the Knicks could’ve set up an action to run for Barrett to go downhill.

It is just all becoming very exhausting to me, having to sit and watch late game ineptitude occur this often and never adjust. The whole point forward philosophy where Thibs just lets Randle do what he wants out there time after time, when the data and results tells you it does not work, is waring on a lot of us Knicks fans. Randle had four more turnovers in this game too. There was travel calls, some awful passes, it was ugly. This was all while he shot 6-for-17.

Meanwhile, Thibodeau is out there once again throwing subtle blame onto Barrett to the media. It is the accountability factor, folks. And it seems like Barrett is the only one with it. You have the head coach continuing to illogically criticize the young building block, the supposed franchise player in Randle throwing the organization under the bus for skipping his press conferences, yet RJ Barrett is out there throwing blame on nobody but himself like a professional.

The other day Barrett spoke to the press about having to accomplish more in this league, and Monday night he called out himself for missing his free-throws. I don’t hear or see anybody else being a leader like that. If anything, this kid needs to be given the treatment that Randle gets–and not the opposite–for being the most consistent player on the Knicks for a while now.

And as bad as some of those late possessions were, I think the tune of this game changed in that third quarter. After getting off to a good start in the period, the Knicks completely folded late in the term when Kevin Love turned back the clock to 2013. Randle was practically walking on his defensive rotations getting out to Love, and didn’t bother putting a hand up to contest on some of his attempts. Love went for 20 points to lead the Cavs and shot 6-for-12 from three. He scored 14 in the third.

In the fourth, you had Wade scoring nine points, and yes, Randle was a culprit there again. There was a possession where Julius, for some odd reason, decided to triple-team the ball and left Wade wide for a three with two seconds on the shot clock which he’d of course make to put Cleveland up six. And that is what it all comes down to, folks. It is the dumb decisions by the star player and the lack of adjustments being made by the head coach. Leadership has been a problem with this Knicks team this season.

Speaking of adjustments, is Cam Reddish really going to be given the Kevin Knox treatment? He asked out of Atlanta because he felt he was a starter. On Sunday he was officially eligible to play and Thibs ran him out there for five minutes off the bench. On Monday he did not play one second. I can’t even say I am angry at this point. It is more so that I am getting confused. We have veterans who are either not playing well at all or are very limited in what they can do, yet they are getting more burn than some of the Knick youth who have/can actually produce.

For example, Burks has been a solid player for this Knicks team but there is no question he has been inconsistent. Lately he’s been straight up consistently bad, too. In Burks’ last five games he is shooting 26% from the field and has averaged 5.8 points. In that same span he is still averaging 23 minutes. Why and how is that even allowed? He scored zero points again on Monday for the second time in that span. You’re telling me Burks absolutely needed to play 18 minutes? We couldn’t see what Reddish could do with some of that? Or maybe give even more playing time to Quentin Grimes who was spectacular in 24 minutes with a dozen points and some remarkable defense?

Obi Toppin was excellent on Monday! He was absolutely fantastic! He was even doing things he doesn’t often do when he checked in. He connected on two triples, put the ball on the floor, attacked and finished. He goes 5-for-9, scores 13 points, has six rebounds, was a +20, and plays only 15 minutes. Why? Why?! I don’t understand why Randle who was a -22 had to get 33 minutes. Randle played the majority of the third quarter and Toppin very minimal time. You couldn’t spare some minutes there so your No. 1 option has fresh legs for the fourth? Even 36-year old veteran Taj Gibson, for as much as I love the guy, does not need to be averaging more minutes on the dang season than Obi Toppin, your most recent lottery pick.

If I’m really trying to understand things, I think Thibs’ idea behind all of this is having size out there for defensive reasons. It makes the Knicks more switch-able on those ball screens. But in my opinion Thibs’ focus is sometimes a little too old school where it causes this offense to really struggle. It is 2022. I’d much rather have a younger, more athletic scoring unit out there than an older, slower, defensive-oriented one. It’s time to adapt just a little bit.

It’s obvious a lot of this is politics too. The Knicks just handed out contracts to guys like Burks, Gibson, and Evan Fournier too. Fournier–who scored in single-digits on Monday for the 18th time this season–sat the entire fourth for Grimes. So the Knicks are making some of these adjustments but the problem is it’s only when they are in dire straits. They only make minimal shake-ups when they are up against the wall with no options left. That’s how Grimes is even in the rotation at all, because he was practically forced to when the Knicks’ roster was depleted with COVID.

I just wish it didn’t have to come to that and that Thibs would make some of these changes sooner. Then maybe the Knicks would not be in this situation, where they are 23-25 in 11th place in the conference. And things could get worse tonight if they don’t tighten up. The Knicks are in Miami to take on the Eastern Conference’s top seed in the Heat. See you afterwards. And as always, thanks for stopping by and reading The Bomber-Bocker Blog!

About Post Author

R.J. Carbone

Lotta bit of truth, lotta bit of venting on two teams I'd go to war for.
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