New York Knicks’ Defensive Issues Continue to Hold Team Back

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks once again failed to compete on the defensive end and they couldn’t generate enough offense to compensate as they fell to the Atlanta Hawks. It was the team’s fifth consecutive home loss and it ended in a chorus of boos and “Fire Woodson!” chants.

As with the last game against Atlanta, the Knicks completely broke down any time the Hawks chose to go to work off of screens. Unfortunately, Atlanta was smarter about consistently punishing the Knicks’ defensive mistakes this time.

From the outset, the Knicks proved incapable of preventing dribble penetration as Jeff Teague and others walked into the paint for easy attempts at the rim. Andrea Bargnani often failed to provide even cursory attempts at help defense. The perimeter defenders didn’t fare much better. J.R. Smith repeatedly lost track of shooters on the perimeter, and Raymond Felton got hung up on multiple screens.

It’s hard to tell if it was a lack of communication regarding the screens or a lack of effort to get through them, but Knicks guards got taken out of plays by screens all night, often resulting in switches that led to horrible mismatches. The team was slightly better defensively during a few third-quarter stretches when Kenyon Martin and Iman Shumpert shared the court, but they were otherwise a disaster on that end, allowing Atlanta to shoot 56.4 percent from the field for the game.

The Knicks were able to keep themselves in the game for most of the first three quarters thanks to key offensive contributions from Carmelo Anthony and Bargnani. Melo couldn’t get his jumpers to fall, but he was as aggressive around the rim as we’ve seen him all season, ripping down five offensive rebounds en route to 23 points.

Bargnani’s mid-range jumper was handy as well, but he mostly disappeared late in the game as the Knicks’ offense devolved into a constant state of stagnation and haphazard isolation plays. Smith was the biggest culprit, connecting on just three of his 18 heaves for the night. Most notable were his struggles on dribble drives, where he seemed to not have full control of the ball.

While some of his struggles can surely be attributed to him being rusty, launching off-balance shots when your shot is off isn’t a great way to help the team. Not only that, but Mike Woodson should have pulled him out of the game earlier considering his struggles. If it weren’t for the Knicks pulling in some key offensive boards (including four each from Bargs and K-Mart and three from Smith), this game would’ve been over very early.

The offense moved the ball a little bit better with Prigioni and Tim Hardaway Jr. on the court, but things got rough when they were forced to play catch-up. Felton also had one of his worst games of the year, getting burned on the defensive end while coughing up the ball four times on offense as he tried to force some difficult passes into tight spaces.

After five straight home losses, it’s clear that something has to change, whether it be the rotation, the attitude of the players, or some combination of the two. Whatever the case, if they don’t pick up their play soon, those boos will only get louder.

Chris Harrison is a New York Knicks and NBA writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @chris_harrison1.

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