The Atlanta Hawks, who currently hold the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, lost earlier in the afternoon, presenting a chance for the New York Knicks to pick up a game in the standings. All the Knicks had to do was handle business at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and extend their winning streak to nine games. After taking a 15 point lead into halftime, the Knicks looked well on their way to victory, but the Cavaliers had different ideas as they pulled off an improbable comeback to beat the Knicks 106-100.
The loss delivers a huge blow to the Knicks playoff hopes, as they were unable to put away a Cavalier team playing without their best player, Kyrie Irving. After playing such a stellar first half, the Knicks of the first 60 games of the season returned for the second half, and the Cavaliers took advantage.
The most persistent problem throughout the season for the Knicks has been guard play, and tonight was no different. Without their best perimeter defender in Iman Shumpert, the Knicks were exposed on the perimeter as Raymond Felton and Tim Hardaway Jr. continued to be a human turnstiles defensively. Jarrett Jack was the beneficiary tonight, leading the second half comeback, as he scored a season-high 31 points to go along with 10 assists and five rebounds.
For the second consecutive game Knicks’ head coach Mike Woodson didn’t put his team in a position to win. First he made no lineup changes as he just looked on as Felton got torched by Jack. Woodson then did nothing to get the offense back on track in the second half, as he continued to show stubbornness with the offense, calling isolation plays for Carmelo Anthony. Anthony had an outstanding start to the game, opening up 6-7 from the field, but made two of his last 13 attempts to finish the game 8-20. The dependence on Anthony isolation plays made no sense as the Cavaliers had an excellent perimeter defender in Luol Deng guarding him.
Another reason the excessive reliance on Anthony was surprising was because of how well other players were performing for the Knicks. Amar’e Stoudemire continued his strong play with 12 points, while Felton, J.R. Smith and Hardaway Jr. all had it going at points in the game, scoring 14, 18 and 12 points respectively.
Woodson’s lack of game management skills reared its ugly head again in the second half tonight, just as it did throughout the season prior to the eight-game winning streak. There were no adjustments made at halftime, as the Cavaliers came out on a mission to get back into the game, and the Knicks showed little resistance to it.
It was a disturbing performance put forth by a team whose playoff hopes are hanging on by a thread. To suffer yet another embarrassing home loss to a team under .500 is not the way to sneak into the playoffs, and time is running out on Woodson and the Knicks. Some credit needs to be given to the Cavaliers; on the second night of a back-to-back, and with only nine players available, they looked like the ones playing for their postseason lives.