In his (triumphant) return to New York and Madison Square Garden, Jeremy Lin scored 22 points and had 8 assists as the Houston Rockets soundly beat the New York Knicks 109-96. Lin and James Harden (28 points, 10 rebounds) continually attacked the Knicks’ defense using good ball movement, but also took advantage of hurried 3 point misses that led to run outs, yielding a whopping 25 fastbreak points.
For Knicks fans, this is no time to push the panic button. They were bound to have a clunker at home, especially with Carmelo Anthony sitting in street clothes with a sprained ankle. They have also been under the microscope with the specter of Amare Stoudemire returning: combine that with Linsanity briefly re-appearing, and it spelled just an off night for the usually hot Knickerbockers.
Raymond Felton started the game with a vengeance, clearly trying to establish himself as the better choice over Lin, who spurned the Knicks offer over the summer to take the Rockets starting point guard job instead. Making five of his first seven shots, often with a high degree of difficulty, he kept the Knicks in the game. In a stark contrast, Jeremy Lin more than held his own by hitting four of his first five shots, all on layups.
While the score remained close for much of the first half, it was the method the Rockets were getting their shots that indicated this game was not going to be close for long. They continually exploited poor defensive fundamentals by the Knicks – whether it was helping off their man one pass away, or closing out on spot up shooters poorly. Jason Kidd led the way with his poor defense, but it’s simply not fair to ask someone of his age to guard James Harden on top. He has been unable to hide his defensive issues, ranking in the 15th percentile. To put that in perspective, as per Synergy Sports, with a minimum of 100 defensive possessions, Kidd ranks 233rd out of 257.
What you should take away from the breakdown are the relative strengths and weaknesses of both teams:
Rockets: good spacing, exploiting mismatches & teamwork
Knicks: jump-shot reliant, the good & bad of Jason Kidd, lacking scoring punch without Stoudemire and/or Anthony
More after the breakdown:
In the first few plays (1:02-1:33) the Rockets space the floor with shooters and use screens to create dribble penetration for Jeremy Lin. The Knicks stay on home perimeter shooters but allow Lin to penetrate to score or pass to an open cutter (Asik at 1:20). This is good execution by the Rockets but also some poor defense by the Knicks- Felton overplaying (1:02) and Chandler allowing dribbler to go around screen (1:07).
The Knicks run similar sets (2:10-4:02) to generate spacing and screening but wind up with 3-pointers instead of dribble penetration. In these highlights the Knicks shoot long 3’s and there’s often no one in the paint for even a chance to get an offensive rebound. What’s really disappointing is that the Knicks don’t get back on defense even though they should have players on the perimeter who can should be an ideal position to prevent easy transition buckets.
For the Knicks, they should get better spacing when Carmelo Anthony returns but, as a team, they’ll need to shoot better and do a better job of containing dribble penetration. And as much good as Jason Kidd contributes, he struggles (4:40 to 5:10) to keep up with younger and more athletics players on defense.
Since they are so reliant on 3-point shooting the challenge for the Knicks is to continue to keep shooting with good efficiency. In this game the Knicks shot 29% (9-31) down from their season average of 40%. Very few teams historically can maintain the kind of 3 point shooting the Knicks have displayed the first quarter of the season. These shots tend to gloss over the defensive issues that exist – primarily with Carmelo Anthony playing the power forward spot.
The Rockets have a good mix of wing players (Harden, Parsons, Delfino) who mesh well with their point guards (Lin and Douglas). Their challenge remains to balance the play of Lin & Harden against better defensive teams. With Asik anchoring their defense, they have a chance at being that team nobody wants to play in the first round.