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The Knicks didn’t have much of a chance to beat the Warriors without Kristaps Porzingis

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The Knicks have been leading the NBA in three-point percentage recently, but are still 30th in attempts from long distance. For the Warriors, that makes for a very different opponent to plan for than the Rockets.

NBA: New York Knicks at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The dominant narrative about the Golden State Warriors’ 123-112 win last night was that it came down to another dominant third quarter performance that just overwhelmed the New York Knicks.

And yeah, Stephen Curry had another disrespectful third quarter performance with 17 points, including 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc, to lead that narrative.

Yet even that is probably selling the Warriors — and, to some extent, the Knicks — short.

As summarized by Steve Tornello of The Knicks Wall, this game really started to slip away from the Knicks in the second quarter.

Everything they did on the court had a purpose to it, which lead to startling results, and everything was dreamy.

Then, in the last 1:23 of the first half, the Warriors ramped up their energy level from zero urgency to high intensity, basically telling the Knicks, “O.K., Knickerbockers, we see you, we hope you’ve had some fun, but enough’s enough.” You see, they have a switch that they can turn on, and it goes to 11. The Knicks’ switch only goes to—maybe—a six. An 8–0 run ensued, cutting the Knicks lead to two at the break.

Eight minutes into the second half, the game was out of reach.

And even that doesn’t fully capture the magnitude of how the Warriors absolutely took the game from the Knicks last night: the Warriors began the second quarter down 10 and finished the third quarter up 9.

It didn’t feel so dominant at the time because the Warriors weren’t exactly clicking on all cylinders on either end of the floor, but sometimes all you need is that one guy to loosen up the defense a bit.

Curry carried the Warriors to a 19-point advantage in middle quarters

In short, the Warriors blew out the Knicks 74-55 from the beginning of the second quarter to the end of the third.

Thomas Bevilacqua already described how big David West was in the second quarter and indeed his mid-range jumpers were the first thing that felt like anything close to “momentum”. West went 4-for-4 in the second quarter with his patented mid-range jumper to get the team going after a first quarter when they shot just 40.1% from the field.

Yet it was Stephen Curry who led the way during that stretch with 23 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 5-for-8 three-point shooting and 6-for-6 free throw shooting. It’s crazy to say this, but that’s such the norm that it almost didn’t seem to stand out — of course he was spectacular because we’ve come to expect that Curry is just a spectacular dude who makes spectacular shots.

It’s just that the rest of the team wasn’t so spectacular — instead, they were incredibly balanced.

Between the second and third quarters, Kevin Durant had nine of his game-high 14 assists while Draymond Green recorded 4 of his 6 assists. Curry added five himself. They just weren’t taking or making a whole lot of threes — outside of Curry’s 5-for-8 three-point shooting in the middle quarters, the rest of the team was just 3-for-4. Yet they were moving the ball to get shots and had enough playmakers around the court to find ways to create scoring opportunities; during those middle quarters, the Warriors had 22 assists on 26 shots and outscored the Knicks 19-2 in fastbreak points.

This was by no means a standout game for the Warriors or their style of play. But once the second unit came in, led by West’s mid-range scoring, the Knicks were just out of answers.

And James Woodruff of The Knicks Wall probably summed up what happened perfectly.

Golden State is a team that will let their opponents exhaust energy establishing an early lead offensively. While the Knicks were able to put points on the board off Warriors’ turnovers in the beginning of the game, they struggled versus the second unit. The Warriors got within two after an 8-0 run going into the locker room. Once Golden State starts firing on all cylinders, you know an L is on its way...This wasn’t a bad loss. However, it could have been way worse had the Dubs hit all those open long balls.

In many ways, aside from Curry’s explosion, this was exactly the kind of game the Knicks were probably hoping for last night: they were given an opening to build a big lead because the Warriors weren’t hitting, they had an effective field goal percentage of .572 (good enough to win on most nights), and all five starters were in double digits for points.

However, no matter what the Warriors were doing, it just seemed like only a matter of time before the home team pulled away simply because the Knicks couldn’t find anyone to make plays. As Woodruff accurately alluded to, the Knicks seemed to be working so hard for every single bucket.

The Knicks don’t have enough playmakers

Late in the fourth quarter the Knicks executed the type of play that we’ve come to expect from the Warriors or San Antonio Spurs.

Beasley started the play with a pump fake in the right corner and drove baseline where he passed cross-court to Courtney Lee, who initiated a series of passes around the horn before making it back to Beasley on the left block who picked up an assist to Enes Kanter for a finger roll at the rim. The Warriors defense made a few mistakes in rotating, but it was a beautiful play.

Yet the main difference for the Warriors or Spurs is that those are the kind of plays that normally end up in threes for them. Somehow, the Knicks just aren’t a team that finds many three-point opportunities.

And when you’re trying to resist an onslaught by the Warriors, that’s a problem.

The Knicks’ three-point rate (the percentage of all field goal attempts that come from beyond the three-point arc) of 26.5% last night is only marginally better than their last place rate for the season. And it’s a sort of bizarre problem that was evident almost immediately this season.

**WARNING: gratuitous shot at the Cavs incoming**

After the Knicks upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in late-October, Holden Walter-Warner of The Daily Knicks wondered aloud if that type of shooting would continue as the team seemed to be going through a bit of an identity crisis without Carmelo Anthony.

As described in the article, the Knicks were shooting just 26.9% from beyond the arc during their 1-3 start to the season entering that game. During that game, they shot 46.2%, led by Tim Hardaway, Jr.’s game-high 34 points, including 5-for-10 3-point shooting, and Kristaps Porzingis’ 32 points.

Walter-Warner asked the following: “The question is: Are the New York Knicks closer to the team that shot the lights out in Cleveland? Or the team that struggled in each of the first four games?”

As it turns out, the season would reveal something of a mix of both.

In an article at the end of 2017, Bryan Kolbrosky of Hoopshype wrote an article about the Knicks’ shooting numbers and included this really interesting tidbit:

Only the Golden State Warriors have a better catch-and-shoot field goal percentage this season. New York is shooting 38.7 percent from downtown when taking catch-and-shoot three-pointers, which ranks Top 5 in the East.

But they rank last in the East (16.6) for attempts per game. They have not found a true spot-up shooter on their roster, as they have run this play type (15.3 percent) fewer than any other team in their conference.

It’s a really weird dynamic: the Knicks still sit at dead last in the NBA in three-point attempts, but remain at fifth in the Eastern Conference in three-point percentage (36.8%, just head of the Cleveland Cavaliers). In this day and age, you’d assume that any team that can shoot threes would shoot threes, but the Knicks are...saving them to...catch opponents off-guard...or something...?

Missing Porzingis last night was certainly part of the problem.

The Knicks rely too heavily on Porzingis

Chris Herring of FiveThiryEight.com put together an in-depth analysis of Kristaps Porzingis’ role with the Knicks the other day, highlighting a somewhat surprising similarity to former Knick Carmelo Anthony.

Porzingis is tied for the league’s fourth-lowest1 quantified Shot Quality (qSQ), which measures the likelihood of a shot going in if taken by an average player. To put that into context, last season, Porzingis ranked 71st-lowest in the NBA by this measure, while Anthony had the NBA’s fourth-lowest shot quality profile during 2016-17.

In other words: Kristaps Porzingis’s shot selection has essentially morphed into Carmelo Anthony’s...and aside from Tim Hardaway, Jr.,4 he has no other teammate that qualifies as a true playmaker.

To further put that in perspective with numbers that you may be more familiar with, Anthony’s career usage percentage is 31.1% with a true shooting percentage of .544 (his numbers during his tenure with the Knicks were essentially the same); Kristaps Porzingis’ usage is 31.8 with a TS% of .535.

So ...yeah... Porzingis had essentially played a similar style to Anthony during the first 41 games of this season (also noteworthy, but a subject for a separate analysis: for those who consider Anthony a “black hole”, he has never once in his career had an assist percentage as low as Porzingis’ 6.4% this season).

Take Porzingis out of the equation, and you have a fairly hardworking team that just doesn’t have the firepower to overcome the Golden State Warriors.

Knicks don’t have shooting depth

Porzingis is not only the team’s leader in usage percentage, but also three-pointers made. Hardaway leads the team among those playing 15+ minutes with a three-point rate of 50% — in other words, half of his shots come from beyond the arc -- but he has missed almost half of this season. After that you have a number of role players — players with usage rates under 20% -- and Michael Beasley, who shoots 40% from beyond the arc only takes about one per game.

Hardaway has missed 21 games this season with a lower leg stress injury and, to be honest, the Knicks have been a bit better since his return, percentage-wise: they’re 12-14 (85%) with him on the floor this season and 9-12 (75%) without him. They’ve only been 1-5 with him on the floor since he returned on January 12, but five of those have been on the road so perhaps they can be forgiven. More interestingly, they’ve been shooting more threes since Hardaway came back and they’ve done so to great effect: the Knicks actually had the best three-point percentage in the NBA since January 12.

Before Jan 12: 24.7% 3pr; rank 30th; 3p% 36.2%, rank 19th

Since Jan 12: 29.6% 3pr, rank 21st; 3p% 43.2, rank 1st

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek suggested that Hardaway’s return would help the team be less predictable, as reported by Al Iannazzone of the New York Post. And there’s evidence that the team is indeed getting guys around the court more touches from beyond the arc.

Hardaway, McDermott and Porzingis were all shooting over 45% over the previous six games; Hardaway’s improvement from 46.3 since his return is well above his season percentage of 34.7%. Add in Courtney Lee, who has arguably been their most consistent three-point shooter in terms of percentage and has remained steady at 43.5% over the last game.

The problem for the Knicks: those four players accounted for 104 of their 146 attempts. Frank Ntilinka and former Warrior Jarrett Jack have combined for another 22 per game, but have only shot a combined 7-for-22 from beyond the arc. In other words, if you take away Porzingis and Hardaway as focal points and rely on the fact that McDermot simply doesn’t play much, that means that there’s a ton of pressure on Lee to handle the three-point load.

In short, the Knicks are very easily turned into a team that is confined beneath the arc even if they’re shooting better than usual.

That, essentially, is what doomed them last night as much as anything else: Porzingis was out, McDermot didn’t take a shot until the fourth quarter, and Hardaway was a relatively quiet 4-for-12.

Poll

Who was the Warriors Wonder in the win over NYK?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Stephen Curry
    (361 votes)
  • 1%
    Klay Thompson
    (9 votes)
  • 9%
    Kevin Durant
    (75 votes)
  • 1%
    Draymond Green
    (9 votes)
  • 7%
    Zaza Pachulia
    (55 votes)
  • 0%
    Shaun Livingston
    (4 votes)
  • 29%
    David West
    (228 votes)
  • 2%
    Kevon Looney
    (16 votes)
  • 0%
    Andre Iguodala
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Patrick McCaw
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    Nick Young
    (8 votes)
768 votes total Vote Now