Wednesday, April 4, 2012

State of the Garden: Woody's First Blunder

When an old problem is solved, a new one usually springs up. Fix the leaking pipe, and the water will just be forced down another avenue.

The unceremonious resignation of embattled head coach Mike D'Antoni moved the Knicks forward, regardless of how much blame rested at the mustachioed man's feet. MDA refused to look his name-brand players in the eye and tell them exactly what they were doing wrong. This problem allowed Carmelo Anthony to stew and sulk, but it also lost the respect of the players who did get an earful. The Josh Harrellsons and Toney Douglases of the roster were the ones to suffer from the team's poor play; it showed in the numerous DNP-CDs next to their name in the box scores.

When Mike Woodson spoke to the media for his first press conference as head coach, he declared that the offense would run through his superstars. But what spoke volumes to the whole team was not this change in offensive philosophy. It was the change in the coaching philosophy.

When things went wrong on the floor in the MDA era, the coach would make a face, bark at the officials, and storm the sidelines as if tragedy had struck. Since then, Woody has done some of these things, just like every coach would. But to his players' surprise, the new man in charge directs most of his attention to them.


When the players were asked about the difference between coaches, former and present, that word rang true. Anthony wanted the bright lights of Broadway, but instead of leaving him to his own troubles, Woodson has made Anthony earn it. Faced with this responsibility, Carmelo has played like the superstar we all thought he could be. His frown turned upside down, Melo displayed energy on defense that we haven't seen since Syracuse, a menacing tenacity on the glass that we haven't seen since Denver, and leadership that we haven't seen since...ever.

I have been one of Anthony's biggest supporters, even when Linsanity reduced him to a sideshow. Sure, when his shots consistently hit iron and not net, when weaker players blew by him, and when he acted like a general jerk, I got mad just like the rest of us. But my compatriots will tell you that I was steadfast in the notion that his talent could not have gone south in a matter of one year. Carmelo's resurgence should be credited 1% to the man himself, but 99% to his new head coach. Woodson possesses almost none of the new-school, run-and-gun personality that his predecessor forced the Knicks to adopt. And while the team may sometimes be less exciting and attractive to the casual observer, the team, led by Anthony, responded with a 9-2 record heading into last night's game against Indiana.

YOUR New York Knickerbockers blew a 17-point lead to those Pacers. And while I wanted to curse Danny Granger for not playing like this for my fantasy team all year, the loss was really due to the fact that Indiana exploited a mistake by formerly blemish-free Mike Woodson.

For the vast majority of the game, Carmelo Anthony was destroying the opposition. His jump shots were devastatingly on point. When he attacked the rack, he displayed his elite body control after contact to get the two points, even sans whistle. He was scoring at will, and this was the game where fans would forget about Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler.

Or at least it was supposed to be. Because Indiana had no answers for Carmelo, "Melo-ball" was the offense's only option. The other 4 Knicks on the floor never made cuts, never set off-ball screens, never moved. Indiana did what every competent NBA squad would do in that situation. All of a sudden, the 4th quarter was defined by help defenders in yellow jerseys frantically coming to the aid of the man assigned to stop the Knicks' only option. And with the rest of the offense satisfied to sit and watch, the game slipped away.

I've looked at tweets and articles that show a correlation between Carmelo's scoring output and team losses. People were saying that when Melo gets 30+, his team loses. That may be correct, but that's not what happened last night.

As Anthony was going off, the offense abandoned what had made them so special during Woodson's run. Pick-and-rolls with Tyson Chandler? Gone. Set plays for Steve Novak? Rare. The constant movement of Landry Fields? Existent, but only in the form of Landry cheering on the bench.

I was absolutely mesmerized by Carmelo Anthony's offensive repertoire last night. But I'm a fan who doesn't have the responsibility of being a head coach. I can't make the chess moves if I can't touch the pieces. Mike Woodson was awestruck at the wizardry that his best player was putting on display last night, and his reliance on Anthony was akin to thinking that only the Queen can be used to checkmate the opposition's King. Therefore, it is utterly laughable for Anthony to receive all of the blame for what happened last night. Woodson used all of his timeouts, but most of them were an attempt to stop the bleeding, instead of getting his other players involved on offense. If the head coach had run different plays on offense, those plays would have occurred, because this team has listened to him for all 576 minutes that Woody has worn the crown.

"I gotta take the blame," Woodson said after the loss. Sounds like accountability. And it's probably the one reason that I didn't tear my apartment to shreds last night.

Mike D'Antoni was the reason for a GRIP of losses this season, and I have chewed him out in this space plenty of times. He never, ever, blamed himself for his team's struggles. I hold Mike Woodson accountable for last night, but the fact that he put the onus on himself makes this team worth rooting for. The water is leaking through a different pipe, but our plumber actually wants to fix it.

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