Defensive-minded Bucks Stop Knicks in Their Tracks
NEW YORK – First impressions can be deceiving. Three games into the NBA season and the New York Knicks look more like the team of old than the one that shined last Wednesday in an opening night victory over Miami.
The Knicks evoked shades of last season’s 23-59 squad Sunday night in a 94-86 home loss to Milwaukee, begging the question: How long before new coach Mike D’Antoni changes his mind and activates Stephon Marbury? The former All-Star is so far out of D’Antoni’s plans that the first-year Knick coach tabbed overweight (and overpaid) Jerome James instead of Marbury to replace the injured Eddy Curry on the active list against Milwaukee, even though the 7-foot-1, 285-pound James played in just two games last season and would seem a horrible fit for D’Antoni’s uptempo system.
To make matters worse, the Knicks couldn’t score a lick against the defensive-minded Bucks. Marbury, a career 19.7 ppg scorer, surely would have been a better option than Chris Duhon and Mardy Collins. Duhon replaced Marbury as the starter this season. He finished with six points in 36 minutes. Collins, who shared the backcourt with Duhon at one point in the game, finished with two points in six minutes. Fellow reserve guard Anthony Roberson saw more action Sunday in his second game of the season returning from injury, logging 11 minutes. He hit two 3-pointers for six points.
“It’s the spirit and the energy that we play with,” explained D’Antoni, who was upset with his team’s energy in the loss. “It’s not that they don’t want to. I was just talking to them. We never attack until we get into a desperate situation that’s offensive and defensive. It’s like we were on our heels the whole game and we’re kind of waiting for something bad to happen.
“We’re going to have to get over that,” D’Antoni added. “We’ll get over that with the group and the spirit of how we approach the game and how we approach practice and everything else. It’s going to be our big push forward, just get our collective energy and attack.”
Clearly, Milwaukee’s new coach Scott Skiles has the better idea: Defense, defense and more defense. D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense appears to be falling short thus far, especially against the Bucks Sunday night. Conversely, the Knicks played so poorly defensively that reserve guard Ramon Sessions lit them up for 18 points. Former New Jersey Net Richard Jefferson added 18, and the Bucks used a strong defensive effort to finish off the Knicks. Michael Redd contributed 16 points before leaving with a sprained right ankle in the third quarter. By that point, Milwaukee was up 16.
The Bucks didn’t have trouble finding scorers in Redd’s absence. Forward Charlie Villanueva chipped in 16 and center Andrew Bogut finished with a double-double, totaling 13 points and 11 rebounds as the Bucks improved to 2-2 a night after losing a tough road game, 91-87 in Toronto. They have limited opponents to just 93 points per game.
Quentin Richardson had 28 points and nine rebounds for the Knicks, who have shot under 38 percent in their past two games. They went scoreless for more than 3 1/2 minutes to start the third quarter and never recovered. The Knicks used a late flurry to make the final score close. Zach Randolph finished with 15 points and Nate Robinson added 14.
Milwaukee held New York to 41 combined points in the second half. It was an impressive turnaround for the Bucks, who surrendered 29 points in the third quarter Saturday against the Raptors.
“They came out in the third and we were able to hold them off,” Skiles said of the Knicks. “I like the balance in scoring that we had tonight. They came out moving the ball crisply. They were over dribbling a bit but for the most part they were trying to spread the ball around. We are trying to play inside out and make spacing on the court. We have some guys who can do some work down there [in the post] and as the season goes on, they will get much better.”
Leading 49-45 at halftime, Milwaukee scored the first 12 points of the third quarter. The Knicks made 12 of a franchise record-tying 36 3-point attempts, but looked lethargic in the second half until the final minutes. By that point, the game was out of reach.
“Our energy was very low from the start,” said Knicks guard Jamal Crawford, who went 0-for-6 from the field with one point in 31 minutes, a far cry from his game-leading 29 points against the Heat on opening night. “We battled back at the end of the first quarter, second quarter, we were down four. The third quarter we just kind of fell apart; we got it back again but our energy has got to be better.”
The Knicks (1-2) host Charlotte on Wednesday in Bobcats coach Larry Brown’s return to Madison Square Garden. Brown was fired in June 2006 after going 23-59 in his lone season here.