Much has been made by media and fan alike of the New York Knicks’ two biggest stars struggles in the NBA playoffs. After playing some fantastic basketball to lead the Knicks to a 3-0 series advantage over the Celtics in the first round, scoring champion Carmelo Anthony and Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith have struggled mightily in the last five games this postseason.
After shooting a solid .462 FG% and averaging 32 points in the Knicks first three playoff games, Anthony has really struggled with his shot, shooting just .318 from the field on an average of 27.5 shots per game from Game 4 in Boston until Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers. In Game 2 he rebounded, hitting 13 of 26 shots for 32 points in the Knicks’ 105-79.
Funny, because that was also the first time the Knicks broke 100+ points in a playoff game since the Patrick Ewing-less Knicks defeated the Reggie Miller-led Pacers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference playoffs in 1999, the year of the 8th seeded Knicks famous run to the Finals.
J.R. Smith is probably more to blame for the Knicks’ offensive struggles in the last few games than Anthony is. His elbow on Jason Terry in Game 3 in Boston got him suspended for the next match, which gave the Celtics some life. Since then, he’s played awful, shooting a putrid .261 from the field and averaging just 13 points in his last four postseason games.
In order the Knicks to promised land, Melo and J.R. will need to shoot better. What many people are ignoring is the fact that Anthony has been dealing with a shoulder injury which he sustained about three weeks ago against these current Indiana Pacers.
What has been keeping the Knicks afloat and not on the wrong side of history or a 2-0 deficit against Indiana is the Knicks’ supporting cast, particularly Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton, Kenyon Martin, and Pablo Prigioni. They have all stepped up their game this postseason.
Felton has arguably been the Knicks’ MVP so far in the playoffs, averaging 16.9 PPG and 4.8 APG while shooting a strong .496 FG% and .360 from downtown. His biggest reason for his success has been driving to the basket more and settling for less jumpers, while still being able to knock down the 3. This has allowed him to split the opposing defense inside apart and open the lane for others.
Shumpert has been coming into his own in these playoffs. After returning from an ACL injury in last year’s playoffs in January, he struggled to reassert his athleticism. In these playoffs, he seems to have gotten back to form, averaging 10.0 PPG and 6.4 APG while shooting .469 from the field. He’s also knocked down 12 of 26 three-pointers after shooting .402 from downtown in the regular. His defense has been absolutely stellar, as he completely shut down Paul Pierce in the first round (.368 FG%). From Game 4 on, he’s been even better: 13.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 STLPG, .510 FG%, .444 3P%
Martin has proved to be a very invaluable back up big man since coming to New York around the trade deadline. He’s played plenty of minutes in place of Tyson Chandler, providing great defense, shot-blocking, rebounding, as well as putting in some points, with three 10+ point games. If the Knicks are going to have a chance against Indiana, Chicago or Miami, Martin is going to continue to be a key member of their rotation and his toughness can help give the Knicks some cojones.
Lastly, Prigioni has been an X-factor for the Knickerbockers. Given a much larger role from Game 3 of the Boston series on, he’s been superb, averaging 6.5 PPG, 2.8 APG while being more aggressive in shooting: .476 from downtown. He was a key player in the Knicks’ big Game 2 vs. the Pacers, 10 points on four of four shooting, four rebounds and four assists. From the end of the end of the regular season, coach Mike Woodson has unleashed him, and he’s become another consistent, key player for New York.
The Knicks are not going to win the championship or even this series vs. Indiana if Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith continue to struggle, even with Amar’e Stoudemire set to return for Game 3 on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. However, if they manage to return to form (and Anthony did in Game 2), the Knicks can beat just about anyone left in the playoffs, even Miami, because they have a very strong supporting cast on the bench ready to go with Stoudemire ready to join them soon.
Consistency is key for the Knicks’ streaky shooters, but they have too much depth to be taken lightly or be beaten easily, as we saw on Tuesday and will see no matter how far they go this postseason.