NEW YORK – If we only counted stats after halftime, the New York Knicks would be the best team in the league.
Like the Miami Heat, who seem to be fine with playing their best in only half of their games, the Knicks have a version of cruise control. They don’t start defending until after halftime.
On Friday, the Knicks allowed the Milwaukee Bucks to score 53 points on just 44 first-half possessions. And then, they held the Bucks to just 33 points on 45 second-half possessions to pull out a 96-86 victory.
The improvement was sparked by an adjustment with the Knicks’ pick-and-roll coverage. Early in the third quarter, Mike Woodson switched it up, because the Bucks’ quick guards were taking advantage of Amar’e Stoudemire on switches. New York started trapping the pick-and-roll, forcing the guards to give up the ball.
“They were trying to get [Monta] Ellis on a big,” Jason Kidd said afterward. “You want to protect Amar’e from having to see that on a repeated basis. We decided to start trapping it, and it changed the whole game around.”
Sometimes, an adjustment like that can elicit more energy from a team. It seemed to work on this night.
“That kind of jump-started us from a defensive standpoint and got us back in the game,” Woodson said.
But this was nothing new, really. Through Friday, the Knicks rank 28th in first-half defense, allowing 106.2 points per 100 possessions. And they rank seventh in second-half defense, allowing just 99.5. That’s the second biggest discrepancy in the league.
Biggest difference, first and second half defense
(points allowed per 100 possessions)
Team 1st Half Rank 2nd Half Rank Diff.
Washington 103.9 19 96.3 3 -7.6
New York 106.2 28 99.5 7 -6.8
Atlanta 104.2 20 98.2 5 -6.1
Charlotte 111.3 30 105.5 25 -5.8
Brooklyn 105.9 27 101.6 11 -4.3
Knicks coach Mike Woodson is plenty aware of the discrepancy between his team’s first-half defense and its second-half defense. But that doesn’t mean he knows why its happening.
“I wish I could explain it,” he said after the game Friday.
The Knicks basically do everything better defensively in the second half. They defend both 2-point shots and 3-points shots better, they rebound better, and they force a lot more turnovers.
It’s not like Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler only plays in the second half. In fact, he’s played 723 first-half minutes and 724 second-half minutes.
The Knicks most-used lineup in the second half has been Raymond Felton, Kidd, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Chandler. And it’s been excellent defensively, allowing less than 89 points per 100 possessions in 99 second-half minutes. The same lineup has allowed 101 points per 100 possessions – good but not great – in 52 first-half minutes.
“For some odd reason,” Kidd said, “after halftime, we tend to pay a little bit more attention to the defensive end.”
Maybe, like the Heat who know they can flip the switch when they need to, the Knicks know that they can beat certain teams as long as they don’t get totally blown out in the first half.
But they’re still better when they defend early. Though they managed to come back on Friday, the Knicks are 14-2 when they allow less than 101 points per 100 possessions in the first half.
The New York offense is always going to be there. They rank fourth in first-half offense, first in second-half offense, and third overall. But they’re a below average defensive team, ranking 16th overall, because, on most nights, they don’t bring focus on that end until the third quarter.
“That’s something that we understand,” Chandler said. “We can’t just play great defense against the Miamis and San Antonio Spurs of the world. We’ve got to pick it up every single night. Especially after this All-Star break, that’s one of the things that we really have to focus on.”
Knicks efficiency by half
Half OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
First 108.3 4 106.2 28 +2.1 13
Second 109.1 1 99.5 7 +9.6 1
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions