Knicks know there's no defense for last two setbacks
ORLANDO, Fla. — When the Knicks allowed the Miami Heat to hit eight of their first 10 shots Wednesday night, it actually was a step forward — a baby step — after the team had allowed Minnesota to convert its first 10 shots two days earlier.
While the Knicks have not relied solely on defense this season — they rank fifth in the NBA in offensive rating and just 18th in defensive rating — they have not endured many games like these last two. They were 29th in the NBA in that span with a defensive rating of 131.5.
After surrendering 140 points against Minnesota, the Knicks were lit up for 127 by Miami — with the Heat shooting 6-for-7 from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter as they pulled away for the win.
“We’ve got to get our defense in order and find a way to get stops on that end,” Julius Randle said after Wednesday’s loss. “I think more than anything it’s our competition level, our communication on that end.”
“We just gotta be better, plain and simple,” Jalen Brunson said. “I think we just need to be better, point blank, be the tougher-playing team and control what we can control. We contest hard, they’ll miss. If we don’t contest hard, then we leave it to them. So we just gotta be better.”
Brunson put a lot of the blame on his shoulders, but he was unavailable to help solve it Thursday night against the Magic as he was sidelined with a sprained right hand. Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks’ defensive anchor, was questionable throughout the day with a right knee contusion suffered in the Miami loss but was given the clearance to play.
“As with all our defense, it’s everyone being connected and tied together,” coach Tom Thibodeau said before Thursday’s game. “So it’s very difficult to guard guys individually in this league. Particularly the way the rules are, so if you’re not connected, whether it’s your pick- and-roll defense or defensive transition, one guy not doing their job, it’s gonna be a problem.
“So we’ve always talked about protecting the basket first and then containment on the ball. And so usually it’s a heavy transition league and a heavy pick-and-roll league. So we know that we have to be connected, whether it’s playing the pick-and-roll two-on-two and having the shell behind, but everyone reading the ball, and moving on the flight of the ball, and that’s why we need everyone tied together.”
The Knicks have been particularly hurt by their three-point defense in those two consecutive losses. Minnesota shot 14-for-24 (58.3%) and Miami went 16-for-28 (57.1%).
“Yeah, they’ve got to fly around,” Thibodeau said. “It’s a compilation of things, from containment to a flat drive versus penetrating drive, get in, get out. Get them off the line, [make them] put it down, put a body on someone so they can’t offense rebound and kick out. So that’s got to be the priorities, get the defense going.”
With Brunson sidelined, the Knicks moved Immanuel Quickley into the starting lineup. He has been one of the team’s best defenders this season, adding one more weapon. But even with the two-game struggle and just eight games left in the season before Thursday’s game, Thibodeau was not pessimistic.
“After watching the film today, I’d say there were a lot of good things,” he said. “It was a hard-fought game. We actually had the lead midway through the fourth. Looking back, the two things that stood out were the turnovers that put them in transition, gave them easy baskets, and we gave them too many free throws. It was a really hard-fought game.”