Dear Knicks: Be Yourself!

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When a basketball team might greatly benefit the message on a poster that would likely be found in a second grade classroom, that probably isn’t a good thing.

This second round series against the Indiana Pacers indeed hasn’t been a good thing for the New York Knicks, as they find themselves on the precipice of a really disappointing end to an otherwise memorable and refreshing season. Throughout four whole games, the Knicks have been battered and beaten by a team with a crystal clear identity. The Pacers want to slow you down, defend you, out-rebound the heck out of you, and madden you on offense by using the open guy as their “go-to guy”. They’ve done all of those things to a T for just about every minute of this series save one quarter, the fourth in Game 2, the Knicks’ only victory thus far.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after Game 4 that the Pacers are who they are, and that they don’t adjust their game regardless of their opponent. At this point, the Knicks should heed that message: “Be Yourself”.

The Knicks didn’t accidentally win 54 game in the regular season. They too had a very distinct identity. While they ran isolation plays more often than anyone else, they also shot and made more 3-pointers than anyone else, too. They weren’t a great defensive team, but they almost always won the turnover battle. While the Knicks didn’t shut teams down with their defense all season, they disrupted them constantly. Causing turnovers helped the Knicks out-possess their opponent all yeah, and because of their offensive efficiency, that generally translated into outscoring their opponent. Or, you know, winning.

In the playoffs and namely this second round grind against the Pacers, the Knicks have been replaced by a foreign version of themselves. Individually, J.R. Smith has done a 180 from the final month of the regular season, the period that won him the 6th Man of the Year award. There’s a good chance Jason Kidd actually died a few weeks ago but nobody noticed. Tyson Chandler, despite battling injuries all year, never figured to get this badly outplayed and outmuscled and totally fooled by Roy Hibbert.

And then there’s the team as a whole, which in some ways can fall on an individual, Mike Woodson. In Game 4, Woodson made it clear he was ditching the small-ball identity by employing a starting Kenyon Martin instead of Pablo Prigioni, which moved Carmelo Anthony to the small forward position…a position he barely played all season. In what world does it make sense to change the position of your superstar, scoring champion franchise player, in Game 92?

And while Woodson has had a bit of a shocker in this series, it still does fall on the players, too. The Pacers deserve a ton of credit for how they’ve played, and it’s worth recognizing that they gave the Knicks fits all season and might just be the better team. In sports and especially in basketball, the better team usually wins. But the Knicks haven’t helped matters, both by straying from their identity but also from simply sucking. some of the hobnobbing around the Pacers’ defense hasn’t included the fact that the Knicks have missed a lot of open jumpshots, shots they made most of this season. The Pacers do a great job of disrupting your offensive rhythm, but it’s the playoffs; if the shots are open, they have to go down or you’re going to lose.

Judging by the interweb’s reaction to the disasters in Indiana, I think I speak for most Knicks fans when I implore to the Knicks to be themselves. We all want Pablo Prigioni back in the starting lineup and playing about 10 times more than he did in Game 4. for better or worse, we all want to see minutes for Chris Copeland and Steve Novak, guys who played and helped during the regular season. We all want the ball to move on offense, to facilitate through Carmelo Anthony and into the hands of 3-point shooters who aren’t afraid to take them. We all want those shots to simply go in. We all just want a win.

The Knicks have won a lot of games this season playing a certain way. We all just want to see that again.

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