Moke Hamilton, NBA AnalystIt is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game. Even in the pros, that old adage holds true.
As the New York Knicks flounder and burrow themselves deeper into the abyss, as they enter into laughingstock territory with at-times ridiculously predictable offensive sets, the coaching that this team has been on the receiving end of reached the level of absurd in Monday night’s 101-102 home loss to the Washington Wizards.
With questionable defensive assignments and a critical misunderstanding of a rule, Mike Woodson may have cost his team a game and himself a job.
But somewhere between there and the end of the game, Woodson forgot that he was a head coach in the NBA and that he is not only supposed to put his players in a position to succeed, but also to know the rules.
With the Knicks reeling and the team entering Monday night’s loss at 7-16, a win over the Wizards would have gone a long way toward easing some of the tension that has enveloped the Knicks.
Instead, Woodson stared down into the deep hole that the Knicks have dug for themselves, thought about it for a second or two (or didn’t) and then jumped in.
After his team valiantly erased a seven-point deficit with just under six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, one of the more feel-good wins of the season disappeared faster than Bradley Beal did when he turned the corner on Beno Udrih for the game’s winning basket.
That actually happened, but not before Beal morphed into Reggie Miller, scoring 14 fourth quarter points.
With the Knicks leading by three, 100-97, Beal — who has already scored nine points in the quarter and single-handedly kept the Wizards around — pulled up and drilled a 26-foot three-pointer to knot the game at 100.
With 12 fourth quarter points to that moment, Beal had taken over the game and became the one Wizard that the Knicks could not afford to allow to beat them, but that is exactly what Woodson did.
With two timeouts remaining, a foul to give and a one-point lead after Udrih split a pair of free-throws, Woodson, with the game on the line, failed his team.
Trailing 101-100, the Wizards called timeout and coach Randy Wittman drew up the simplest of plays. Beal received a pass from John Wall after coming off of a Trevor Ariza screen and was all alone, isolated against Udrih on the left elbow. Marcin Gortat, being guarded by Andrea Bargnani, came to set a screen to Beal’s right, but Beal, having shredded the Knicks’ pick-and-roll coverage all throughout the fourth quarter, knew he could easily take Udrih off the dribble and did not even pretend to want to use Gortat’s screen.
Bargnani, obviously expecting Beal to use the screen, was nowhere near Beal once he turned the corner on Udrih, and Iman Shumpert was too far out of the play to disrupt Beal’s beeline to the basket.
Great players make great shots and great plays. In pro basketball, there are times when coaches employ every strategy imaginable and are just beaten by better coaches or better players. It happens.
However, the decision to stick with Udrih on Beal is one that cost the Knicks the game.
With the Wizards calling timeout, the correct play for Woodson was to have Shumpert guard Beal and Smith guard Wall. It was abundantly clear that Udrih did not have the lateral quickness to stick with the Wizards perimeter players. In that situation, Metta World Peace (who had played only four minutes) or Amar’e Stoudemire would have made much more sense simply because Beal had been the best player on the floor to that point.
Playing without a point guard, with timeouts, the worst-case scenario for Woodson would have been that the Wizards score, he call a timeout, and reinsert Udrih.
It is called “offense-defense,” and NBA teams do it all the time, especially in the waning moments of games.
Subbing Udrih out, in some way, would have resulted in an unfavorable matchup for the Knicks, somewhere, but as long as your best perimeter defenders — Shumpert and Smith — were guarding Wall and Beal, that is all you could have asked for, given the situation.
Nevermind the fact that the Knicks had a foul to give that they never used. That can be rationalized.
It is what occurred immediately thereafter and what Woodson said when it was all said and done that was the talk of the town after the game.
After Beal’s go-ahead basket with 6.9 seconds remaining and the Knicks trailing by one point, Udrih (who, again, should not have been on the floor) immediately inbounded the ball to Anthony.
By rule, once the ball is inbounded after a made basket, it cannot be advanced if a timeout is called. However, if a timeout is called in such a situation, a team can then call a second timeout and advance the ball, even after it is put in play.
Players do not normally have a firm grasp of the rules, but coaches should. And in that situation, Woodson should have signaled for a timeout and then used his second in order to advance the ball.
Instead, after Anthony received Udrih’s inbounds pass, Woodson sat idly by while Anthony—clearly confused and resembling a deer in the headlights—calmly trotted up court and heaved a desperation 25-footer that had no shot.
It was obvious that the Knicks were not prepared on what they should do in the event that Beal scored on the game’s second to last play. Afterward, it was also obvious that Woodson forgot his NBA rulebook at home.
Looking disheveled and sounding defeated, Woodson stated the obvious.
“I probably should have called timeout at the end,” he said to the assembled media.
“Beno grabbed it and the ball was in Melo’s hands before I could even react and I should have reacted a lot sooner once the ball went through the bucket so that is on me.”
And with six simple words, Anthony revealed that his team was ill-prepared.
“I think we expected a timeout,” he said before later turning down an opportunity to pile the blame on Woodson.
“No, we weren’t,” Anthony said when asked whether or not Woodson instructed the team to call for a timeout in the event that Wizards scored. “If he said it was his fault,” Anthony said with a pause, “then there’s no need for me to talk about that.”
Although Anthony also said that players should know game situations, this type of gaff falls squarely on the head coach.
Seemingly unbeknownst to Woodson, once the ball was inbounded and the Knicks were confused, his final two timeouts could have been used to give the Knicks one final shot to win the game.
Aside from the questionable rotations and defensive assignments, here, Woodson proved himself to not have a grasp of one of the game’s more simple—but most important—rules.
For a head coach in this league, that is inexcusable. And in this instance, Woodson proved, it is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game.
Or, in his case, how you coach the game. Here, quite simply, he failed.
With the loss, the Knicks fall to 7-17 and coupled with the Brooklyn Nets’ 130-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night, fall two games behind their crosstown rivals in the Atlantic Division.
And now, Woodson has fallen behind head coach Jason Kidd for the title of best NBA coach in New York City, because I’m pretty sure even Kidd knows the rule to which Woodson was oblivious.
Moke Hamilton is the NBA Analyst for SNY.tv and, along with Lead Writer Harris Deckers, hosts the Knicks Blog Podcast each and every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton