The Knicks were the sixth-lowest scoring third-quarter team last season, at 22.7 points per third quarter. They often came out of the half flat on offense and it cost them. Who knows, it may have cost them enough wins to get the Atlantic Division and potential home-court advantage in the first round.
This season so far, the Knicks have reversed the trend. They’ve used the third quarter to take control of games, to hold off anticipated counter-attacks by opponents, and to take control of games before the fourth quarter begins. Statistically speaking, the difference so far stands out with their standing as the fifth-highest scoring team in the NBA in the third quarter (26.5) and second-best defensive team in the third quarter, allowing just 20.5 points per game in the third.
What’s the difference? Adjustments by the coaching staff, for one, but a notable difference is a mindset that starts in the locker room when the players talk before they head back out to the court. In Philadelphia, after the Knicks rallied from an early 10-point deficit, they talked at halftime about how great their potential is for a team that is still getting to know each other. Then on Friday, after taking a two-point deficit into the half, Tyson Chandler, one of the strongest voices in the room, laid down a challenge.
“We’re not going to come back into this locker room disappointed and feel like we let one get away,” he said.
“Tyson’s always vocal,” Carmelo Anthony said. “He was very vocal about not letting this one slip away.”
This has been another, among many areas of improvement for the Knicks this season. It’s particularly noticeable given how much of a problem the third quarter was a season ago, where halftime too often felt like a chance to mentally prepare for the coming onslaught.
We can once again credit the coaching staff and veteran leadership with the turnaround, while also adding the caveat that this could again simply be a four-game trend that won’t persist, a caveat that unfortunately we’ll keep having to make until it’s no longer true and these things become more firmly entrenched.