The New York Knicks have had a great start to the 2015-16 season due to great defensive play and learning how to close out games under Derek Fisher’s direction.
The Knicks have strung together four straight wins after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets in back-to-back nights on the road this weekend. On Friday, New York defeated the Thunder 93-90 and on Saturday, D-Fish and the Knicks picked up where they left off and downed the Rockets 107-102. In Fisher’s opinion, the early season success for the Knicks is coming from their ability to shut down teams with their defense and learn that solid play on both ends of the floor is the difference maker in this league.
“I think the guys are just buying into the idea that[good defensive play is] the only chance we have to win each night. We’re not built to just run up and down and just shoot a bunch of shots and hope they go in, we have to stop people and I thought for the most part tonight they did that,” Fisher said after his squads defense helped propel them to victories over the Thunder and Rockets this weekend.
Although Kevin Durant didn’t suit up for Friday’s contest, the Knicks still had to formulate a game plan to keep Russell Westbrook in check. The Knicks were making it difficult for the Thunder playmakers to get much going all night, and Fish identified that defensive effort as the key to victory.
“The guys fought hard tonight and made it really difficult to score out there for the Thunder and it’s tough when you’re forcing teams to miss as much as they did tonight,” D-Fish said. “I thought the effort was there, the intensity was there and if we clean up the boards better we could probably have a better finish to this game.”
Carmelo Anthony led the way for the Knicks on offense with 25 points, five rebounds and an assist in about 35 minutes of action. Aaron Afflalo also had a nice night shooting the basketball as he was second on the team in scoring with 14 points while going 2-for-3 from beyond the arc in 29 minutes.
The Knicks had many players contributing from off the bench as well. Derrick Williams chipped in with nine points and three boards while shooting 2-for-3 from three point land in 15 minutes of action. Lance Thomas also played a big role in Friday’s victory as he scored 12 points and came down with three rebounds in 19 minutes off the pine.
Fisher was enthralled with how Thomas and Williams stepped up tonight and he also cited how his team has the ability to get those kind of contributions from everyone on the roster, whether it comes from the starting unit or role players off the bench.
“That’s the great thing about this team. They’ve really found a way in that locker room to become a group pretty quickly there’s a lot of trust in there. I think they believe on each guy that’s on the floor and no matter what happens, even though it might be frustrating for a guy who doesn’t play, I think they really respect the fact that guys like Derrick and Lance, Kyle O’Quinn, Kevin Seraphin…Lou Amundson, they’ve helped us every time they’ve been out there.”
Kristaps Porzingis had a relatively quiet night, finishing the game with seven points, six rebounds and a blocked shot in about 26 minutes of action. Fisher wasn’t concerned with the rookie’s play as he noticed the flow of the game didn’t allow Kristaps to do some of the things he likes to do offensively.
“I just think it was the way the game kind of flowed and there we’re not as many times to do things offensively at least as he had a couple nights ago and that’s how it goes,” Fisher said. “To me that’s the great part about Kristaps is that he doesn’t try to force something or he’s not trying to duplicate he did yesterday, he’s just kind of playing it one game at a time and it’s good to see from a young player.”
At one point the Knicks led by 16 points, but the Thunder drew closer in the fourth quarter. The Knicks have had to find ways to close out tight games all season in a different fashion every time. After Friday’s victory, Fisher preached that it’s all about finding a way to come out on top no matter how it gets done.
“The end result is just figuring out a way to win regardless of how it looks,” he said. “We’ll keep working at cleaning things up and trying to finish it better or have a better second quarter or keep teams off the offensive glass but the end of the game your team more points and you win the game, you did enough things to get it done.”
In Saturdays contest against the Rockets, the Knicks continued to flourish because of their great play on defense. Porzingis was a huge part of that as the rookie big man recorded an impressive seven blocked shots in the contest. As Fish mentioned after the win over OKC, his star rookie bounced back tremendously. Kristaps had a much better game against the Rockets as he led the Knicks with 24 points and 14 boards while also knocking down two of his three attempts from long range.
“I though he looked really comfortable and confident right from the start. I think for all players when you see the ball going in the basket a few times, your energy level goes up and you put together a really well rounded basketball game,” D-Fish said. “The blocks were tremendous, he really prevent them from scoring a lot of situations and I thought he energized our group. It was a good effort.”
Afflalo continued to shoot the ball well as he finished the game with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists in 35 minutes. Langston Galloway also contributed with 12 points off the bench to go along with three boards, two assists while going 2-for-4 from beyond the arc in his 24 minutes of action.
Melo got into foul trouble early, but was still instrumental in helping the Knicks down the stretch. Fisher was impressed with his squad’s ability to step up when their superstar wasn’t on the court early in the game and he also liked what he saw from Melo in terms of motivating his team from the bench.
“It’s vital that we become a team that still believes in what we can do regardless of who’s on the court and that we can trust our system, we can trust our coverages defensively and that if we do things the right way we can get the job done,” Fisher said. “Then when we get guys back on the court that are in foul trouble or whatever’s going on, then we can pick it up another level and I thought tonight Melo still was supporting his teammates on the side when he wasn’t out there and then came back and finished the game for us.”
In the closing moments of the contest, the Knicks’ defensive play once again allowed them to come away with the victory in Houston. D-Fish recognizes that a big part of team camaraderie comes from finishing a game with an intense effort on both ends of the floor and when they can manage that, the good habits will usually carry over.
“Defense is about trusting teamwork,” Derek said. “To finish a game with the type of stops and plays we made at the end, that’s something that can carry over that we can build on.”
Fisher and the Knicks (8-6) will be back at it Monday night when they face the Miami Heat in game three of their four-game road trip.
Last year the Knicks dropped all three of their games against the Heat but if the early season success for New York is any indication, but the 2015-16 Knicks will aim once again to show that they aren’t the team they were a year ago.
The Knicks will look to continue their hot stretch at 7:30 p.m. EST from American Airlines Arena. The game will be broadcasted on MSG and NBATV.