Derek Fisher’s New York Knicks struggled in the first few games over the holidays, but were able to bounce back Wednesday night to enter the New Year on a high note.
On the night before Christmas Eve the Knicks lost a tough game to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then the night after Christmas, New York fell again to the Atlanta Hawks. Fisher’s crew dropped another contest to the Boston Celtics but were able to get back on track as they defeated the Detroit Pistons last night at home.
Derek reiterated that the Knicks have to continue to learn that their effort level is just as much mental as it is physical. Although the week started out rough for Fisher and the Knicks, he explained that they need to continue to direct their focus towards executing properly so they can play at the high level they’ve established.
“A lot of times effort is physical but at the highest level of performance it’s mental. You have to make the effort and the commitment to being able to execute the right way and make the right cut, communicate the right coverage defensively, these are all things that are required from the best of the best,” Fisher said. “If we expect to get there one day, we have to be committed to those things.”
Last Wednesday against the Cavs, the Knicks lost by a final score of 91-84 despite playing great defensively in the second half. New York held Cleveland’s high-octane offense to 17 points in the third quarter and 19 points in the fourth.
In Fisher’s opinion, the Knicks had their chances but some mistakes made early in the game and down the stretch doomed New York’s opportunity to come away with a win.
“That’s a tough one. For the guys to put the effort in and energy into the game to give us a chance to win it down the stretch and come up short, those are always the tougher ones,” Fisher said. “We had our chances. We made some mistakes not just down the stretch but even early in the game and in the first half and it caught up with us.”
Kristaps Porzingis put together a solid game, even though the Knicks couldn’t find a way to come out on top. KP led the Knicks with 23 points and in rebounds with 13. The rookie was also feeling it from long range as he drained 4-of-5 attempts from beyond the arc. With Melo out for the game, Porzingis saw more opportunities and he was able to capitalize on them.
“There were more opportunities out there tonight with Carmelo being out and[Porzingis] took advantage of them. He had an aggressive mindset right from the start and even when we are fully healthy we want him to be aggressive and take advantage of his opportunities when they’re there,” D-Fish said. “Hopefully we can kind of learn from this in terms of being able to utilize Kris more even when Melo’s make in the lineup.”
Aaron Afflalo and Jose Calderon had good games as well. Afflalo finished the night with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists in 36 minutes. Calderon added ten points, six assists and a steal while shooting 4-of-5 from the floor.
Derrick Williams was the best player for Fisher off the bench in the contest. Williams led the reserves with 11 points to go along with three boards, an assist and two blocked shots in 21 minutes of action.
As the holiday weekend continued, so too did the murderer’s row schedule for the Next up was a meeting with last year’s No. 1 seed in the East, the Hawks. New York fell 98-117 after coming out strong in the first half on offense with 63 points. Fisher explained after the game that the Knicks simply couldn’t match Atlanta’s intensity at the start of the third quarter.
“I thought [the Hawks] were able to sustain what they put out in the first half and we couldn’t. They started the third quarter to come out and try to take control of the game right away and we couldn’t match their speed, their ball movement and the way they played offensively – we couldn’t slow them down,” Fisher said.
The game was a tale of two halves for the Knicks who recorded 19 assists in the first half and only mustered 6 in the second. Ball movement is key in Fisher’s offense, and the Knicks couldn’t find a way to share the ball enough in the third and fourth quarters.
“We’re still having some growing pains with understanding the game is easier for us when we have 19 assists a half. Not six,” Derek said. “We just have to continue to trust that even when things aren’t going well, it’s actually the ball movement and the player movement and selflessness that will get you back into a game.”
New York closed out the weekend in a battle against their Atlantic Division rivals in Boston and came up just short again. The Knicks fell to the Celtics 100-91 in a game where Fisher’s squad had its chances, but couldn’t get over the up to steal the road win. New York cut the Celtic lead to five in the fourth quarter, but missed opportunities hurt the Knicks again in their loss in Beantown.
After the game Fisher pointed out that they were able to hang in there defensively and play better than they had the last couple games, but it still wasn’t good enough to get the win.
“I’m sure for the guys that’s as frustrating as anything to have some of the opportunities they did have throughout the night, not just in the fourth quarter, to make shots,” Fisher said. “Execution wasn’t perfect but we did have some good looks at it, we couldn’t knock them in, but we stayed together. Our defense hung in there. We showed more resolve tonight it’s still not good enough.”
Melo had a good night shooting against a defensive-minded Celtics team. He led the Knicks with 29 points and also came down with 10 rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Porzingis had a solid night too, posting another double-double with a 16-point, 12-rebound effort.
Kyle O’Quinn and Lance Thomas played well off the bench, combining for 20 points, six rebounds and a couple assists. Sasha Vujacic was also relied upon down the stretch and made the most of his opportunity. Fisher credited the guard with helping the Knicks get organized on the floor.
“Sasha obviously has familiarity and history with what we’re trying to do offensively. That’s a big part of trying to get some semblance of execution out there on the floor at certain times,” Fisher said. “We’re continuing to search for how to get ourselves organized and we felt that Sasha gave us a chance to do so.”
After a rough go of it in three straight road games, the Knicks returned home and stopped their skid against the Pistons. New York finished with a well-rounded team effort on both ends of the floor in the 108-96 victory. Six players reached double figures and the Knicks also held Detroit to only 41 percent shooting from the field.
Which asked which facet of the game Fisher was more impressed with, he had to go with the great defensive play from his group.
“The defense is always kind of the anchor. We talked about that a little bit pregame where in the fourth quarters we always look to what didn’t go right offensively, or the last possession the play didn’t go right, or there was a turnover on the last play,” Fisher said. “I thought the defensively after the first six minutes we really did kind of lock into them the rest of the game and make it really difficult for them to score consistently.”
Calderon had a great night for New York in the win. He finished the evening with 15 points, four assists and a couple rebounds while shooting 5-of-6 from the field. After the win, Derek said that he made the most of his chances and he also emphasized that Jose is capable of these types of games when the ball movement is as effective as it was last night.
“He took advantage of the opportunities that were there tonight, which is something that we always encourage him to do,” Fisher said. “Because the ball moved a little bit more and we kept the turnovers down, I thought he had a few more opportunities than he normally gets…he’s a good enough shooter that if we move the ball well enough and he gets opportunities he’ll make some.”
Another stand out performance from the Knicks in their victory came from Williams. The former No. 1 pick led the reserves again with 18 points while also chipping in with four assists and four rebounds in 18 minutes. Aside from an impressive night on offense, D-Fish really liked what he saw from Williams on the defensive end too. The combination of Derrick, Melo and Thomas proved to be difficult for the Pistons to defend due to their size.
“I thought more so than just Derrick’s output on the offensive end, what we’ve talked about for Derrick is an engagement level on the defensive end consistently that gives us some versatility,” D-Fish said. “That was really good in that finishing group with Lance, Carmelo and Derrick on the floor together, that’s a lot of size for guards and wings.”
Fisher and the Knicks will square off against the Chicago Bulls (18-12) on New Year’s Day. A couple weeks ago New York got the best of the Bulls at MSG in a 107-91 win.
On Sunday the Knicks will see the Hawks (21-13) for a rematch. New York has not been able to solve Atlanta this year as they’ve lost both of their meetings against last year’s regular season champions in the East. Fisher’s group will be seeing a lot of the Hawks coming up, as they are slated to face off against them again this upcoming Tuesday.
Tomorrow’s game against the Bulls will tipoff at 8 p.m. EST and Sunday’s meeting with the Hawks will begin at 3:30 p.m. EST. Both games will be broadcasted on MSG.