Defensive prowess, especially exclusively defensive talent, is as misrepresented as anything in the minds of basketball fans. Freakish, compelling defenders often find themselves relegated to “workman” status, not able to have their considerable abilities recognized as easily as the juicy offensive numbers that add up to giant salaries for their offensive counterparts; that’s why performances like that of Chuck Hayes Wednesday night against Amar’e Stoudemire and the New York Knicks are so important. These kinds of showcases in which a figurative spotlight drops on two figures battling each other for position and space provide the snapshot, the highlights, that a brilliant defender often can’t without Serge-Ibaka-styled blocks or beyond-sold-out-Trevor-Ariza-like steals that lead to one-man breakaways.
Instead, Hayes got to exhibit the full arsenal Wednesday: the ballet-like footwork, the lower body strength of a man that a bull couldn’t cow, the instinct to be in the right spot (at all times). The most perturbing thing about Hayes’ classic night is that it will only be immortalized by those who watched, who saw an agitated Stoudemire try to push his way around the court because he couldn’t glide as he normally does; otherwise, to the box score crowd, Stoudemire did his thing and put in his work with his 25 points (on 21 shots) and 5 rebounds (in a game with almost 100 possessions for each team). Everyone else, though, saw it. Saw Stoudemire get called for a few charges for which he didn’t expect a man to be in place. Saw Amar’e padding his stats with a couple of easy buckets long after Houston had this game comfortably in hand. Saw the Knicks keep feeding their superstar and his continual inability to deliver, instead coughing up the ball to the aggressive, deft hands of Hayes. Saw Chuck Hayes win, decisively and visibly, if only for a night.
While Stoudemire’s numbers for the bout might not actually look as bad as his game did, there are plenty of Knickerbockers whose performance in last night’s game can be adequately summed up by their abysmal numbers in the 15-point-loss. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari combined for an absolutely brutal 8-24 line (the exact same line as the team’s horrid three-point shooting for a team that places second in the league in made threes), ably contained by active feet from Luis Scola, Shane Battier and Courtney Lee all night. The Knicks’ wispy front court plays directly into the hands of a tricky Rockets team looking to abuse teams whose interior is similarly crafted around players strong on intuition and skill and low on brute strength and raw size; because of this, the Rockets ate the Knicks’ lunch inside the paint, carving New York up for 54 points in the lane (compared to the Knicks’ 36 on a quite small Rockets front court). Ronny Turiaf, the Knicks’ primary rim protector, played 20 inconsequential minutes that saw him aimlessly wondering how Jordan Hill had stolen his swag so quickly, as the big Frenchman watched Rocket after Rocket bully their way past him for a layup. Turiaf and Stoudemire combined for 11 boards, one less than Hayes’ total himself, and could not keep Houston from getting anything, inside the arc (even the Rockets went 8-31 from deep in this one), it wanted.
In fact, this game’s score almost seems unrepresentative of the kind of drubbing the Knicks received from Houston, as both teams’ superior offenses supposedly were to make this one a shoot-out. Alas, the three-point line was not friendly to anyone, and while the Knicks took even less efficient jumpshots and running takes sort of around the basket, Houston took to the paint and got easy, often uncontested shots, posting a healthy 109 points per 100 possessions. Still, it was the sudden emergence of a Rockets defense, which seemed the stuff of myths up until Wednesday’s game, that made this one so one-sided. The Knicks, proud owner of the league’s sixth-most efficient offense, were held to a downright anemic 94 points per 100 possessions, with only a few Stoudemire highlights to show for an embarrassingly simplistic offensive game that the Rockets kept sniffing and snuffing out. Last night, an elite offensive force entered Toyota Center and found itself controlled and humbled; for the Rockets, in this season of 125 opponent points and 20-point fourth quarters from opposing stars, one big defensive stop will do, at least until the next one.
Houston Rockets 104, New York Knicks 89
On to the not-so-daily links:
- Carmelo Anthony still has not been traded. Just wanted to put that out there before anyone tired enough of Melogate wanted to give up on reading this bullet. In yesterday’s somewhat shocking news, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov announced that his team would no longer be in the trade talks for Carmelo Anthony, leaving the basketball world to wonder exactly what his motivations are. Over at Nets are Scorching, while the pain of losing even a chance at Anthony would seem most painful to New Jersey devotees, Mark Ginocchio applauds Proky for his iron-fisted approach, seeing some leadership where it seemed only tumult remained. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, on the other hand, saw the Russian owner’s move as one less influenced by the exercise of control and more affected by a desperate attempt to save face after the outright failure that was New Jersey’s haul from the free agent class of 2010 and an already doomed season. Still, there are those like Tas Melas of The Basketball Jones who believe that even this announcement is posturing meant to better the Nets’ situation in the tug-of-war for the rights to Anthony. Both the TBJ guys and Wojnarowski both passively mention Houston as one of the emerging possibilities for a Nuggets front office that may be desperately grasping for a new deal in which Denver can ensure some return for Melo, so there’s that for you folks looking for a tinge of optimism in this cynical imbroglio.
- As all viewers may have noticed, Patrick Patterson is special. You know, “prettiest jumper any human has ever seen on a rookie”-special. Ian Levy of Indy Cornrows has also noticed Patterson’s brilliance while creating a study on individual player point differential, which shows how much a player is scoring in any particular spot on the floor as compared to what the average NBA player is expected to accomplish when shooting from those spots. Though his very small sample size disallowed him from actually joining Levy’s list of rookie leaders in point differential, had Patterson played more than 9 games at the rate at which he is currently shooting the ball, P-Pat would have easily led the rookie list. Read all of the Patterson talk and the rest of Levy’s fantastic league-wide breakdown of players’ point differentials over at Hickory High.
- Even though Mikey Proks may have just pulled the soon-to-be Brooklyn New Yorkers (eww) out of the biggest trade talks this season, the Nets keep getting pulled back into transaction talk because another big-time expiring contract/upcoming free agent wants out of Newark: Troy Murphy.
- And Blake Griffin and the Clippers lived happily ever after, forever and ever and ever and ever. Unless he opts out.