Mike D’Antoni has to go.
There, I said it.
The truth is D’Antoni is a nice guy who belongs as an assistant coach solely dedicated to designing fast break style and scheme. But, in a league where you simply cannot win without consistent defense, D’Antoni’s time as a head coach has come and gone.
The Knicks just don’t know how to win, which, of course, is a direct reflection of the head coach. D’Antoni’s coaching style of “we’re going to do everything possible to push tempo and outscore you” is a fun system that produces excitement and some regular season wins. His teams consistently rank at the top of the league in points scored and at the bottom in points allowed (28th this season and dead last in 2009-2010 when they gave up 107.8).
But I can’t reiterate the downside of such a system enough. Winning playoff basketball is predicated off of half-court execution and defense. Boston -- as I predicted before the series began -- did not allow New York to run. The Celtics made the Knicks beat them in a slow game, which they couldn’t do. Better yet, the C’s did what every good club in the playoffs has always done to D’Antoni teams … make them play defense.
To be fair, not all of the onus falls on him. Despite the uber-gifted duo of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks’ roster is full of holes. As great as he’s been, Stoudemire has been playing out of position all season as a center.
Anthony meanwhile is a superior talent but still, eight years into his career, not an actual superstar. Debate it all you want, but he's just not.
Lastly, Chauncey Billups -- at 34 years old -- is not the right man to direct this offense. He doesn’t have the sheer speed of Raymond Felton and thus could not lead the transition game as effectively. Moreover, it’s very challenging to bring a team together after infusing such egos and talent midway through the season. There are a lot of moving parts for a team still searching to find the right balance of top heavy talent and ancillary parts.
But that’s where it stops. D’Antoni still had plenty of opportunities to will his team to wins against Boston.
Game One was an abomination. New York held a double-digit lead for much of the game, yet somehow seemed shell-shocked when Boston made its run. Memo to the Knicks: This is the NBA … everyone, especially a team like the Celtics, can make a run. You have to take the punches and fight back. The Knicks though -- lacking the winning framework its head coach -- rolled over like a hot batch of Pillsbury dough.
As bad as that was, nothing was worse than Game 2.
Despite the absence of Stoudemire and Billups, New York once again outplayed Boston for much of the night. Anthony was brilliant, scoring 42 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. But, as always in crucial games, D’Antoni’s team folded.
First off -- and this goes for the entire series but especially Game 2 -- where in the world was Landry Fields, playing just 15 minutes?
D’Antoni instead turned to the ice cold Roger Mason, Jr. along with Jared Jeffries and Bill Walker. But why? Mason hasn’t made a jumper all season nor has he played any significant minutes. Jeffries -- whom D’Antoni made it a point to acquire in late February after buying out the defensively minded Corey Brewer -- is a good defender but awful offensively. Walker is a long-range chucker and perhaps the worst defender on the league’s worst defensive team.
Fields could have very well made the difference in that game, and would have helped the whole series. A capable scorer, the rookie was also the best rebounding guard in the entire NBA. Without him, the Knicks may have missed the playoffs altogether, yet when push came to shove, D’Antoni went with Mason, who shot under 39 percent for the series and was a marginal defender at best.
Better yet, why was Jeffries in the game that final possession? Perhaps D’Antoni can make the case for using Mason as an extra shooter to spread the floor, but Jeffries is one of the league’s worst offensive players. His turnover attempting to pass to a wide open Walker was terrible for sure, but in reality ... he had no business being in the game.
In addition to his inability to manage his substitutions and rotation, D’Antoni also hampered the Knicks’ by not making the necessary in-game tactical adjustments. He burned all of his timeouts way too early each of the first two games and inexcusably didn’t prepare his team for the famed Kevin Garnett alley-oop lob in Game One.
When Garnett posted up Jeffries to give Boston the lead in Game 2, he absolutely had to send the double-team. Case in point: Carmelo had 42 in that game, but he couldn’t even get a shot off after his three-pointer put New York up three with 2:35 remaining. Doc Rivers -- by sending constant double-teams at Melo -- forced someone else to beat them. D’Antoni meanwhile let Garnett body Jeffries into the paint for five seconds before draining the pivotal jump hook.
Many people will also point to Carmelo’s refusal to foul Delonte West on the ensuing Celtics possession following Jeffries’ mishap. Once again, let’s be fair: This is two-sided. Melo had to know he needed to commit that foul -- that is just basketball 101. The 9th graders I coach know to make that foul. But then again, why was he even in the game to begin with?
Anthony had five fouls. He shouldn’t have been anywhere guarding the backcourt. That responsibility should have gone to someone else.
Games 3 and 4 were much of the same. The Knicks -- who shot a woeful 40.6 percent during the sweep -- looked uninspired and unprepared; like they knew the series was already over.
This has been a constant theme with D’Antoni coached teams before. Can you recall any key playoff win by his Phoenix teams? Despite an array of talent: an MVP in his prime, Steve Nash; young and healthy star, Amar’e; NBA Sixth Man award winner, Leandro Barbosa; All-NBA defender, Raja Bell; and guys like Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw – D’Antoni never once took his teams to The Finals.
With the threat of the lockout looming, Walsh could very well keep D’Antoni for one more year to avoid the dreaded buy-out. The 59-year-old coach will make $6 million next season, his last under contract with New York.
The Knicks don't have the good fortune of waiting though. Anthony and Stoudemire are both at the point in their careers where if either one of them are ever going to win, it has be now. Chris Paul and Deron Williams -- the two elite point guards in the league -- are free agents after next season, as is the NBA’s premier center, Dwight Howard. Next season’s performance is crucial for a franchise desperately trying to lure one of these three players and create its own version of “The Big Three,” which is all the reason more to fire Mike D’Antoni.