Mike D'Antoni's Gotta Step Up His Game

Celtics game displayed some spots where D'Antoni needs to improve

By Josh Alper
|  Tuesday, Mar 6, 2012  |  Updated 8:22 AM EDT
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There were a lot of reasons why the Knicks lost to the Celtics on Sunday afternoon, from a poor third quarter to Paul Pierce being Paul Pierce to a mediocre performance in overtime.

All of those things have one common thread tying them together. His name is Mike D'Antoni.

The Knicks coach did not have his best day up in Boston over the weekend, starting with a decision he made just before the end of the first half. With five seconds to go and the Knicks up seven, D'Antoni subbed in some defensive players to close out the half but left Carmelo Anthony, who had two fouls, on the floor for the final Celtics possession.

Anthony picked up his third foul on the play, something that loomed large during the third quarter when Anthony went out of the game with his fourth foul and the Knicks offense went directly in the toilet. The Celtics, after spending the first half getting burnt on traps high in the defensive zone, sagged back against Jeremy Lin and Lin kept driving into the teeth of the defense without any sense of what he was going to do when he got there.

Turnovers start piling up and it took the Knicks eons to adjust their attack to reflect what the Celtics were throwing their way. D'Antoni gives his players a lot of rope, but it's important to remember that he's essentially a rookie and times will come when the coach needs to direct his charge to find a different approach when the defense comes up with a plan to stop him.

The Anthony foul trouble really came back to haunt the Knicks here because, as we saw in the fourth quarter, Melo was able to get into the lane for points against the Celtics. Losing him because you were too arrogant to consider the possibility of a third foul is indefensible because there was absolutely nothing for the Knicks to gain by having him on the court for a defensive possession. 

Adjustments eventually did come and the Knicks turned a 15-point deficit into a three-point lead, so it should be clear that not everything D'Antoni did was a disaster on Sunday afternoon. One of his better moves was yanking Landry Fields early in the third quarter in favor of Iman Shumpert, a move that the coach really should think about making more permanent.

Fields hasn't been terrible this season, but it is getting harder and harder to see what he offers the team that Shumpert and J.R. Smith can't give them. Making such a move would essentially pare the rotation down to nine, which isn't an awful thing to do if Fields' minutes -- just 15 on Sunday -- were going to better players.

We already made our point about the need to foul before Pierce gets that three up at the end of the fourth, but watching replays of the seconds leading up to the play only make it clearer. There were points when Rajon Rondo had his back to the basket and when Kevin Garnett put the ball on the floor -- two moments when D'Antoni's rationale for not fouling for risk of the and-one completely falls apart -- and Knicks defenders need to be made aware of those opportunities instead of simply being told not to foul.

The Celtics had no timeouts to move the ball to half court after Knicks free throws and sending Rondo, in particular, to the line created the chance to make it a two-possession game. Rigidity isn't a virtue in situations like that.

Overtime is tough to pin on D'Antoni because he can't make shots for his players. You do wonder why Steve Novak isn't on the court for that stretch to force the defense into a more ragged look and, perhaps, nail a couple more threes to keep the Knicks in the game.

That would call for taking out Amar'e Stoudemire, clearly a tough sell for a head coach whose job forces him to maintain egos as much as draw up plays. Given the season Stoudemire is having, it's a sales job that D'Antoni may be forced to do unless he wants to risk keeping his job on being the eighth seed for a sacrificial lamb assignment against the Heat.

D'Antoni's got more talent than he's ever had as Knicks coach. Now he's gotta prove he can take advantage of it during a tough stretch of schedule that will determine whether or not they wind up with the above fate.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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