On Sunday against the Timberwolves, the Knicks won the game in the fourth quarter thanks to the efforts of one man.
The team had struggled mightily all afternoon, but Carmelo Anthony was there to put on the cape and save the day in the final 12 minutes thanks to his inimitable scoring prowess. On Christmas Day in Los Angeles, the Knicks were playing considerably better as a team but still needed someone to lift them in the final moments to avoid a loss.
It wasn't Melo this time. It was Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith and just three shots for Anthony in the fourth as the Knicks dropped the game 100-94 to a Lakers team that bore very little resemblance to the one the Knicks blew out at the Garden a couple of weeks ago.
They were playing with Pau Gasol and Steve Nash this time around, giving the team a much more well-rounded offensive look as both men delivered passes that the Lakers converted for buckets or used to draw fouls. The Knicks' efforts to do the same resulted in a lot of botched passes to Tyson Chandler -- Dwight Howard figured out that lob and Chandler apparently got hands of stone from Santa -- and a lot of shots for Felton and Smith that wouldn't go down.
For the most part, the shots weren't terrible. Smith did take a wretched turnaround three with 30 seconds to go, but it was mainly Felton getting looks at the basket that he simply couldn't finish en route to a 5-of-19 shooting day.
Despite that, Mike Woodson made no effort to shift the Knicks' approach. Jason Kidd may have been expending too much energy guarding Kobe Bryant to lead the show on offense (or even shoot, given his reluctance to pull the trigger on some wide open threes) and Pablo Prigioni doesn't have Woodson's love, so Felton just kept launching shots that would not go down.
Seeing as how he's injured both hands earlier this season and added a pinkie sprain on Tuesday, it feels like Felton might be pushing a bit too hard since we've seen a few too many games like this from him. The shots he takes aren't awful ones, but he isn't hitting them (he's missed 15 straight threes) and it isn't making him any more bashful about putting them up.
Felton's play has been vital to the 20-8 start and he's going to be vital to anything the Knicks do over the rest of the season, but something's terribly wrong when Anthony is only taking three shots in the fourth quarter of a close game while he was making 13-of-23 overall on the day. Heck, there would be something terribly wrong if Anthony was only taking three shots in the fourth quarter of a close game while he was making 3-of-23 overall.
For all the talk about Melo being part of a more cohesive offensive whole this season, it's important to remember that he's still the team's most gifted offensive player. That's the guy who needs to be taking the biggest shots and that's the lasting lesson of this Christmas.