Shortly after the Knicks finished off the Pistons in overtime on Wednesday night, MSG announcer Kelly Tripucka lauded Mike D'Antoni for pushing all the right buttons. It seemed like a fair assessment. Quentin Richardson, who didn't play in Milwaukee Tuesday, hit two big jumpers and played strong defense in overtime. The struggling Chris Duhon was lashed to the bench in the second half while Nate Robinson played turnover free basketball in leading the Knicks back from 12 down in the fourth.
One night after his halftime speech was credited with spurring a win over the Bucks, it seemed that D'Antoni had done it again by identifying the right players in the right spots. That argument falls flatter than the three that Larry Hughes airballed at the end of the fourth quarter, though. Hughes got fouled on an abysmal defensive play by Rip Hamilton, hit all three free throws and Antonio McDyess dropped a slick pass that would have led to an easy two on the other end just before regulation ended.
The Knicks played great in overtime and deserved the victory, but it is a bit overstated to call D'Antoni a masterful button pusher. A few days ago, after all, he chose to play the stretch run in New Jersey without Robinson or Al Harrington and no one stepped up to take shots when the Knicks needed them. On Saturday, D'Antoni couldn't find a single player who wanted to play with energy against Charlotte, so perhaps he's more of a throw everything up against the wall type in hopes that something sticks.
That's not even meant as a criticism. There's not much else that D'Antoni can do with a flawed roster full of inconsistent players who haven't played together long enough to develop much cohesion. The Duhon-Robinson conundrum is one of the hardest ones to figure out. It's clear that Duhon is physically hurting and that defenses have figured out how to keep him in check, but Robinson at the point can mean that the offense bogs down because ball movement dies. Duhon's been so bad that Robinson was the clear choice last night, but what does D'Antoni do when the offense stagnates with Nate at the helm?
With so much inconsistency in performance and uncertainty about who is going to come up with those performances, though, D'Antoni will have to prove that he is indeed a great button pusher. If he is, the playoffs aren't a pipe dream, but if each night is just a roll of the dice, it's going to be hard to win enough games to climb over all the teams in their way.