Sunday afternoon's 105-100 loss to the Orlando Magic was a bizarre one, and not just because the Knicks were without their top two offensive players. New York attempted nine more shots than the Magic, and made six more field goals. If you check out the "Four Factors" below, you'll see the Knicks actually outplayed Orlando in three of the four categories. They shot a better effective field goal percentage (albeit by a hair), they took care of the ball more effectively and they were better on the glass. Neither team looked particularly good Sunday, and though the Knicks struggled on both ends of the floor, it was their defense that failed them against Orlando. Here are a few stats to illustrate that:
It would be easy to look at the free throw disparity and blame the officiating. Particularly in the first half, the quick whistles seemed to ruin the pace of play and artificially inflate the Magic's scoring numbers. For comparison: Orlando's free throw rate was 35.4%, a number that would lead the league; the Knicks' free throw rate was 10.8%, a mark that would be the lowest in the league by a mile. The Knicks' paltry free throw attempt rate is especially weird considering that they took more shots in the restricted area than normal. Heading into Sunday's contest, the Knicks were averaging 26.5 shots within the restricted area, but on Sunday they took 33.
Defensively, many of the Knicks' rotations looked slow or out of whack (see three-point defense below), so fouls were inevitable. But, some of those calls were questionable. Take this three-shot foul on Michael Beasley, for instance:
Aaron Gordon went on to hit all three free throws to put the Magic up by eight points. In a game that was only decided by five points, every possession mattered.
Restricted Area Defense
Heading into the game, the Knicks were the second-best team in the league at defending within the restricted area, allowing opponents to score just 58% around the basket. Much of that has been due to Kristaps Porzingis's unreal rim-protection numbers. But, without their two-way star, the Knicks struggled to contain Orlando within the restricted area, allowing them to go 19-for-27 (70.4%) within the circle. Elfrid Payton, by himself, went 7-of-10 in the restricted area. Heading into the game, he was only averaging four shots per game within the circle. Much of his damage was done in transition:
Without Porzingis in the lineup against Indiana, this will be something to watch for against the Pacers.
It's odd to say the Knicks got lucky in any facet of this game, but they really did in defending the three-point line. Three-point defense has been a weakness for the Knicks all season (so far), and even though the Magic missed their opportunities, it wasn't because of anything New York did. The Knicks let Orlando shoot 15 "wide open" three-pointers, and the Magic only connected on one of those tries. Here, it looks like Beasley and Doug McDermott have no idea what the defensive rotation should be:
New York will have to clean up their three-point defense to have a realistic shot at competing for the eight-seed. They have personnel in Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas, Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., McDermott and others to be able to contest on the perimeter. Hornacek just needs to get the team's buy-in.
Knicks Shot Chart
Magic Shot Chart