Who is to blame for the Knicks' failed final possession against the Thunder?

JR Smith's fadeaway at the buzzer doesn't fall; who's to blame?

3/8/13 in NBA   |   Matthew_Shovlin   |   735 respect

Facing the Western Conference champion Thunder on Thursday night, a lot of people wrote the Knicks off when it was announced that Carmelo Anthony would miss his second straight game with a knee injury. Without Anthony's 28.2 points per game (second in the NBA), the Knicks employed a starting lineup that has combined for an average of 34.5 points per game this season. Fortunately, they have a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in JR Smith, who came off the bench to score 36 points and keep the Knicks in the game until the final possession.
Blog Photo - Who is to blame for the Knicks' failed final possession against the Thunder?
Immediately before that final possession, head coach Mike Woodson called a timeout. There were just under eight seconds remaining in the game, and the Knicks trailed 95-94. They were inbounding the ball from the front court. Woodson devised a play to get JR Smith isolated on the left side, and that is exactly what happened - JR had the ball at the three-point line with Russell Westbrook guarding him. Smith held the ball for a few seconds, gave a couple spin fakes, then turned for a fadeaway barely inside the arc, missing the shot as time expired.

The play has stirred up a lot of anger among Knicks fans. Radio shows after the game were loaded with fans calling in and complaining about the various reasons that they were disappointed in how the game ended. The two people blamed by fans and analysts were Smith - for settling for a bad shot rather than driving to the basket - and Woodson - for designing a play that simply gave Smith a one-on-one situation over 20 feet away from the basket. Personally, I think both parties are wrong. The blame should be shared between both Smith and Woodson.

I'll start with Smith, because he seems to be the most popular scapegoat. He absolutely has to take that ball to the basket. He has to force Westbrook to play defense; make Westbrook decide whether to let him go to the rim or get aggressive, risking a foul. A trip to the foul line for Smith would likely have resulted in a Knicks win, and at least overtime (barring a very rare 0-2 from the line). Smith basically bailed out the defense by standing 20+ feet from the basket and firing up a low-percentage shot. It was undoubtedly a boneheaded play on Smith's part.

However, I'm not letting Woodson off the hook here. One of the biggest aspects of a coach's job can be described in one simple phrase: put your players in a position to succeed. As far as I'm concerned, Smith was not in a good position to succeed. I'm sure if Smith drives to the basket on that play, there's a chance he gets the bucket or the foul, but not a good enough chance to put the game on the line with that play. He was 22 feet away from the rim with a premier perimeter defender in Russell Westbrook tight on him. If I'm a Thunder fan, I'm glad that my team is in that scenario.

If Woodson wanted to run isolation, he should have run Smith through a series of screens in an attempt to create a mismatch. Aside from maybe Thabo Sefolosha, Westbrook is the one guy you do not want guarding you in that situation. If he couldn't get a mismatch, there should have been at least one screen for Smith to work off of once he got the ball. It's asking a whole lot to tell a player to go up against one of the quickest guards in the league and get around him for the game-winning score.
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