Breaking Down Coach Woodson’s Final Minute Strategy Against Lakers

In the spirit of the holiday season, this post is going to have a bit of a personal note sprinkled in, with of course, some heavy Knicks analysis to follow.

Dedicated to concentrating on and spending time with my family for Christmas Day, I didn’t have the opportunity to watch much of the Knicks-Lakers afternoon contest live. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, however, that in a house that was otherwise filled with diehard hockey fans, there has no NHL action to be seen. The Knickerbockers and their dreadful bleeding orange jerseys came onto the TV, because of the simple desire to watch some form of competition on the holiday.

With family, I caught a good part of the fourth quarter, including the game’s final minutes. Though I’ve since watched the rest of the game back, a simple decision by Coach Mike Woodson with the game on the line still stands out in my mind today.

That decision was not to foul, with the Knicks down three points, and 29.5 seconds still remaining on the clock. With the game still being determined by one possession, it would make sense that New York would want to keep the game as close as possible. While that’s clearly understandable, the cards weren’t exactly stacking up in the team’s favor.

By allowing the Lakers to run the clock down, the Knicks sold themselves short on the other side of the ball. With less time on the clock to score, any lead at all by Los Angeles in the final seconds would become insurmountable.

With a full 24-second shot clock at their disposal, the Lakers were undeniably in control. The best the Knicks could have been hoping for, in that situation, was to play lockdown defense and pester Los Angeles into failing to score. Hesitant to foul, New York’s plan clearly wasn’t to steal the ball, but rather simply defend it.

Even so, by allowing the clock to run down and only 29.5 seconds left to begin with, the Knicks weren’t leaving themselves with much time to score anyway. With approximately five seconds left to score a three-ball, New York’s simply couldn’t allow their opponent to score, or the game would have been over.

But unfortunately for the visiting team, the worst occurred. After allowing the Lakers to run the clock down, the Knicks put up little fight as Paul Gasol drove inside and powered the ball home for a slam dunk. With a five-point lead and little time left to recover, that was all she wrote for the Knicks.

Play sound defense, then look to score on the other end. That’s certainly a steady strategy not many would argue with on its surface. But with the momentum clearly not in their favor, and defensive anchor Tyson Chandler fouled out of the game, such a strategy proved to be difficult for the Knicks.

With Chandler out and the confidence in the team’s defense dwindling in the final minutes, why not just foul? In addition to giving themselves more time, Woodson and the Knicks would ultimately be forcing the Lakers to make their free throws, rather than just granting them a simple and utterly easy slam dunk.

The strategy Woodson implemented can’t really be argued with on paper, but given the circumstances, things could have and should have played out very differently. His decision not to foul, and the team’s failure to execute defensively, collectively let the game slip out of reach.

Nevertheless, it’s just one game. The Knicks will look to put it behind them as they charge into Phoenix later Wednesday evening to take on the Suns.

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