New York Knicks Finding a Use for the Triangle After All

NEW YORK — The triangle lives. Well, sort of.

You’re no doubt at least somewhat familiar with New York Knicks team president Phil Jackson’s beloved offense and all the drama that comes along with it. Jackson adores his triangle. The players, not so much.

Coach Jeff Hornacek, the middleman in all this, has pledged public fealty to his bosses’ preferred scheme but his designs seem to say otherwise. 

These days the Knicks—winners of four in a row and owners of a respectable 12-9 record—are rarely running the triangle. Obviously, as Hornacek and many Jackson acolytes are quick to point out, there are triangle aspects (a favorite phrase around Madison Square Garden), such as spacing and off-ball cuts. (Those are present in every offense.)

But, according to opposing scouts, the triangle, in its traditional form, only shows up in five, maybe 10 Knicks possessions every game. A dead-ball here, an out-of-bounds set there. Nothing more.

“I think they’ve done a good job blending,” Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau said of the Knicks’ offense before his team’s 118-114 Friday night loss to New York. Later he added: “I think they’ve incorporated more pick-and-rolls, which makes sense, it fits their personnel.”

But Hornacek has shown a fondness in recent weeks for dusting off the triangle whenever his team needs a bucket with the game on the line.

“Yeah, (Hornacek) said that we had to be more organized at the end of games and I guess the triangle organizes us,” Rose told Bleacher Report last week. “My job is just to go out there and do whatever coach wants us to do, and he said we’re going to get more organized.”

Hornacek, according to Rose, wants to force opponents at the end of games to guard one of the Knicks’ three primary scorers (him, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis) in space and one-on-one. He added that getting the ball to Anthony in the pinch post, the foul-line extended area on the weak side of the defense that the triangle likes to utilize, has become one of Hornacek’s preferred late-game play calls.

The Knicks are scoring 103 points per 100 possessions during the final five minutes of games within five points. That ranks in the NBA’s middle of the pack, but it’s also right in line with the 104.4 they’re putting up overall—meaning they’re figuring out how to maintain their general level of efficiency even when opposing defenses tighten up.

As Rose told Bleacher Report following Tuesday’s 114-103 victory over the Heat in Miami, “It’s just figuring things out, improving along the way and learning how to play with one another.”

Even more interestingly, the normally up-tempo Knicks are taking the air out of the ball at the end of games and turning in one playbook for an entirely different one. No team is playing slower in crunch time or had a bigger drop-off between its usual pace and the speed with which it plays in these situations. 

This, again, is by design.

“During the regular part of the game I think all those outside shots by stretch-4s are great,” Hornacek told reporters recently while answering a question about the role big men hold in today’s space-and-pace NBA. “But if you can put them in the post late in the games and get …

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