Knicks achieve defensive feat unmatched in past decade as NBA's scoring drought persists



It takes a lot to hold a modern NBA team below 80 points. You obviously need shooting luck. You have to hope that the whistles are on your sides. Playing opponents dealing with injuries helps too, especially when the few remaining healthy players are on cold streaks. It never hurts to get your own best defender back from an injury, as the New York Knicks did on Tuesday. The return of OG Anunoby helped the Knicks hold the 76ers to just 79 points on Tuesday, but it would be hard to call it the decisive factor. After all, this isn’t the first time the Knicks have held an opponent under 80 points lately.

In fact, the Knicks just became the first team since 2012 to hold three consecutive opponents below 80 points. The streak began on Thursday, when the Knicks faced an Orlando Magic team playing without starting point guard Jalen Suggs and left with a 98-74 victory. It continued Sunday, when the Knicks, again facing the 76ers, were defeated but only allowed 79 points in the process.

The Knicks hit all of those benchmarks in their marvelous three-game defensive stretch. Their opponents have shot a miserable 23-of-89 (25.8%) from deep and only attempted 50 total free throws when the league’s season-long average would suggest they should’ve expected 66 or 67. Suggs missed the Magic game. Joel Embiid missed both 76ers games. Tyrese Maxey sat out on Sunday. Tobias Harris is in the midst of a months-long cold stretch. The stars aligned for the Knicks. Hence, history.

Of course, it’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since the stars aligned in that way. After all, we’re talking about a three-game sample here. That’s tiny in the grand scheme of things. But the trend of decreased scoring around the league? That sample is starting to get bigger.

Before the All-Star break, the average league-wide offensive rating was 116.4, according to Cleaning the Glass. It’s down to 114.1 since the break. Every team in the NBA averaged at least 107 points per game before the break. Since? Six teams have averaged below that mark. Post-break NBA games are averaging 39.6 free-throw attempts per game, down from 45.3 before the break, according to Statmuse.

It’s hard to call a three-game sub-80-point streak inevitable in any context that doesn’t involve the 2004 Pistons, but the way things have trended over the past month or so suggests that somebody was going to start posting historic defensive numbers. Fewer fouls have been called lately. That’s trickling down to the way teams are defending. More physicality is getting allowed. Defenses taking advantage of it.

Does that, in itself, explain what’s happening in New York right now? No, because if it did, more teams would be doing this. Everything we covered above plays into this, and of course, so too does New York’s roster and coaching. Tom Thibodeau has built a defensive culture that has been able to sustain an incredible amount of injuries. This was already a top-10 ranked defense.

But the 10th-ranked defense before the All-Star break (Memphis at 113.5 points per 100 possessions) would rank 17th in this new, post-break anything goes defensive world we’re living in now. The Knicks may have been the first defense to make this kind of history after the 2024 All-Star break, but they aren’t going to be the last.





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