The only Woodson who Knicks fans know is a no-nonsense, iron-fisted defensive guru who has turned the Garden drought of defensive ineptness into nine games of defensive beauty. The defensive statistics since the coaching change are startling.
Entering Friday night's game at Philips Arena, the Knicks have allowed 86 points per game under Woodson with opponents shooting a dreadful 40.8 percent. In the first 42 games with Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks allowed 96 points on 44.7 percent shooting. Their defensive rebounding has improved markedly and the Knicks are now a winning team at 26-25 for the first time since early January, when they started 6-5.
Carmelo Anthony, who was not putting out on the defensive end for D’Antoni, can’t stop talking about defense since Woodson took over.
“We are really locked in and focused on what we need to focus on, which is the defense end,’’ Anthony said following the stunning destruction of the Magic Wednesday night when they built a 39-point bulge. “We have been tremendous on that end of the court.’’
This is what Woodson was known as when he left Larry Brown’s championship-winning staff in Detroit to join the young Hawks in 2004-2005. He coached the youngest club in NBA history with 18-year-old Josh Smith, 19-year-old Marvin Williams and 21-year-old Josh Childress that first 13-win season. But after three straight lotteries, he guided the core to playoff berths his final three seasons.
“Mike follows in the footsteps and role model Coach Brown,’’ said former Hawks and Knicks center Dikembe Mutombo, who played for Woodson in Philly when Brown was in charge. “He learned so much from Coach Brown about defense. He knows you get a group of young men who are committed to listen and understand and believe in you as a coach, you have great success.’’
The iron fist Woodson is ruling with is a distinct departure from D’Antoni’s let-the-players-police-themselves philosophy. But Mutombo said Woodson didn’t always do it with shouting.
“He’s not an outspoken person,’’ Mutombo said. “He doesn’t speak that much. But he has the look that makes you wonder: Is coach mad, what is he thinking, does he like what I’m doing or does he have something he wants to tell me?’’
Players appear afraid to giving anything less than full-blown tenacity on defense.
“The thing he does is hold guys accountable,” Anthony said on ESPN Radio this week. “D’Antoni? That’s not him. Nobody expected him to. It’s not his personality. He did it his way.’’
It turned into the wrong way for this club and apparently for Anthony, who has never been known for giving it up on defense. Even Steve Novak, their transcendant 3-point bomber, is talking D.
That Woodson has two key players, center Tyson Chandler and rookie guard Iman Shumpert, who are defensive specialists has helped his cause.
But even Amar’e Stoudemire, before his back injury over the weekend, went from a defensive liability to a demon in the paint after D’Antoni resigned. Chandler said the biggest difference under Woodson is the team is doing less switching on picks and playing harder on the ball.
“Our offense feeds off of our defense and our offense plays better,’’ Novak said. “We’re playing the right way right now.
I feel like the pieces we have — Shump, the way he guards; Tyson, he’s is our leader on defense. That side is contagious. You see Shump guarding the ball and getting over screens. That is contagious.’’