Sunday, February 12, 2012

Knicks 100, Wolves 98 - Recap

On a night when Linsanity looked exhausted, the Knicks relied pretty heavily on their supporting cast and some tough second half defense to win their fifth straight. To summarize the game in a few words: the Knicks flat-out pick-pocketed the Timberwolves out of this win. By my memory, this was nearly a wire-to-wire victory for the Wolves; the Knicks didn't lead until the final minute. But as we've seen with this team lately, they've got some grit.

Theoretically, the Knicks had no right winning this game, but the NBA isn't always fair. Take the jump for some notes on one of the most surprising, gritty wins the Knicks have had all season.

The first 46 minutes of the game was completely cyclical; the same act being played out time and time again. Whether it was the first, second, third, or most of the fourth quarter, the Knicks fell behind due to some crisp offense by the Wolves, and some lackluster rebounding. However time and time again, they would battle back and get within a basket, only to commit a series of follies that would turn the momentum back in Minnesota's direction.

Tell me what right a team has winning a game on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back, while committing 19 turnovers, and losing the rebounding battle.

That Was Great!
 - The Wolves often run out a lineup with both Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour occupying the guard positions. With the 6'7" Landry Fields at shooting guard, he was able to take advantage of the size and strength difference. Fields got going early with some nice drives to the basket instead of settling for jumpers over considerably smaller opponents. Though there was a quiet stretch through the middle of the game, Fields also hit some big shots in the 4th quarter, including an and-1 reverse layup, a driving dunk, and a push shot in the lane. 19 points on 8-10 shooting with 4 rebounds and 4 assists for the Landry man.

 - Iman Shumpert actually made me consider coining the phrase Shump-sanity tonight. With the exception of a few ill-advised jumpers and untimely fouls, Shump had one of his best outings of his young career. As mentioned with Fields, Shumpert had a size or quickness advantage on most of the opponents he faced. On a seemingly rare night, his 3-ball was falling, which also allowed him to take some folks off the dribble and actually finish at the basket! The Wolves seem to also do a lot of switching on defense, and that gave Iman some mismatches that he took advantage of by crossing fools up and getting into the lane. On defense, his hands were remarkably fast, a few times stripping Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic in the post. No sequence was bigger for Shump than when he stripped Love in the post, got the rebound on the soaring loose ball, dribbled down court, and pulled up for a sweet 18-footer with just over a minute to go, which gave the Knicks their first lead of the game.

 - After a rough shooting night, Steve Novak had himself a 50% shooting outing. Novak had a quiet 15 points, but had arguably the biggest shot of the night when he nailed a 3-pointer from the elbow, coming out of a timeout to tie up the game with under a minute left. A few times, Novak tried to create by himself by posting up his short defenders and then resulting to fade-away jumpers. I wasn't particularly fond of these moves. I was quite fond of Novak's 6 rebounds though!

That Wasn't So Great
 - To call Jeremy Lin's game "bad" would be misleading. It wasn't Jeremy "reverting back to the mean", it was more just Jeremy looking human. In the first half, Lin looked very impressive, shaking off some turnovers by making some uncanny finishes around the basket, and hitting one of the sweetest crossover-step-back-jumpshots ever over Luke Ridnour. However, in the second half, Lin committed a bundle of turnovers on silly, unnecessary passes, and he just didn't have the legs to finish around the rim. He looked exhausted mentally too, as he could have gone to the line or converted some more layups by throwing his defenders a pump fake. Four of his attempts were blocked and he shot just 8-24. But as I mentioned, it wasn't a completely bad game as he did notch 20 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 steals.

 - When Carmelo Anthony gets back, I expect Bill Walker will be out of the rotation. Walker continued to struggle tonight by shooting just 0-5. His 3 points all came off of free throws, and his lone missed free throw came in the final seconds when he allowed the Wolves to possibly take the lead or tie the game, by making the score 100-98. Though he had 2 rebounds and 2 assists - neither of which is all that impressive - he generally had little positive impact on the game.

 - The Timberwolves had 22 turnovers of their own, but the Knicks had 19 and committed 8 of them (by my count) in the 4th quarter and giving the Wolves every possible chance to run away with the game. New Yor absolutely has to be more careful with the ball.

Odds and Ends
 - The officiating was dreadful tonight. There were a number of bad calls, one of which included ignoring Jeremy Lin getting fouled on a drive by calling a non-existent technical on Ricky Rubio and then not giving the Knicks the ball back. Some guys got whacked under the basket but didn't get a call, while other guys were called for fouls by touching other players. It was almostl laughably bad.

 - The matchup drew over 20,000 fans to the Wolves' arena which they announced was the fourth largest crowd ever. Pretty cool to see a city's fandom start to be revived by a young, exciting team, which the Wolves most definitely are.

 - Before the game, I wouldn't have guessed the Nikola Pekovic would dominate the Knicks down low, but he did just that. I don't know why he wasn't in down the stretch, but he gave the Knicks a lot of trouble.

 - As brilliant as Ricky Rubio was with his passing and defense on Jeremy Lin (which was especially impressive), with the game tied in the final 40 seconds, he dribbled off his foot and out of bounds which gave the Knicks the ball back. On the next possession, Lin got fouled and went to the FT line and hit 1-2 which and gave the Knicks the lead for good.

 - After giving up 62 points in the first half, the Knicks allowed just 36 points in the second half, and only 11 in the first half. It was pretty excellent.

That's pretty much it, everybody. As I mentioned, the Knicks almost had no right winning this game, but they were able to pull it out anyway. It's a testament to this team's new found grit and it's extremely enjoyable to watch. The schedule remains on the easier side over the next few games and we'll welcome Amar'e Stoudemire back with open arms this Monday against the Raptors. Go Knicks!

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