|Photo by AP|
However, in the second half, the Knicks' starting unit played aggressive defense, and slowly chipped away at the lead, particularly by getting out in the fast break. When the bench crew checked in late in the quarter, it was showtime! Steve Novak got things rolling with some hot shooting (like, really hot), and then Baron Davis started grooving and throwing nifty passes, and Iman Shumpert started hounding folks, and when the starters came back in halfway through the 4th quarter, the lead was just about sealed up... only until some more fancy highlight plays! :)
That Was Great!
- Gotta start with Tyson Chandler here. Even with the Knicks dismal first half defense, Chandler was still fantastic through the game. Without Anderson Varejao, the Cavs ran out a center rotation of Semih Erden and Tristan Thompson, and Chandler rolled them into little balls, dipped them into his Gatorade, ate them, spit them back out, and ate them again. On defense, he was all over the floor, trapping point guards on pick-and-rolls, diving for loose balls, swatting inside shots away, and cleaning the glass. I'm exhausted just typing that sentence - Chandler's work on the floor looks exhausting. But as Mike D'Antoni says, you could go on all day about what Tyson does for the team. 13 points on 4-7 shooting, 15 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 3 steals in 31 minutes for the big man.
- The bench was also tremendous in this game, particularly in the second half. In the first half, they looked collectively flat, and didn't provide the necessary spark. But behind Steve Novak, they gave the Knicks what they needed to pull away. Novak hit some shots on those off-screen curl plays they like to run for him, but then hit some insane shots - one from about five feet beyond the arc, and then another fade-away corner 3 with the shot clock running down. Smith got in the act a little bit, throwing a gorgeous one-handed alley-oop that J.R. Smith finished in one-handed reverse style, and another over-the-shoulder dish to Smith for a layup in the fast break. Iman Shumpert picked up some nice steals and had some splendid finishes as well.
- Jeremy Lin had a wonderful start to the second half. He did a little bit of stat-padding late in the game, but nonetheless, his effort was consistent all night. On offense, he didn't get too antsy in the pick-and-roll, and kept his dribble, often getting to the hoop for some nice floaters and layups. On defense he got burned quite a bit by Kyrie Irving and had some terrible close-outs on shooters (mainly in the first half), but he also had some nice steals and tips, most of which don't show up in the box score. The jumper looked pretty flat, but his legs looked explosive around the basket once again, which is definitely a positive sign. 19 points, 6-12 shooting, 5 rebounds, 13 assists, and only 1 turnover!
- Amar'e Stoudemire looked pretty awful once again. We know that he and D'Antoni both spoke pretty candidly about getting Amar'e's explosiveness back, which will be a process, but tonight didn't look like a step in the right direction. To his credit, Stoudemire did get up a few times for some near putbacks or at least some rebounds, but when he has the ball in the lane, it looks like he's timing himself. You can see the guy is clearly over-thinking, and that's evident when he tosses up a righty hook/push shot with his back to the basket six feet from the hoop. Or when he skies for an offensive rebound eight feet from the basket, and puts up a shot while falling back towards the ground, as if he's playing 21. 14 points, 4-11 shooting, 5 rebounds, and 3 turnovers for Stat.
- The terrible first half really shouldn't be ignored. To my eyes, the biggest problems were the defensive rotations. Despite good communication and interior defense, the Knicks continue to be pretty bad at closing out on shooters. Antwan Jamison and Daniel Gibson all got some wide open looks, when they really aren't too dangerous elsewhere on the floor. Some of this was probably just rust, but the Knicks can't get in the habit of starting slow and having to work their way back into games.
- The free throw shooting problem is really becoming a problem. The Knicks were 28-42 from the FT line tonight, which is just 66%. Eventually it's going to come back and bite them in the butt in a close game. Really though, it's a free throw! It's so easy to make them, especially at home when people aren't waving and yelling shit at you while you shoot!
- Carmelo Anthony had a quiet 22 points tonight. It was cool to see Melo be the leading scorer, while not dominating the ball too much. His decisions were quick tonight, and a few times, when his initial moves were denied, he would pull the ball back out as if to restart his isolation, but then passed the ball like a good teammate. He can still do a better job on the boards and I think he can hang around the 5-6 assists area, but overall he was good. When his jumper starts falling more consistently, it will really open up the floor to him to drive to the basket like we saw him do a couple of times tonight.
- Iman Shumpert provided some highlight plays that got the arena and my living room rocking! In the first half, he crossed Anthony Parker dizzy and drove down the lane and dunked the ball HARD into (I believe) Semih Erden's face. And then late in the game, he got hit with a beautiful alley-oop from Lin and finished with style, reaching behind his head to gain full control of it, and then jammed it through while turning sideways in the air. And Shump's defense is always a pleasure to watch.
- Fields was quiet tonight with under 20 minutes of playing time and only 1-6 shooting. I suspect that he and Iman's playing time will fluctuate with whoever is playing better that night. It also occurred to me tonight, that with Baron Davis dealing the ball in the second unit, and J.R. Smith and Steve Novak spreading the floor, perhaps Landry would thrive off the bench now, and Shumpert could start to provide some more defense to the starting lineup. Thoughts?
That second half was about as fun as they come. The Knicks are back at .500 and sit in 7th place with the Boston Celtics dangerously breathing down their necks. The team has off for the next three days before they face the Celtics so some rest and lots of practice will be absolutely essential before things get really though. Go Knicks!