Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Knicks 106, Raptors 87 - Recap

Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images
The interesting thing about this team, despite their turnaround under Mike Woodson, is that they still don't really have a concrete identity. Their defense is beginning to actually look elite, but it's not quite consistent yet. Their offense is a mixture between fastbreak, open-court speedball and halfcourt sets with lots of screening and ball-movement, and occasional post-ups and isolations; it's still not really developed yet. Sometimes their bench brings the energy and gives the team the lead, and sometimes the starters do the heavy lifting. Tonight it was the latter.

And despite all that, when the Knicks are playing well, it's hard to pinpoint a weakness in the team. Tonight they once again scored over 100 points, with five guys scoring in double-digits. The Raptors hung around for most of the night, every now and then looking like they might really make a run, but each time they got close, the Knicks' intensity, energy, and execution boosted and they kept or extended the lead. Behind some (at times) scrappy, stingy defense, some masterful orchestrating from Jeremy Lin, and a combined 56-point effort from their starting frontcourt, the Knicks won their fourth game in a row.

Take the jump for some more notes!

That Was Great!
 - Boy, was it good to see Amar'e Stoudemire look the way he did tonight! Stat started off by canning a midrange jumper, and then making two nice moves off the dribble to finish at the rim. However, around the middle of the game, he began to stumble and bumble his way into some turnovers, and his shot selection got iffy. In the 4th quarter though, Amar'e really looked like the Amar'e of last season. He took defenders off the dribble (going baseline a couple of times), and either finished in the paint or got fouled. Even more encouraging, Stoudemire's effort on the boards was there all night, and after some lazy letdowns early on, he stepped up his defense and didn't really give anything away. It seems his weight-shedding regimen has helped, as he looks much nimbler and slightly more spry in all facets of the game. 22 points on 8-13 shooting, with 12 rebounds, 2 (actually gorgeous) assists (while on the move), and 1 block in 34 minutes from the big man.

 - I'm not sure I understand the need to call Linsanity dead or revived, but regardless of how you want to call it, Lin is playing as majestically as he did during that 9-2 stretch. Early on, Lin was very focused at sharing the ball and getting the offense rolling. Hesitant isn't the word, but he was more or less going at half-speed letting other guys do their thing on offense. But as the game went on we saw Lin dive to the hoop with speed we haven't seen since his early breakout games. Even better, the jumpshot was falling for him tonight as he hit two 3s, another deep one with his foot on the line, and two midrange jumpers as well. He didn't quite finish around the basket like we're used to seeing, but that was largely in part of Toronto's sound defense at not biting on his fakes and forcing him into tougher looks at the basket. His come-from-behind pick-pocket on Andrea Bargnani in the 4th quarter, which led to an open dunk was the turning moment in the game which ignited a 12-3 run that put the game away. Lin finished with 18 points, 6-10 FG, 3 rebounds, 10 assists, and 3 turnovers.

 - In trying to decide whether Tyson Chandler or the Knicks 12 steals should get this bullet, I came to the conclusion that the overall defense should get it! First, in man-to-man defense, Tyson set the bar by playing Andrea Bargnani about as well as you can. Rarely did he bite on fakes or let "Barn-yarn-y" (in Clyde voice) make anything other than shots that you were like, "Wow. How'd he make that?" DeMar DeRozan was quite other than a brief burst in the 3rd quarter, Jose Calderon only made the toughest of fall-away jumpers and scoops to the hoop, and Jerryd Bayless was rendered ineffective all night.
  • And then the team defense. The Knicks were pretty mingy tonight, only allowing 87 points. During the 3rd quarter we saw them get a little lackadaisical, but otherwise nothing came easy for Toronto (though they still managed 47% FG). Take away a ridiculous buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Linas Kleiza, and a few garbage time buckets late in the 4th, and Toronto could have very easily been below 80 points tonight. Factor in the Knicks 12 steals and 5 blocks, and the Raptors just didn't get too many attempts to score.

That Wasn't So Good
 - Carmelo Anthony is falling into the habit of starting the game hot, and then sort of tempering off. His shot still isn't falling at a good rate (he was 5-15 tonight), which at least allows me to debunk the theory he missed shots intentionally when D'Antoni was coach. To Melo's credit though, he kept a consistent focus on playing defense (3 steals), rebounding (8) and hitting the open man (5 assists). In particular, he had some pretty dishes to folks down low, and one nice hesitation alley-oop pass to Tyson Chandler on the break - part of the aforementioned 12-3 run. 

 - I don't know if this qualifies as "bad", but the bench was pretty ineffective tonight. J.R. Smith initially provided some great minutes off the bench in the 1st quarter with 6 points, 4 rebounds, a steal, and a block, but he mysteriously didn't see much time after that. Novak was off the mark tonight, Bibby was, well, still the corpse of Mike Bibby, and Jared Jeffries and Iman Shumpert (though their typical harassing selves on defense) were pretty quiet. Total, those 5 players were a -20 tonight.

Odds and Ends
 - Toney Douglas got some minutes in the 4th quarter during garbage time, which made me so happy and so sad at the same time. In his first offensive possession in the game, he pump faked on a corner 3, drove the lane, lost control of the ball, tripped and fell, and created a shot clock violation. In 3 minutes he finished 0-1, with 1 turnover, and 1 foul. Poor Toney. In his defense, he hasn't played in about a month, so he's definitely rusty.

 - Landry Fields was pretty quiet again tonight. He had a few nice drives to the hoop in 23 minutes playing time, but did little else besides make one beautiful pass on a drive to Tyson Chandler for a dunk. It's looking more and more like Landry will become the guy who loses minutes as the season goes on and the rotation becomes tighter.

 - I didn't watch the halftime interview with Fat Joe, who was sitting sideline tonight, but in back-to-back shots of him, he was shown staring blankly, mouth agape, looking at the jumbotron. He also rocks a ghastly chin strap/shapely beard thing which might be one of my least favorite looks ever. And now I hate Fat Joe!

 - Clyde had some good moments tonight, aside from continuously promoting his new restaurant, Wine & Dine.
  • When talking about golf, he mentioned that he's one of the few former players that haven't gotten into the game. He likes the ambiance on the course, but after about 9 holes or so, "he's had enough".
  • Jeremy Lin got clobbered by DeRozan's arm early in the game and had a wad of tissues up his nose to prevent bleeding. When remarking on this, Clyde noted that the wad up his nose would affect his breathing... unless, of course, you breathe with your mouth. He then went on to describe how he used to run with water in his mouth to get used to breathing through his nose. When Mike Breen inquired, Clyde said that at first it's an adjustment, but then you get used to it and you can run with water in your mouth for a long time without swallowing it or spitting it out.

 So, the Knicks are now 4-0 in the Mike Woodson era and have won all four games by 14 points or more. At 22-24, they go into Philadelphia (for an ESPN-televised) game that could have some playoff implications regarding the battle for the Atlantic Division. It will be a tough one. See ya'll tomorrow. Go Knicks!

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