Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Knicks 82, Sixers 79 - Recap

Watching tonight's game was a little bit like watching a weird boxing match. And I know nothing about boxing, so forgive me for this comparison; this is just how I imagined it. In the first half, the two boxers defended themselves from punches extremely well, rarely allowing the other to ever get a good, clean look. In the second half though, their defenses came down a little bit and they viciously swung punch after punch, defending when they had to, but going after one another whenever they got the chance.
Amar'e Stoudemire gettin' jiggy with it

Maybe that was a terrible comparison, but tonight's game was a slugfest. The Knicks came out and treated the 76ers like prisoners, locking them down. It took Philly nearly eight minutes to score a field goal. The Knicks offense meanwhile, wasn't much better as the number one defense in the league gave New York its fair share of problems. Though the Knicks dominated the 1st quarter, Philadelphia never let them run away with. The second half was another slow offensive outing for both teams, but the pace quickened a little and New York was up by eight at halftime.

In the second half, Philadelphia made a vigorous push, as you'd expect them to, and threatened to blow the game open numerous times. Up one going into the 4th quarter, the Knicks defended like their lives were on the line, and found just enough offense through Jeremy Lin's slashes to the rim, and Amar'e Stoudemire's overall brilliance.

This one felt like a playoff affair, and the Knicks emerged victorious, winning their fifth game in a row. Take the jump for some more notes, won't you?

That Was Great!
 - Amar'e Stoudemire seems to have found his groove as for the second game in a row, he was the Knicks best player on the floor. At first, it looked like it would be a no-show from Amar'e as he allowed Elton Brand to hit jumpshots from all over the floor and get offensive rebounds whenever he wanted. On offense, he was guarded pretty vigorously and just didn't get many looks. But after throwing down a few monstrous slams - one beating the clock to end the half - Stoudemire seemed to get going. Not much was going with the jumpshot besides one silly off-the-dribble fadeaway with a hand in his face, but we saw some sweet finishes around the rim, like the aforementioned dunks, and a swooping, across-the-lane, and-1 layup.
In the critical moments down the stretch, Stoudemire finished a beautiful touch pass from Carmelo Anthony (off an offensive rebound that Stat created), and perhaps his best play of the night, chased down Elton Brand for a clean block at the rim, just moments before Brand could lay it in. Very, very encouraging signs from Stoudemire, who finished with 21 points, 8-14 FG, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block.

 - What else can you say here but the defense? To expand upon the earlier mention of the Knicks' 1st quarter - after the initial 12 minutes, the Knicks were leading 19-11. The Sixers first three points were off of free throws, one of which was a questionable call, if I remember correctly. Brand scored their first basket with 4:12 left in the 1st quarter and made it 5-13 in favor of the Knicks. Though for the rest of the game the Knicks allowed 24-, 23-, and 21-point quarters to the Sixers, they held Philly to just 38% FG shooting for the game. Pretty impressive. Besides two defensive flubs (an and-1 foul on Lin and a wide open 3-pointer to Andre Iguodala), the Knicks 4th quarter defense was intense. Jared Jeffries went out with a "sore knee" and Tyson Chandler sat the whole 4th quarter, and the Knicks still got stops with a crew of Lin, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Melo, and Stoudemire. It's so terrific to see the defensive effort and execution spread to what would normally be a poor defensive unit, minus Shump.

 - Jeremy Lin was pretty much terrible all game until the 4th quarter. And it is that sole quarter that deserves this bullet point. Lin entered it shooting 1-11 before scoring 16 points in the final period. After relying pretty heavily on inaccurate jumpers, Lin repeatedly dove to the hoop, making a floater, a little push shot after a pump fake, and a driving layup after shattering Jrue Holiday's ankles on a behind the back dribble. Lin was fouled five separate times down the stretch and he made all 10 FTs which is equally deserving of praise. For the game, Lin was 4-17 with 18 points, 3 assists, 5 rebounds (!), and only two turnovers.

That Wasn't So Good
 - Carmelo Anthony, despite a general willingness to pass and some pretty solid defense on Iguodala, kind of shit the bed tonight. The Knicks desperately needed someone to score the ball when Philly was making its run, and Melo was just not there. A few times he demanded ill-advised post-ups and couldn't score against Iggy's hounding defense, but other times Melo got looks and just did that thing where he recoils his shooting hand so quickly, you'd think it was a foul to hold a follow-through. Generally you won't make shots that way. He finished 5-15 with 10 points and 5 rebounds.

 - Yeah, mentioned early, but Jared Jeffries hurt is knee on a blocked lay-up attempt and went straight back to the locker room. According to some Twitter people, he's expected to miss this weekend's games and will get an MRI Saturday or Monday. Because MRIs are illegal on Sundays. Get well soon, Jared.

 - At times, it seemed like Baron Davis, J.R. Smith, and Carmelo Anthony were trying to give the Sixers momentum. In the first half, on a fastbreak, Davis fed Smith nicely at the hoop, but Smith jumped in the air and passed the ball behind him to an unexpecting Shumpert who fumbled the ball. Possessions later on a break, Davis just casually dribbled the ball in front of his body and Philly swiped it away. Smith was pretty determined to make a buzzer-beater and missed both times while also missing open teammates. And all three were pretty in love with fadeaway, deep jumpers and that usually turned into long rebounds for Philly.

Odds and Ends
 - The Wells Fargo Center (which is probably the most disappointing arena I've been to) was probably a 50/50 split or maybe even 60/40 split of Knicks fans to Sixers fans. Many times throughout the night, there were "DE-FENSE!" chants when Philly had the ball.

 - The Sixers hounded Steve Novak all around the perimeter and basically made him useless in his 10 minutes of playing time.

 - If Lou Williams does a few crossovers and gets his legs hoppin' beforehand, I'm pretty sure he can make a 3-pointer from anywhere.

 - The refereeing was just bizarre tonight. They made it pretty clear early on that they'd let the two teams push and bang (stop it!) and be physical. But at times, when at the rim, guys' hands were clearly slapped or drivers were just blatantly pushed in the air and there wouldn't be a call. And then there'd be a silly touch foul or something. To be fair, most of the calls went the Knicks' way it seems.

 - In a weird play to finish the game, the Sixers hit a 3-pointer with just under four seconds left that cut the Knicks lead to three. The Knicks inbounded the ball and the Philly players just sort of walked away, despite Phil Collins's yelling, and the buzzer rang and the Knicks won. Philly still had a timeout too. Weird.

That's it for me. This was a really impressive win for the Knicks, and one that could have division/playoff implications since the Knicks won the season series. They're now 23-24 with two back-to-back games Friday and Saturday against Toronto and Detroit. Good opportunities, guys!

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