Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Knicks 111, Bucks 107 - Recap

Well now that our heart rates have probably all returned to normal levels, we can talk about this wild, wacky, incredibly distressing game. The importance of it was not missed by either team as both sides talked about must-wins, playoff intensity, and the like. To start the game, however, those labels couldn't have been further off.

The Bucks opened up extremely lax, carelessly handing the ball to the Knicks who raced down the court for easy buckets or wiggled their way into the paint in the halfcourt without much trouble. After posting a 36-point first quarter, the second quarter blues washed in again as the Knicks returned the favor by allowing the Bucks 35 points to finish the half at a 62-62 tie.

The second half came down to execution and for the most part it looked like the Bucks were ready to pull away at any moment. But New York kept fighting back. With every basket Milwaukee scored, the Knicks retaliated with a 3-pointer, 3-point play, drive to the basket, or trip to the free throw line. In the final minutes of the 4th quarter, despite giving up a plethora of offensive rebounds, the Knicks clamped down on the deer while getting big 3-pointers from Steve Novak and J.R. Smith, and numerous big shots from Carmelo Anthony.

When it mattered most, the Knicks pulled away and saved their hopes of a playoff seed. Jump for some notes!

That Was Great!
 - Carmelo Anthony continues to throw a remarkable amount of weight on his shoulders and carry the Knicks to victories. He once again got off to a scorching start, nailing jumpers off curls and spot-ups, or taking it to the basket. At times he struggled against Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (understandably), but generally made good decisions in settling for pull-up jumpers or working off the dribble against the likes of Carlos Delfino, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Ersan Ilyasova. A 3-pointer to beat the shot clock, a missed lay-up and subsequent putback, and a pull-up and-1 jumper for Carmelo stick out to me as really important buckets down the stretch. Not to mention a running contest on a Dunleavy jumper that would have given the Bucks the lead in the final minute. Another 32 points for Carmelo on 50% shooting with 10 rebounds.

 - Before continuing to comment on individual players, the Knicks' resolve should be addressed. By most accounts, the Bucks should have won this game. Other than the 1st quarter and the latter half of the 4th quarter, the Bucks were the better team. If you want to divide this game up into eights like a pizza pie (!), Milwaukee was better for 5/8 of the game. But every time it looked like Milwaukee was about to blow it open after a reverse lay-up, or highlight rejection, or crossover, step-back 3, the Knicks regained their composure and kept swinging. That's a testament to everyone on the team and something that separates a playoff team from a non-playoff team.

 - There was a lot of good from the starting lineup tonight, so I'll group them all together as a collective bunch that really helped out Anthony. Tyson Chandler (minus five turnovers and five fouls) was perfect. Literally. He shot 100% from the field, 100% from the FT line, and produced another double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert had pretty similar nights. Fields was more efficient from the field (5-7 vs. 6-15), but the two combined for 27 points, 11 rebounds (5 for Landry, 6 for Shump), 11 assists (6 for Landry, 5 for Shump), and 5 steals (2 Landry, 3 Shump). Both did a commendable job staying in front of the explosive Milwaukee backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, particularly Iman on Ellis down the stretch. Really great contributions from those three.

That Wasn't So Good
 - The Knicks got trampled on the glass once again. Really, they should thank Milwaukee for being so un-clutch in the final two minutes because there were two separate sequences where the Bucks had an orgy of offensive rebounds and chances to score. If I did my math correctly (according to the equation on Hoopdata), the Bucks' 13 offensive rebounds gave them an offensive rebound rate of 28.8%. Or, an offensive rebound on 1/3 of Milwaukee's misses. You'd have to imagine that a team like, say, Chicago would have capitalized on those opportunities.

 - I'll start this off by commending J.R. Smith on what ended up being the game-winning 3-pointer with 1:04 left, giving New York a 108-107 lead. With that out of the way, we can say how bad Smith was in this game. As he is wont to do, Smith turned down catch-and-shoot opportunities by hesitating and dribbling amuck with no real intention. When he did catch-and-shoot his shots were mostly awry. He hit a few of his typical fade-away jumpers, but missed plenty of other opportunities, especially at the rim (I thought he was supposed to be explosive and all dunk-y on folks?!). His final numbers of 14 points on 5-13 shooting don't really illustrate how bad he was tonight.

 - The Knick-killers were at it again. Mike fucking Dunleavy Jr. had another 16-point first half where he got loose for open jumpers and drained them with uncanny accuracy (though that's totally typical for him against New York). He also flopped his way to a few aggravating fouls on 3-point attempts (both times on curl plays being chased by Smith). The Ellis-Jennings combo was nearly devastating tonight as they combined for 57 points, 10 rebounds, and 17 assists. Thankfully, they both missed a handful of big shots down the stretch, in big part because of the Knicks intensified defense.

 Odds and Ends
 - Steve Novak (who was shown adorably greeting his parents and grandparents (!) during the pregame) found his stroke again. He finished with 10 points, 3-6 FG, 2-5 3FG, and 4 rebounds. His game-tying 3-pointer in the 4th quarter and two FTs on the intentional foul by the Bucks were big.

 - The Mike-Bibby-in-place-of-Toney-Douglas experiment went about as expected.

 - Baron Davis played only 19 minutes, none of them in the 4th quarter. He now has like five injuries he's dealing with, so yeah, he was pretty bad too. More on him tomorrow.

 - Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh combined for 6 blocks and both have about 12-foot long wingspans. It seemed like they swatted everything in sight.

 - I think Doris Burke has a crush on Landry Fields due to the (probably over-excessive) gushing she gave him. Likewise, during the ESPN broadcast, they showed some pictures of Ms. Burke's playing days with Providence College, and I think Mark Jones was trying his darndest (and bland-iest) to flirt with her. This concludes the romance section of the recap.

 - I'm happy to say that the Milwaukee Bucks fans' usual shrewd, premature "3-2-1" countdown in the shot clock didn't seem fool a single Knick tonight! 

So, it wasn't that pretty, but we'll take it. The Knicks are 30-28 now, with a two-game lead over the Bucks, a game behind Philly for 7th place, and are four games behind Boston for the Atlantic Division lead. At this point, I'll feel happy just to secure a playoff spot. And if it makes you feel better, the Knicks haven't lost consecutive games under Mike Woodson yet.

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