Sunday, April 22, 2012

Knicks 113, Hawks 112 - Recap

I think we'll take it. The Knicks came into this game having pitifully dropped one against Cleveland on Friday night. Now in a quandary between tanking for the 8th seed or trying to win out and hope Orlando will lose out for the 6th seed, the Knicks kind of flip-flopped between motives for a good portion of the game. They sat Tyson Chandler and Jared Jeffries to give them rest and let some injuries heal, so it appeared they would just sort of play this one out.

But then pride took over. After a dull first half, the second half was an offensive battle with bits of defense sprinkled in, and the two teams went at it. For the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Baron Davis (!) led the charge against a chipper trio of Jeff Teague, Joe Johnson, and Marvin Williams for the Hawks. Things got physical as both teams exchanged hard fouls and plenty of talking afterwards, but in the end it really came down to who would score more points.

The Knicks did. Jump for some notes!

That Was Great!
 - Hey, how about that Amar'e Stoudemire fellow? I missed his return to the court on Friday night, but from everything I had gathered, he looked rusty and out of place. Today, though, playing the center position with Chandler out, Stoudemire did not look like a guy who hasn't played basketball for the better part of a month. He sank a jumper or two, but for the most part, Amar'e looked pretty determined to take advantage of the space around the rim, and did most of his work off the dribble. Ivan Johnson and Josh Smith played him well on a number of possessions, but we saw Stoudemire make some nice baseline drives and a few of his signature drop-steps and spins around the hoop, while also being fed off penetration by other folks. Amar'e seemed to acknowledge this, after scoring a bucket and subsequent Hawks timeout, by running full steam at the Knicks bench, making a spoon-fed, eating motion. He finished with 22 points on 9-13 shooting, with 12 rebounds in his second game back.

 - Carmelo Anthony was equally (if not more) brilliant than Amar'e Stoudemire in this game. His 39 points however are slightly over-shadowed by Amar'e's surprisingly springy play, and some slightly less efficient shooting (14-32) than we've seen from Melo this April. But let us not sneeze at Anthony's contributions. At times, he was foolishly lax on defense, letting Marvin Williams have his best game of the season, but on offense, Melo more or less did what he's been doing over the last month. His catch-and-shoots on the perimeter were clean, his drives to the basket were strong and smooth, and he was tantalizing on those one-dribble pull-ups he loves so much. A few times Melo missed bunnies at the rim, but he also was hacked and whacked a number of times without any help from refs. It should also be noted that he closed out the game for the Knicks, by giving them the go-ahead jumper after a Joe Johnson three.

 - Baron Davis had a double-double! Davis's game wasn't completely atypical of what we've seen from him this season; he committed a number of turnovers by jumping in the air with nowhere to go, and took some ill-advised shots. However, he ran the offense for 31 minutes, and finished with 13 points, went 75% shooting from beyond the arc, 10 assists, and 2 steals. During a whistle and break in action, I'm pretty sure I saw Baron dunk, or at least get very close to doing so. The rest from his stomach bug seems to have helped, and if the Knicks lose their shot of snagging the sixth seed, I'll be pretty upset if Baron doesn't get time off before the playoffs.

That Wasn't So Good
 - We can sum this up in one bullet point: minus Tyson Chandler, the Knicks once again allowed over 110 points. I don't have the exact number, but in the three games he's missed the Knicks have given up somewhere around 30,000 115 ppg to opponents. It's not just that Tyson anchors the paint and protects the rim, but when he's on the floor, he demands effort on defense from everyone else. His absence was probably a big reason why Johnson, Teague, and Williams combined for 74 points; Tyson just wouldn't have let his teammates play so half-heartedly on defense. On the other hand, this game probably improves Tyson's chances at getting Defensive Player of the Year.

 - By the way, the Knicks nearly lost this game at the buzzer. The Hawks inbounded the ball at half-court with three seconds remaining. Marvin Williams drove right by Amar'e, took off in the paint, and went for the slam, but missed it. Some Atlanta fans wanted a foul, but the replay showed that Marvin still had the ball when the buzzer went off, so it wouldn't have counted. Still, though, that's not a good way to play defense on the final possession.

- The Knicks had 18 turnovers today and that probably shouldn't happen again. Those turnovers along with the aforementioned turnstile defense will not help them win any playoff games regardless of who they play.

Odds and Ends
 - A little bit more on Amar'e. It should be noted that he still showed some signs of rust. He fumbled a lot of passes and also had a pretty shaky dribble when he was attacking the basket. That's to be expected. His defense stepped up as the game went on, but it was also pretty sour for a good chunk of time. He too benefit from more playing time and having Tyson Chandler in his ear helping him out.

 - J.R. Smith didn't do a whole lot in terms of scoring the ball (though he did have one big corner three-pointer), but he ran some very nice pick-and-rolls with Amar'e throughout the game. He had 4 assists to go along with his 5 steals, so that can give you a good idea of his activity on the floor today. I'm beginning to feel a lot more comfortable with the Smith-Iman Shumpert combo guard tandem when Davis gets to rest.

 - Josh Harrellson made a sweet steal in the backcourt after a Knicks miss, took the ball, drove the basket, went up... and had his shit stuffed by Marvin Williams.

 - Round of applause to Iman Shumpert for locking Joe Johnson down on the Hawks' final two possessions. This had Doris Burke (who did the ESPN broadcast) going bananas, and deservedly so. Shump was also pretty nice on offense, canning some mid-range Js and finishing some strong drives to the hoop.

 - I can't believe that I forgot until right now that Landry Fields was 3-3 from three-point range! It was so great! He had probably his most efficient offensive performance with 7-8 shooting and 18 points! That's huge for the Knicks if he can maintain that aggressiveness.

 - Carmelo and Jeff Teague were very chatty during a stretch in the second half, each of them knocking down shots, or giving fouls and then yapping back and forth. It was cool. Baron Davis also delivered a fairly rough foul on a Teague drive, which resulted in some chatting. The camera showed the two of them a few seconds later, and Teague was laughing while Baron was smiling. Baron appears to have that affect on opponents. But really, the trash talking in the second half really seemed to flip the switch for the Knicks and let pride take over. Sooo...

I guess now the Knicks are still shooting for that sixth seed. They remain in an awkward place between resting players and essentially tanking to avoid the Heat in the first round, and competing hard to get that sixth seed. So, I guess in the meantime we'll root for Orlando to lose. It's almost playoff time, guys!

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