Right around the time the final buzzer sounded and I changed the channel to Bulls-Thunder, my housemate stepped into my room and noted that my jewfro was looking especially fluffy. It's that time of year, again, friends. The Knicks won their season opener in Toronto in hair-pulling fashion, stumbling into the final buzzer with a precarious five-point lead. It got scary, but a win is a win, and the Knicks certainly did some things right to get there.
Wilson Chandler led New York in scoring off the bench, Amar'e Stoudemire recorded a double-double (nearly a triple-double, but we'll talk about that later), and the Knicks made up for lackluster late-game offense with some stout D. More on all of the above after the jump.
- After a pretty even first quarter, the Knicks' second unit burst out to a big double-digit edge early in the second. Then, as quickly as they darted ahead, the Knicks blew their lead on a few Roger Mason gaffes and some terrible transition defense. It's probably not cool of me to pin the entire collapse on Mason, but it is really convenient. Really, though, after going scoreless for the first 4 or 5 minutes of the quarter, the Raptors chipped the lead down to 10. Once the first units returned, the Knicks' defense totally gave way and the Raps cut it close going into the half. Still, it was totally Roger Mason's fault.
- Early on, the Knicks did a very poor job protecting the rim and rebounding. Part of this was because Timofey Mozgov got in early foul trouble and left the floor. To my eye, though, it was the presence of Andrea Bargnani that really caused problems. Mozgov, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Wilson Chandler all took turns sticking Bargnani, and his prowess from outside demanded that one of those rebounders stray far away from the paint. This created plenty of easy O-bounds for Reggie Evans and also permitted the Raptor guards to streak into the paint with minimal confrontation. Meanwhile, Bargnani had no problem draining jumpers over even the best of close-outs. It was really obnoxious.
- Jarrett Jack committed an unforced turnover in the first quarter by stepping on the sideline. Clyde: "That's inexplicable. Actually, it's despicable".
- Mike D'Antoni played 10 men in the first 10 minutes of this game. Unless Mason plays himself out of the rotation, I'd expect those ten to spin every night. I would not, however, expect D'Antoni to dump 'em all out in the first quarter again.
- When Mozgov succumbed to foul trouble, Wilson Chandler was the first man off the bench. As long as this starting lineup is in place, expect a lot of early departures for Mozgov, with either Chandler or Ronny Turiaf replacing him, depending on the match-up.
- Am I going to have to hear this Eminem song during every MSG broadcast this season? I'm not sure I can handle that.
- Maybe Gian or some other smart individual can identify how this happened, but the Knicks actually out-rebounded the Raptors in this one (49-45, including 13-12 on the offensive glass). I fancy myself a pretty astute observer of basketball, but that swing in glass-minding completely evaded my notice.
- After some truly brilliant stretches of getting over screens and trapping in preseason, the Knicks went right back to the "switch everything" defense tonight. I like that strategy for individual possessions, but I can only watch Toney Douglas try to contest jumpers by Bargnani and David Andersen for so long. New York has way too much individual defensive talent to let opponents stroll into mismatches. I'd really like to see Toney and Raymond Felton blazing through screens while Stoudemire and Turiaf hedge like rabid wolverines. Attack in the backcourt, force turnovers, and run the break. Don't switch! Scramble and recover! You do not get to win, David Andersen! We do! Alright, rant over.
- I can't believe we didn't think of this in advance, but there is a major problem with Landry Fields's spot in the starting lineup. Since they're roughly the same size and color, have similar hairstyles, and wear geometrically indistinguishable numbers, Fields and Danilo Gallinari look identical on the court. It's not just an issue on my little TV, either. When a light-skinned, pointy-haired person in blue fell hard on his back, Kenny Albert joined the rest of us in worrying that Danilo Gallinari was injured. It turned out to be Fields (not that that's any less frightening, but, well...you know), and he turned out to be fine. Seriously, though, if somebody sitting courtside can't tell them apart, then we have a serious aesthetic conundrum on our hands. I see only one viable solution, and it's frosted tips for Landry.
- The Raptors are a really ugly team. I'm not going to name names, but the Knicks should always be favored in this match-up on handsomeness alone.
- Clyde one-upped Mike Crispino's "Linas Klee-ayza" from last week with some "Linas Klay-zer"s of his own.
- The Knicks blocked ten shots! 10! X! On purpose! With their hands!
Some individual performances of note:
- Reggie Evans did a great job frustrating Amar'e Stoudemire with his Reggie Evans-ness. He picked up Stoudemire early in the position, granting him only outside possession and forcing him to put the ball on the floor. Those bouts of dribbling (as well as a handful of entry hospital passes) got Amar'e nine (9! IX!) turnovers. Stoudemire is much, much better when he's either working off the ball or starting his drives from around the elbow, and he realized that in the late fourth. The Captain bucked and pushed his way into the paint, caught the ball, and went to work for three easy baskets and some trips to the line down the stretch. Not every defender will be as
dirty dogged as Evans is, but tonight was a good in exercise in beating the opponent down the floor and establishing position for Amar'e. As I said in preseason, it's a really magical feeling to have someone who can just will his way to baskets in crunch time.
- I don't know when nor where Landry Fields learned to make three-pointers go in the basket, but I love it. Fields, as expected, was quietly brilliant in his debut. He canned 3 of 6 line drive threes (I want to call them "Landry Lasers", but it just makes me wish his name was Kleiza so I could say "Klay-zer" like Clyde), played fairly active defense, and scrapped for loose balls and rebounds. I'd call Day 1 of Fields in the starting lineup a success.
- On a similar note, Day 1 of Wilson Chandler as sixth man went splendidly. As I mentioned, Wil entered the game early and played an excellent 29 minutes of basketball off the bench. He didn't pull too much (1-3) from outside, and found most of his team-leading 22 points in transition, on the drive, and from those offbeat, stop-and-pop-on-a-dime midrange jumpers he loves so much. Toss in 8 rebounds and you've got a splendid night's work from Mr. Chandler.
- Danilo Gallinari's line wasn't totally abhorrent (3-9, 2-5 from downtown, 4-4 from the line, 12 points, 6 boards), but he never really made his presence felt in this one. Gallo missed a number of jumpers that he'd usually sink blindfolded and lathered in pancake syrup, and continued his preseason trend of driving directly into the teeth of the defense. It seems like part of the reason for the latter issue is that Danilo takes so long to set up his drives (back up 5 feet, try 3 or 4 crossovers, THEN drive), that he wastes any lanes created by ball movement up to that point. He either needs to be more or less decisive in his drives. He's neither quick nor strong enough to run through three or four defenders, so he'll have to get it done with better timing. All of that said, Danilo rebounded, stuck with Linas Kleiza most of the time, and generally contributed in other regards. This stands in stark contrast to...
- ...Roger Mason. Not to pile on the guy, but he really hasn't done a single thing besides missing jumpers as a Knick.
- Raymond Felton's jumper wasn't falling, but he's really a monster in transition. Felton's ability to step on the gas and finish before the defense sets is a weapon the Knicks haven't possessed since the days before Stephon Marbury had a tattooed head. Raymond also notched 6 rebounds and 6 assists to supplement his 15 points. That's a pretty respectable line, considering that it wasn't a particularly great game for the little dude.
- Toney Douglas did a fair enough job of scoring (and distributing a little) from either guard spot, but I wasn't pleased with the way he defended in this one. After all his hardcore antics in preseason, I was disappointed to see Toney ducking under screens and playing Jarrett Jack wayyyy to closely on the perimeter. Also, Douglas really shouldn't play 27 minutes without a steal. That's not WTDD. (To be fair, I think he should have been credited with one in the fourth quarter.
- Before injuring some part of his torso when Amar'e Stoudemire tripped over his fallen body, Ronny Turiaf was having a quietly dominant game on defense. He registered 4 blocks and 2 steals and frightened plenty of Raptors in his 27 minutes. Ronny even ran the pick-and-roll with Douglas nicely, dropping 8 points, including an earth-shaking Safari Slam.
- Bill Walker needs to chill. I love watching play the role of aggressor, but some deep breathing is just what the doctor ordered. His 0-6 goose egg belies what was actually a decent batch of shots. Bill just ought to relax a bit.
- Last note: As Osborn noted in our post-game sexting, gutting out a 1. close win in a 2. season opener on the 3. road isn't something last year's Knicks would have done. Sure, it was the Raptors, but those aren't things to be overlooked.
Alright, friends. It wasn't pretty, but winning unpretty games is something that playoff teams learn to do. A win is a win, and the Knicks are on top of the world at 1-0. I'm going to take a night to ruminate on this one, and we'll have more to discuss tomorrow. Congratulations on being a fan of an undefeated basketball team!