This one had a remarkably similar narrative to the Heat game, no? We saw a big early deficit, a series of runs to come thisclose to pulling even, miserable early three-point shooting that picked up later, spotty production from the bench, and as our friend Flying_Saucer said, absolutely no presence on the backboards. The silver lining (again) was an improbable second half comeback, but at some point it would really be great for the Knicks to execute for all four quarters and avoid the pitfalls of playing catch-up.
After the jump, some notes.
- So, there was one major difference between tonight's game and Tuesday's, and that was an easily forgotten first quarter in which the Knicks actually held a double-digit lead. I know, right? It came and went so quickly that you might have missed it. With the wings rimming wide open jumpers and Dwight Howard harassed by Amar'e Stoudemire and friends, Orlando had nothing resembling an offense in the early going. The Knicks couldn't score much either, but Wilson Chandler shot well enough to buoy the offense. A Shawne Williams put-back gave New York a ten-point edge with just under four minutes left in the period, but the Magic reeled off six points in a minute flat to all but erase it. By the first buzzer, the Knick lead was just 1.
- Predictably, the Magic picked themselves up in the second quarter. (The headline for our last game recap was "Oh man, that first quarter." Guess what this one could have been?). Gilbert Arenas and Ryan Anderson hopped off the bench and immediately started burying threes, while Howard and Brandon Bass cleaned the glass for easy put-backs and trips to the line. Amar'e Stoudemire picked up his third foul halfway through the period, and Orlando dominated against the subsequent small lineup. The Magic led by as many as 22 and entered halftime with an 18-point edge, leaving us all to wonder if the Knicks had another comeback in store.
- They did. Stoudemire had much more success asserting himself in the second half, while Chandler and Shawne Williams contributed from the outside. Amar'e willed the Knicks to within two with four minutes remaining, but a Jason Richardson three (off an offensive board) quickly put Orlando back up five, and the Knicks didn't convert another field goal until there was under a minute left and the game had already been decided.
- The rebounding tally, when it was all said and done, was 51-35 in favor of the bad guys.17 of Orlando's came on the offensive glass. While Amar'e was on the floor, Howard easily established position to clean up misses, and got plenty of help from Brandon Bass. Without Amar'e on the floor...
- ...actually, this warrants its own note. Upon committing his third foul midway through the second, Amar'e was replaced by Shawne Williams, creating one of the smallest lineups we've ever seen D'Antoni use. The five were Raymond Felton, Landry Fields, Danilo Gallinari, Chandler, and Williams. That's one point guard and four guys who could easily pass as shooting guards. Mind you, this is with Howard (and for the last 90 seconds, Bass) still on the floor. The idea, I suppose, was for the mini lineup to take its lumps on defense, but cover themselves with quickness and jump-shooting on the other end. To say it backfired would be insufficient. There was no quickness or jump-shooting; they just turned the ball over a bunch and missed their open jumpers. The lumps, meanwhile, were mountainous. When they single-covered Howard, the big bro rolled right over his 6'8"-ish defender (usually Chandler or Williams)*. When they helped, Howard bailed out to the perimeter and the Magic worked it around for open jumpers. D'Antoni watched Orlando stomp all over his troupe of shrimps for the final six minutes of the second. Orlando out-scored the Knicks 23-12 over that span. We got a better look at what madness D'Antoni had in mind when the tiny lineup reappeared for about four minutes in the final quarter. During that stretch, they didn't defend much, but made up for it by hitting a bunch of threes, including a pair of poops from Mr. Williams. New York outscored Orlando 12-9 in that stretch.
- *One time I was taking the bus from Jersey into the city, and right at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel, the bus pulled over momentarily. We eventually realized that a little sedan had side-swiped our vehicle while merging, and our driver had stopped just to make sure the other guy was alright. Hardly anybody had felt the bus so much as shimmy when struck from the side. Had our driver been less kind, we could have easily rolled along without most of the riders having any idea that there'd been a collision. I tell you all this because this is what I imagine it feels like to be Dwight Howard when Shawne Williams is guarding you. Sometimes, I swear Howard didn't even know he'd been fouled. He was just taking the official's word for it.
- So, unless I'm missing something, that lineup featuring zero big men spun for about ten minutes, during which they were outscored 32-24. Essentially, D'Antoni shunned Ronny Turiaf (just six minutes) and Timofey Mozgov (just zero minutes) and the possibility of playing Orlando straight-up in favor of simply trading threes for twos. When it failed, New York found themselves in a massive hole. When it worked, they made a bit of progress digging themselves out. It was an interesting solution to Amar'e's foul troubles, and I can see the logic, but that six-minute period of the second quarter pretty much lost New York the game. I see Charlie's point here, but why not at least give Mozgov a brief shot? If not him, then what about more Turiaf? Even a lone tall tree amongst that field of jump-shooting shrubs might have made a difference. I haven't had much occasion to call D'Antoni stubborn this season, but...yeah, that's what that was.
- Amar'e struggled offensively in the early going, but his aggression on defense was key to Howard's own struggles. The refs let the two bang a little, and Amar'e did a nice job of pestering Howard's shot attempts without drawing a whistle. Amar'e was less effective defensively in the second half (unsurprising, as he tends to back off once he's a foul or three deep.), instead channeling his assertiveness into much better isolation offense. He showed an uncanny ability to recover from bobbled passes and mis-dribbles (except for one big blown dunk), scrapping his way to those short runners and leaners from a few feet out, and also plenty of free throws (6-9 on the night). In just 32 minutes, Amar'e shot 12-22 for 30 points, and added 4 blocks and 4 assists (and no turnovers, somehow. He got stripped plenty, but repeatedly managed to corral the loose ball). The 4 rebounds, though, are a major bruise on an otherwise solid line. He rarely, if ever, bothered to box out Howard.
- Wilson Chandler was nothing short of marvelous on offense. He made 3 of 6 three-pointers, sank a few midrange Js, and got everything else on those signature diagonal drives to the rim. Wil had 9 boards and 2 blocks as well. No complaints whatsoever.
- Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari were not as splendid. Felton continued his hasty regression to the mean with a ghastly 6-22 shooting performance, including 1-7 from outside. A few of those made jumpers were big ones, but some of the misses struck parts of the backboard that we didn't even know existed. Felton also had 6 turnovers and just 6 assists. I will say that I'm often impressed by Raymond's grit when he finds himself mismatched. On Tuesday, he made some solid defensive plays when switched on to LeBron James. Tonight, he actually held his own when switched on to Howard. When it comes to guarding Howard, I think I actually prefer Felton to Shawne Williams. I'm only half kidding.
- When Danilo Gallinari felt like creating, good things tended to happen, including 7 free throws. Unfortunately, that was a rare sight. 5 field goal attempts in 41 minutes is just silly. Especially when Felton took 22. Gian will have more on that on the morrow.
- I guess it bears repeating that Toney Douglas can't be relied upon to make good things happen when the ball is in his hands. First he misses cutters, then the cutters just give up and stand still. Something needs to change.
- With Douglas struggling and Turiaf and Bill Walker hardly getting to spin, Williams was the only man to make an impact off the bench (the Magic boasted a 38-20 bench scoring edge). Besides the aforementioned hopelessness against Howard, Extra E had himself a decent offensive night. He hit three of five poops and finished with 15 points. Shawne should never, ever drive, though.
- Landry Fields did absolutely nothing besides get lost chasing JJ Redick through screens. :-(.
- My mom on Stan Van Gundy: "That man can afford a decent suit and THAT'S what he wears".
- Groundbreaking realization by Osborn: If you type a "<3" on either side of the headline of a comment, the headline disappears, leaving only "<3". For instance, if you were to type "<3 otter sex <3" in the headline, you'd only see "<3" after hitting publish. Seriously, give it a try.
- Stoudemire and Howard each added to their double-digit T-totals (does this make them teetotalers?) with a technical apiece. Both of the calls seemed a little over-the-top, but the refs let plenty of other instances of bitching go.
The take-away is very similar to that of the Miami game. These aren't last year's Knicks. They don't quit, and they can put a real scare into the very best of 'em. Unfortunately, they're relying very heavily on outside shooting, but with Felton misfiring and Gallinari disappearing just can't execute the plan. With Roy Hibbert's Pacers and Tim Duncan's Spurs up next on the schedule, it wouldn't be surprising to see more foul issues for Stoudemire. After tonight's ugly experiment with small-ball, it'll be interesting to see how Mike D'Antoni adapts.