KnickChick nailed it with that comment in the post-game thread. The Knicks of late have not been easy watching. At worst, they've been positively maddening; at best, decent yet troublesome. Tonight was pleasantly different. At long last and right on time, New York executed pretty solidly from start to finish and, even better, matched their offensive output with steady, sturdy defense against the athletic Hawks. Those of us watching got to sit back and enjoy our basketball from buzzer to buzzer. It was a terrific wave to ride into the All-Star break.
New York got a balanced effort, with almost all of the ten bros that spun playing some role in the team's building and maintenance of a healthy lead. Unlike previous games versus Atlanta, the Knicks didn't allow themselves to get bullied inside. They played aggressive defense without fouling and followed through on it by grabbing the rebounds as well. Good, good things. Take the jump for notes.
- Pre-game: Al Trautwig read us the morsels of trash talk uttered by Amar'e Stoudemire and Al Horford over the past few days. Al's haphazard veering between his normal speaking voice and some sort of mangled urban dialect was pretty entertaining.
- The Knicks opted to wear their blue throwback jerseys once more. I really do love them, but why not white at home?
- Early on, both teams were getting their points inside. The Knicks drove and hit cutters for buckets around the rim, while the Hawks repeatedly ran post-ups on the left side with steady success. Al Horford backed down Timofey Mozgov to draw fouls and finish easily, Marvin Williams scored turn-arounds over Landry Fields, and Joe Johnson ass-pushed Danilo Gallinari until help was needed and he could kick to an open teammate.
- Mozgov, by the way, was one of maybe two players (the other being Bill Walker, who played just seven minutes) who didn't leave much of an imprint on the night's proceedings. It's not a huge deal. He just didn't match up that well with the ridiculously feisty Al Horford, and D'Antoni opted to let Amar'e Stoudemire take his verbal battle with Horford back to the court instead.
- And that went pretty well. Horford got his 12 points and 11 rebounds, but Amar'e shone brighter. He scored 23 points on 8-17 shooting (which surprised me. I thought he'd hit most of his shots.) and brought energy at the other end in the form of three blocked shots. Offensively, my favorite plays are when Stoudemire gets the ball up on the elbow and somebody (in this game, Gallinari did it best) cuts or curls into the paint for a quick feed and finish. Amar'e throws those passes rather snappily, and he assisted Gallo for an easy dunk inside on one of those sets.
- Speaking of which, this was one of those rare occasions on which both Gallinari and Wilson Chandler played solidly. Gallo shot shakily to start, but sank some big threes later in the game and found scoring inside and at the line as well. Most excellently, he defended Joe Johnson with vigor and pretty respectable success (Johnson shot 5-12 for just 11 points) and snaggled nine rebounds as well. Chandler, meanwhile, did most of the scoring for the second unit. He continued his return to form, pronking around for clear looks and stepping into 9 makes out of 15 shots from inside and out. His shooting looks so much more fluid and less deliberate than it did just a few games ago.
- Raymond Felton missed some jumpers (he shot 6-16), but limited himself to just two outside attempts (both misses) in favor of some gorgeous drives to the rim. Ray was rowdy as ever in transition, and his insistence on pushing the pace (primarily off of long misses, not turnovers) carried over to the rest of the folks. Both the solid 48% shooting and the 17-21 outing at the foul line are partially due to getting down the court quickly and establishing excellent position. Felton was unquestionably the musher in that department.
- Toney Douglas managed to spell Felton well enough in 15 minutes off the bench. When Toney's running point, the offense turns into a lot more driving and kicking, poking and prodding than it does with the bolder, more incisive Felton throwing the passes, but he and Chandler mostly succeeded in finding buckets and keeping the team afloat in this one. February has been a month of TDDWTDD, and that fills me with cheer.
- Meanwhile, Toney missed a buzzer-beating runner to end the first quarter, but drew a foul on Joe Johnson in the process. The refs went to the tape to review whether or not the contact arrived before time expired, which made me think the following: If Johnson hit him before the buzzer (which, as it happened, he did), then that's a foul. Whatevz. If the strike came AFTER the buzzer, though, then it's aggressive physical contact during a dead ball. That's assault, yo. The official review in that scenario should be to decide whether the perpetrator should be charged with a foul or ejected and sent to prison.
- Jill Martin's halftime interview was with Forest Whitaker. I didn't catch any of it because I was deeply involved in a cookie feast. What I did catch, though, was Mike Breen's announcement of the interview, in which he named Whitaker as a lead in one of his favorite films...
...wait for it...
Phenomenon. PHENOMENON!? Yes, Phenomenon. Phenomenon is one of Mike Breen's favorite movies. Now, I'm a big John Turtletaub fan-- Cool Runnings is among my favorites and the National Treasure movies are my jam-- but I remember Phenomenon being a seriously dogshit film. Maybe I need to watch it again. That blew me away, especially in the context of "this is why Mike Breen loves Forest Whitaker".
- Meanwhile, all that just made me think about the movie Ghost Dog for the first time in a while, which then made me think of the movie Black and White because I think they were out around the same time, which made me think of Allan Houston because he was in that movie. It all comes back to the Knicks.
- Does Larry Drew have enormous fingernails? I think Larry Drew might have enormous fingernails.
- You know how when you try to gamble for a steal with a large, uncoordinated player in the NBA 2k games (known among my friends as "Took", or maybe "Twok", by the way), the player inevitably misses the steal and is then subject to the most exaggerated inertia ever, practically falling over as his man blows by him? I'd always found that irritatingly unrealistic. That is, until tonight, when Timofey Mozgov heaved himself at a pass to Al Horford at the top of the key and ended up careening toward halfcourt while Horford drove in for an easy dunk. That's one of the few instances I've seen of "telegraphing" a steal.
- Jeff Teague looks perpetually caffeinated. He sort of plays that way, too.
- 11 points on 4-5 shooting, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals in 37 minutes is like the Landriest line ever. Landry Fields was crucial in limiting Atlanta's extra attempts, and he sank two big threes to stave off the Hawks' run in the third quarter. Praise be to Landry.
- Has Maurice Evans always had that squiggly little leg kick on his jumper? It's kind of a silly motion for a guy whose musculature could probably feed a family of four for a whole winter.
- Injury thingz: Felton had a splint of some sort on his sore knuckle, but ditched it very early in the game. Gallo turned his ankle in the second half, but appeared to be fine. Ronny Turiaf (who, by the way, had six boards in 15 minutes), also bumped his ankle at one point, but also looked okay. Shawne Williams, on the other hand, banged knees with Jamal Crawford and had to leave the game. Thankfully, it was a straight-on collision instead of a twist or a pull, and Extra E was able to shuffle his way to the locker room under his own power. Even better, he's got a week now to let that knee heal.
- Mini rivalry thingz: Raymond Felton picked up a technical for standing up to Al Horford and growling up in the man's face after Horford elbowed him pretty hard. Felton intended to do no more than have a few words (and he said as much afterward), but given the teams' history, a tech was probably warranted. Danilo Gallinari also picked up a technical after deliberately tripping Mike Bibby, but apparently the tech was for something else that I missed. Horford and Stoudemire were pretty physical, but the battle never bubbled over into anything too ridiculous. These two teams have some healthy animosity. It was great to see the Knicks finally channel that into some competent basketball.
- I'd just like to share that I'm writing this at around 3 AM and Ronny Turiaf just played ping pong with his mom and is currently eating chicken and pasta with his dog. Twitter, guys.
And that'll be all. Again, that was a brilliant way to enter the All-Star break. Pretty much everybody played well, and the Knicks beat a good team without too much angst along the way. I can understand if it feels a little bittersweet, given the omnipresent fears that some of these Knicks might be dealt before the next game, but for the time being, I'm just going to enjoy what went down this evening.