Man, this feels foreign. Chuck Burly's comment (above) from the game thread comes pretty close to my state of mind right now. These first three games have been too great. I feel gluttonous-- kinda guilty, even. I was optimistic about this team in the offseason, but instinctively braced myself for all manner of ugliness along the way. That ugliness will come at some point-- it's a long season--but goddamn, guys. There hasn't been a trace of it so far. I wouldn't change a thing about the first 144 minutes of Knicks basketball this season, and I've never felt that way before, especially not this early. If I heard Mike Breen correctly, this is the first time ever that the Knicks have won their first three games by double digits, and each win has been more dominant than the preceding one. I'm not entirely sure what to do with myself.
To recap quickly: The Knicks opened the game missing everything, giving up open looks, and allowing the Sixers second opportunities. They were down ten points or so very quickly. It then became evident that New York had fallen behind like that just to try it out-- you know, to dabble, the same way you or I might give apiculture a whirl, just to see if it's our kind of thing. Ultimately, they weren't into it (you lose your taste for honey pretty fast), and promptly erased the deficit and established a big lead of their own. The offense from about the six-minute mark forward was a charming cornucopia of halfcourt ball movement, handy use of ball screens, quick open looks in transition, perimeter excellence, and resolute attacks by Carmelo Anthony.
The defense was, once again, astoundingly cohesive. Guys helped and recovered at exactly the right moments, switched when appropriate and-- toward the end-- forced a bunch of turnovers. I'm used to Tyson Chandler covering furlongs of hardwood and several opponents on every possession-- and even with lingering strep throat, he did a much better job of that this evening than in the previous game-- but it's something else entirely to see the guys around Tyson talking, trading assignments seamlessly, picking telegraphed passes out of traps, and battling for rebounding position. I don't really have to name names, either, because every goddamn one of them did it. Well, not Steve Novak. His defense was kinda bad. It's fine, Steve.
Shit, I said I was gonna recap this quickly. Okay, so they ran up the lead by defending perfectly and tightening up their offense, then, up twenty midway through the third quarter, Mike Woodson was just like "fuck it, it's garbage time now" and dispatched Rasheed Wallace onto the floor to wreak havoc. Then New York pretty much stopped running sets. This struck me as supremely cocky, but after a very brief digression into outright anarchy, the Knicks collected themselves and held onto their lead the same way they'd built it.
Let's get into a few individual performances and notes. Don't let me go on too long here, because I really ought to relax and celebrate this win before I fall asleep.
- Early on, the Sixers looked like they wanted to front Melo in the post, but (and correct me if I'm wrong here) it seemed like they sorta scrapped that when the Knicks repeatedly circumvented the fronting with a few extra passes. Melo got his touches and, for the most part, made good stuff happen. He was a bit less willing to surrender the ball when doubled, and that resulted in him pivoting into the help D to hoist a few ugly misses over three or four outstretched arms. As the game progressed, though, we saw Melo: 1. Hit more of those tough shots. 2. Pass more often out of the double or get closer to the basket for easier attempts. 3. Get more looks dribbling over picks to draw a mismatch with, like, Spencer Hawes, then LOL in his face and drive in for an angled finish or foul call. Ultimately, a few quick-trigger threes and some of those early forces were all that separated him from a very efficient shooting night, and even still he posted a perfectly adequate 21 points on 16 shots. Better than all of that was Melo's dogged pursuit of rebounds (especially early on) and intelligent defense. Again, Thaddeus Young managed to get his numbers, but Melo only ever neglected that assignment to offer timely help to his friends. Very nice game.
- Raymond Felton was once again the one to kick off the first quarter offense. He missed his first few shots, but provided for the team's first basket by hooking under the rim and feeding a cutting Ronnie Brewer for an easy finish up the middle (well, nothing ever looks that easy with Ronnie, but it went in). Later, Ray rejected a few Tyson Chandler picks to shimmy through open lanes and finish near the rim. Just like in the previous two games (our friend Jared Dubin pointed this out), Felton didn't find as many opportunities to drive after the first quarter, but he did sink a few jumpers off the catch and off the bounce, and he finally connected with Chandler on some of the lobs and precise bounce passes we saw in the preseason. I also thought I saw Ray do a better job of getting over picks against Jrue Holiday (though a couple lapses in that department permitted more Holiday threes), and he went on a mini rebounding tear in the second half.
- Ronnie Brewer hit three of four three-pointers. Ronnie Brewer forced a few turnovers to kick off transition. Ronnie Brewer grabbed ten rebounds and had his first double-double as a Knick. Ronnie Brewer played wonderful defense on Evan Turner. Ronnie Brewer just does things.
- Jason Kidd had a quiet night. He deserved a quiet night. He did successfully box out Spencer Hawes one time, though, which was delightful.
- Like I said earlier, Tyson Chandler still didn't play quite like himself, but he also didn't look like he wanted to lay face down on the floor and nap (and he totally did want to do that on Sunday). He defended and screened very Tysonly, grabbed rebounds with both hands, and launched off the floor quickly when he had the ball. It was nice and reassuring to see him looking livelier, and equally nice and reassuring to see him eschewing the usual high fives for elbow-fives (do other people call those "chicken wings"?) so as not to infect his teammates. Enjoy the time off, Tyson.
- Tyson also took (just two, right?) mid-range jumpers and actually hit one of them. I don't want that to be one of the bigger blocks in the Tyson Chandler Scoring Food Pyramid, but up at the apex with the fats, oils and sweets? Sure, fine.
- Man, J.R. Smith. His offense was solid-- fewer jumpers out of rhythm, more attempts within 15 or so, one preposterous moonball from behind the backboard-- and his defense and rebounding were jaw-dropping. One of my favorite things in the world is when a really springy, athletic guy decides to rebound. I used to love it when Wilson Chandler would leap over folks and snatch boards with one hand, and Earl's been displaying a streak of that ability as well. 17, 7, 5, 2 steals, and a block in 34 minutes is a such a pretty line.
- Oh, and J.R. tangled with Royal Ivey and did this. Jumper over the backboard + sick rebounds + mini tussle with Royal Ivey + massive trailer dunk = the NBA equivalent of hitting for the cycle, right?
- After a timid couple of games, this sorta felt like Pablo Prigioni's regular season arrival. I thought Pablo struggled on defense early on, but he locked in as the game progressed and did such a wonderful job of switching and rotating with the rest of the bros. On offense, he made brilliant use of Kurt Thomas picks to either supply Kurt with mid-range attempts (both of which he missed. Kurt's been short on everything this season.) or attack himself. We saw Pablo finish an exquisite reverse lay-in, float in a bizarre running jumper over two people, and even drill a corner three to beat the shot clock. I knew we'd eventually see him cover defensive ground and pilot offense the way he'd done in the preseason. Tonight was our first legitimate taste of ¡Pablocura!
- In his surprisingly ample minutes, Rasheed Wallace posted a usage rate that must have been somewhere in the low zillions. He finished damn near every possession with either a fading post move or a straight-on three. His super casual buzzer-beating three to end the third quarter was just rude. As someone mentioned in the thread, Rasheed (and, by proxy, Woodson) was just trolling folks out there.
- Steve Novak had a bad game. He missed his shots and he couldn't keep up defensively. Steve Novak's allowed to miss shots and have a bad game now and then. It's okay. We're all fine. Don't look at me like that.
- There seemed to be a bunch of Knicks fans in attendance, including a very cute popcorn-devouring child MSG showed a couple times who was wearing both an Amar'e Stoudemire jersey AND a tiny pair of rec specs. He'll be president and/or a pricey injury-prone star forward someday.
- Mike Breen came out of halftime on fire. He told us about how the players make fun of assistant coach Jim Todd's Boston accent when he addresses players like "Jay-Ah" and "Mah-cus", then had himself a ball chattering and cracking NCAA Championship jokes while the third quarter was delayed so a guy on a ladder could be replace a torn net. (Incidentally, the Knicks shot so well on that net that they probably ripped it a couple new holes. They should take it home with them.)
- A thing I'd forgotten about Raymond Felton: His tendency to dawdle up the floor off opponent makes, then hurry over halfcourt just in time to avoid an eight-second violation.
- Seven turnovers. 13-32 from downtown. 19-19 at the line. Gave up 19 offensive rebounds, though.
Excellent. I'm anxious for more basketball, but I'm also glad we get three full days to live with these undefeated Knicks. More on this one-- perhaps some leftovers if we can round up enough videos and .gifs and stuff, which we totally can-- in the morning. I love you all.