We were warned before today's game that the Suns have a habit of hanging around against better teams, and that proved true in an uneasy fourth quarter this afternoon at the Garden. The Knicks pounded Phoenix in the first half, gamely weathering some small runs in the process, but allowed the Suns to heat up in the third quarter and march right back into the game down the stretch. After looking sharp all afternoon, the Knicks relaxed to the point that it took some big shots from Raymond Felton and a few stops and lucky breaks to win the thing. I don't think I was ever fully worried, but it wasn't the ideal ending. Got a whole lot closer than it had to, like Dead and gone commented in the thread.
All that said, this was a mostly pleasant if fairly silly game. The Knicks did a typically excellent job of hoarding possession, forcing 17 turnovers (nine in the first quarter alone) while committing just seven of their own (and all seven of 'em came from Carmelo Anthony and Pablo Prigioni). After a cold start, New York's spiffy ball movement finally started to produce open makes from outside. Carmelo Anthony played aggressively on both ends. Tyson Chandler defended and attacked the offensive boards like he's supposed to. When some foul trouble, a Phoenix run, and a classic Rasheed Wallace ejection threatened to derail things, Chris Copeland stepped on the floor and made everything right.
So yeah, the Knicks farted away most of the latter quarters, but had thankfully gained enough distance in an impressive first half that it didn't matter. Some notes:
- Carmelo Anthony actually had some trouble against P.J. Tucker's defense, but had a pretty solid game nonetheless. He got a bit enamored with his jumper, but managed to hit four of ten(!) threes and drill at least two of the too-many turn-around fall-aways he attempted over Tucker and supplemented all of the above with plenty of fine finishes, kick-outs, and drawn fouls off the dribble. Melo defended actively, stripping Michael Beasley on Luis Scola on several occasions and putting one of his signature chase-down swipe-blocks on Shannon Brown.
- I wouldn't call this Raymond Felton's best game approach-wise, but it's hard to argue with the numbers (seriously. Numbers don't even listen). Felton distributed plenty, particularly in side pick-and-rolls with Melo and Tyson Chandler-- I particularly loved the patience he showed to find an entry angle when Tucker fronted Melo on the left block-- and did so without committing a single turnover. He attempted more than his share of pull-up jumpers, but hit more than usual, too. Felton's unusual proficiency from range even baffled Clyde, who watched Ray pull up for a long two and uttered his usual (and usually prescient) "Uh-uhhh", only to swear he'd keep his mouth shut thereafter when the ball swished through. (Breen: "We can only hope."). Felton's fourth quarter was pretty bizarre. On one of several signature wild-attempts-at-the-rim-that-miss-but-bounce-directly-into-the-hands-of-Tyson-Chandler, Felton got a knee or elbow to his left hand and could be seen grimacing and cradling the hand for a while after. He refused to leave the game, though, and after missing a reckless three just to prove he was okay, bounced in a couple tough drives to the basket to stave off the Phoenix comeback. The hand was apparently swollen and causing him a lot of pain afterward, and I think he's getting an MRI as I type this. I'll post if we get any updates on that. I fear a real injury, but am both thankful it's the off hand and confident that Felton will want to play even if the hand has to be amputated.
- This play by Felton was a little haphazard, but ultimately a gem.
- Tyson Chandler's quietly played much more like himself over the last few games. Today, he gave up some tough makes to Marcin Gortat and a couple silly inside buckets/fouls to either Shannon Brown or Sebastian Telfair (I have a lot of trouble telling those two apart), but played superb help D inside and deterred countless plays around the rim. And as usual, Chandler managed to generate a bunch of points simply by finishing lobs and snaggling misses by Felton and Melo.
- Kurt Thomas started and, despite NOT starting the second half, played a whole 19 minutes, I guess because Sheed was gone. He hit a jumper somewhere in there, but otherwise just committed tons of egregious fouls. Some of Kurt's loose ball fouls could be labeled "personal foul: bulldozing" and "personal foul: trying to put in a sleeper hold in mid-air", but the NBA rulebook doesn't include such designations.
- We had the pleasure of seeing Ronnie Brewer more pumped than he's ever been as a Knick after he finished a nice shuffle pass from Chandler with an and-one lay-in. He also hit a three, played some great defensive possessions, and missed a little flurry of ugly shots (plus two free throws) down the stretch.
- Chris Copeland, eh? Cope checked in after Sheed got tossed in the first quarter, then did all his work in the second (he sat the entire second half, which was a curious decision by Woodson, particularly considering how poorly Thomas and J.R. Smith were playing). Said "work": A quick stop-jab-shoot jumper in transition, some great help defense, two nice extra passes to Steve Novak threes on the strong side, another drilled pull-up two in transition, a gorgeous righty finish on a pump fake and leftward blow-by past Marcin Gortat, a perfect block on a Beasley dribble-drive, and a thunderous tip-dunk of a Melo miss (after some beautiful ball movement). Eight points, three rebounds, two assists, a steal, a block, no fouls, and no turnovers in ten minutes.
- We didn't get to see any ¡Pablocura!-Copelandia synergy, though. Pablo Prigioni played nine quiet minutes, then got his face smacked bloody by a Telflail.
- I was intrigued to see Steve Novak catch and release off cuts and screens (and utilize the pump fake, too) a bit more than usual. I don't recall him sinking any of those shots in motion, though. I think at least three of his 4-9 three-point makes were simple standstill catch-and-makes. I'm not complaining or anything.
- J.R. Smith had himself a dump of an afternoon. He did a decent enough job passing off the dribble and rebounding early, but spent most of the first half and all of the second half just careering into traffic and bricking off-balance shots on the move. Awful game. Nice job hitting those two big free throws at the end, though.
- Darrell Walker's take on Chris Copeland's first half excellence was the best. Well, I didn't actually hear the extent of what he said, but I did hear him drop the pun "Cope-acetic" in there, and that was all I needed.
- Clyde, as you might expect, calls Marcin Gortat "Gor-tart", which technically qualifies as copyright infringement on Al Gore's brand of toaster pastries.
- Clyde may have actually hit for the Clyde cycle in this one. We heard both an unsolicited remark on Mike Breen's supposed tendency to chuck when he plays basketball and a random jab at Breen's alma mater ("Is the scorekeeper from Fordham?" when the score was wrong on the MSG jumbotron).
Mmhmm. That wasn't exactly the way the Knicks wanted to win that one, but we knew going in that the Suns had a habit of making runs. New York survived, and they're now 12-4 on the season. Pretty cool. Next game is on Wednesday against the Bobcats. We'll be watching closely for updates on Felton's hand and Jason Kidd's back in the meantime. <3