Good morning! I just woke up and checked the standings, and was relieved to see that last night's finish wasn't another hallucination after eating fermented pudding. The Knicks really did escape Milwaukee with the win. Let us review some individual performances and whatnot.
- I'm pretty sure the very first pass of the game (from Iman Shumpert's hands) hit a referee, so the 33 combined turnovers were probably to be expected.
- Carmelo Anthony was just really solid. Minimally gaseous. He scored 32 points on 26 shots and, at least until the fourth quarter, those points came on a nice mix of elbow jumpers, quick shots off the catch, and moves off the dribble. Per usual, he went iso more and played the top of the pick-and-roll more as the game progressed to hit some tough-ass shots and drive in to draw contact (how he attempted just five free throws is beyond me). But before the fourth quarter, we saw glimpses of a really nice two-man game with Landry Fields. He also posted and sealed like a pro to catch and finish a perfect entry lob from Tyson Chandler. That was a neat play.
- Melo sustained some pain and dealt a bit, too. He looked like he hurt his wrist on a shot attempt, then got his hand caught between two bodies while cutting over a pick. He made up for it with a verrrry dirty pick on somebody (I think it was Beno Udrih) in the first half.
- After a really dominant first quarter, Chandler looked a bit out of sorts, I think because the Bucks turned away from Drew Gooden and let guys like Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute take spins at the five. Each of those guys constitutes some combination of nimbler, more perimeter-oriented fellow than Chandler typically covers and competent, physical defender. Also, because of Milwaukee's solid screening, Chandler was forced to spend waaaay too much time on the perimeter trying to corral Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. Chandler bit on some fakes and gave up easy baskets and fouls (all in the second half), and on the other end, had a bit of trouble navigating the short distance to the rim without committing a turnover (though two of his five turnovers came on silly "LOOK GUYS I'M A POINT CENTER!" backcourt plays). Chandler really was an offensive menace in that first quarter, though-- he finished some beautiful plays at the rim and even drove from the free throw line for an and-one-- and pulled down 11 tough defensive rebounds to keep the Bucks from doing even more damage on second opportunities. Nice job going 7-7 at the line, too! 19 points on six field goal attempts is a pretttty nice output.
- Fields also had a non-gaseous evening. In the first quarter, when Milwaukee couldn't be bothered to defend, Landry was just darting around like a happy puppy, making all sorts of nifty passes and cuts for easy baskets. Those opportunities weren't quite as plentiful later in the game, but Fields kept tossing really nice passes and made some little hustle plays on defense to help kick-start transition. He worked really hard, though that hard work didn't amount to more than a few seconds of fourth quarter action...
- ....and I'm sure you know why. Mike Woodson loves him some J.R. Smith, and let him stick on the court despite some nightmarish play. Smith struggled from the moment he stepped on the floor. On offense, he just couldn't get anything good or bad to fall, and on defense, he made more blunders and silly fouls than I could count. There were some rebounds and a couple nice passes and made shots in there, but mostly unmitigated stink. Of course, Woodson has come to expect a pay-off in the end, and indeed, Earl hit a big kick-out three to tie the game with 4:39 to go, then drilled a quick and kinda ill-advised (but open) three as the pick-and-roll ball-handler with just over a minute remaining. That one would end up being the game-winner. It was the usual J.R. Smith experience. As other, smarter folks have said, Smith has a knack for "saving" the Knicks from villainy that is in many ways his own. In high school, we used to have some classes in these cordoned-off sections in the back of the auditorium which had sorta stadium seating. Particularly in the back of the room, each row was significantly higher than the row in front of it. Almost every day, I'd stand up from my seat, lean over my friend in the seat in front of me, and drop my backpack from over my head, only to catch it at the very last second and be all like "DUDE I SAVED YOUR LIFE BRO! THAT BACKPACK WAS GONNA KILL YOU!". I was a troubled student. Anyway, that's sorta how these fourth quarters go with J.R. He keeps hitting big shots, and we appreciate them, but one can't help but wonder if the Knicks would even need those big shots without Smith's preceding series of boners.
- This is what I'm talking about. You put up with this...
(In case you're not in video-watching conditions, that's Earl high-fiving Mike Dunleavy's glans whilst he shoots a three-pointer. There will not be a Mike Dunleavy III.)
...until you can get this:
And that pretty much won the game. Your antics will kill me someday, J.R.
- Smith also fell victim to Milwaukee's notorious premature "3-2-1" countdown chant, although it's impossible that he would've heaved that sudden, contested fall-back jumper anyway. I feel like that trick has never failed to fool the Knicks. I'm pretty sure Raymond Felton fell for it last year, and I have a vague recollection of Tim Thomas doing it once as well.
- Baron Davis was excellent in the first quarter-- we saw some beeeeautiful passes-- but completely fell apart after that. He may have literally fallen apart.
- Mike Bibby, not Toney Douglas (who was a DNP. That experiment might be over.) was the first and only point guard off the bench. He threw one great entry pass (to one of Chandler's most violent, seismic dunks since he's been a Knick, which is saying something), but didn't do much else.
- Davis and Bibby combined for 28 minutes, which means that Iman Shumpert was the de facto point guard for a pretty long stretch, and he did a pretty nice job of it. Shump produced five assists to just one turnover, including a couple slick transition dimes and one gorgeous diagonal entry feed to Jeffries late in the clock. Shump wasn't really hitting from his kill spots, but made some nice finishes around the rim (enough that we'll forget the time when he tried to dunk from about six feet away and got stonewalled by Larry Sanders. It was so far away that ESPN's play-by-play calls it a "jumper". Anyway, Shump's offense was pretty solid despite being mostly played out of position. His defense, though, was pretty rough. He got looks at both Jennings and Ellis and just kept losing them because he got caught on screens, over-helped, or just got beat off the dribble. Ellis, to be fair, was having one of those games in which he couldn't really be defended. He torched guys who played him close and shot right over guys who sagged off him. Shumpert can sometimes overcome that by stripping folks when they're past him (Derrick Rose just bolted awake from a night terror in which he was trying to brush his teeth but his toothbrush kept disintegrating into sand), but had no such luck against the fleet li'l Ellis. So, it wasn't Shump's best defensive outing. He did pick a pass early and make some big strips in the fourth quarter, though (three steals).
- Jared Jeffries played nine minutes (below his team-imposed limit of 15) and did some things. In the first half, Jared missed a tip-in he should've just caught and knocked away a pass that was meant for somebody else, but he made up for it later with that lay-in off the Shumpert feed and a drawn charge.
- Steve Novak ended his horrifying slump by hitting two of five three-pointers. He hit one of those, a big long two, and two clutch free throws in the fourth quarter. Nicely done in front of the hometown crowd (including his parents, who got interviewed by Tina Cervasio. Steve and his dad have incredibly similar mannerisms).
- I can't tell you how much I loathe Mike Breen's high-pitched, incredulous voice that he only uses when the opposition is making the Knicks look like fools. It makes me feel so ashamed.
- On one play, Chandler made good on his mismatch by calling for the ball in the post against Ilyasova, backing him down, and flipping in a lefty hook. I liked that.
- Moments at which this started to feel like a loss: When Ellis and Jennings scored consecutive wide-open cherry-picking layups to put Milwaukee up three in the third quarter, when Smith's sacktap on Dunleavy made it six later in that period, when consecutive baskets put the Bucks up 8 with 9:22 to play, when the Bucks got two offensive rebounds in the same possession and kicked out to an Ellis three that put them up two with 1:45 to play. It kinda felt like a loss the whole time, but I should've known better than to doubt the resilience of these Woodson-led Knicks, I guess.
- On the flip side, Melo hit a huuuuge contested, shot clock-beating three, then Iman Shumpert made an impossible buzzer-beating lay-in to cut it to four at the end of the third. And, of course, the Melo/Smith/Novak trio ate into the fourth quarter deficit.
And that was the game, more or less. Big, big, big, big, big win. Big.