After a bad defensive start, the Knicks did what they should against the depleted Magic.
Before I get carried way, it wasn't thaaaat easy. As fearthekraken suggested in our thread, It had been a while since the Knicks won as comfortably as they did this evening. That's true. It was a sketchy start, though, with New York's utter lack of perimeter defense polluting the first half. Jameer Nelson and JJ Redick-- guarded, or rather watched, by Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert, respectively-- combined for
24-30 14-20 shooting in the first half, giving way to startlingly similar production from Ish Smith and E'Twaun Moore when they sat. New York's bigs hedged and doubled here and there, but mostly hung back while the Orlando guards easily ditched their defenders for open threes and penetration. Even the contested shots dropped, which has been a theme: The Knicks neglect guys, guys make a few early buckets, then by the time the Knicks start contesting, guys are too hot to notice. The Knicks dominated a poor Orlando defense in the first half, but mirrored that performance on the other end of the floor.
BUT ANYWAY, things improved considerably after the break. The Knicks played smarter pick-and-roll coverage-- more hedges and high traps to deter Nelson from breaking free-- and watched Orlando go cold from downtown while their own offense continued to soar. Though his shooting fell off after a great start, Raymond Felton demonstrated exactly what the Knicks were missing in his absence with some perfectly timed passes on the move to summon Tyson Chandler's first truly dominant offensive game of 2013. Carmelo quietly created the rest of the first unit offense with quick shots off the catch and crisp passes out of the post and Amar'e Stoudemire came off the bench to finish every single shot he attempted.
For all the defensive issues, we saw some truly dynamic Knicks offense akin to the free-wheelin' look of November, only with an extra weapon gliding along the baseline for big-ass dunks (and big ass-dunks). Some individual notes:
- Not only did Chandler have his first big scoring game in a while, he did it with an unusual variety of looks. His early touches came off those horns hand-off plays with Raymond Felton, one of which ended in an alley-oop dunk. After that, he established early position in the deeeeeeep post to drop in a couple baby hooks. Dude even got excited and missed a mid-range jumper. Chandler's passing-- especially out of offensive rebounds-- got the Knicks some open looks, though he went back up with more o-bounds than usual, mixing some seismic put-back dunks in with his tip-outs. And after spending a lot of the first half in the no-man's land between ball-handler and big man, Chandler stepped up to guards more later on and actually did a pretty good job bothering littlefolk when he switched.
- Carmelo Anthony's 17 attempts were his lowest shot total over a full game since late November. He didn't force much (though he made those few forces count, including a turn-around baseline jumper in transition that would have warranted a noogie had it missed), instead getting his shots off the catch and passing plenty when the Magic sent a double or helped on his dribble-drives. (And the Magic did make it their strategy to help. No more single-coverage from Josh McRoberts, alas). I loved seeing him catch and attack promptly instead of killing time with jab-steps and sashays Said attacking included a balletic spin off a post catch-- you know, the kind where the defender blinks and all of a sudden Melo's behind him-- to shed Moe Harkless for a baseline dunk. In the fourth, he created plenty as the ball-handler over Chandler and Stoudemire screens. Splendid stuff. Oh, and Melo had two early blocks, one a straight-up stonewalling of Glen Davis in the post, the other one of his signature flying swipe-blocks when
Harkless Andrew Nicholson thought he had an open lay-in.
- Amar'e Stoudemire looks better and better with each passing game. He mostly operated away from the pick-and-roll and looked sooooooo sharp doing it. Even on possessions in which he never touched the ball, Amar'e crept in and out of lanes to open up space for his friends. And when he did get the ball-- usually waiting on the baseline for his man to help on the ball-handler-- he put it in the basket without fail. Amar'e also scored a few times off very fluid back-to-the-basket moves and set some screens of his own. Those went well. After some turnovers committed because of spins into traffic, it was nice to see Amar'e make a move on the left block, then throw a laser pass out of help to a Pablo Prigioni three on the weak side. Couple o' nice trailing blocks, too. Wonderful game, Amar'e.
- Not much more to say about Felton than what I had up top. He worked splendidly off Chandler picks early, even putting a few of those silly-looking floaters directly through the net. The Magic didn't always give Ray those open lanes, but when he felt like penetrating, he used those wonderful hesitations and pace-changes to create angles. Hit three of six from outside, too. Solid offensive game (nine assists, zero turnovers). Pretty yucky defensive game, but he did get better throughout the night.
- Pablo Prigioni carried Felton's torch nicely through 16 minutes. He created nicely in the pick-and-roll and called his own number when appropriate, maintaining his RACHA DE CALOR from downtown and tiptoeing baseline for a lay-in when givent he lane.
- The Knicks played one minute without a point guard at the end of the first half. It went okay.
- Iman Shumpert, who was part of that no-point-guard unit, didn't have a very good game. He missed his early open attempts from outside and J.J. Redick shook him with and without the ball on the other end. After putting the ball on the floor to no avail early, he opted to pull up a bit more late in the game and got himself a couple buckets that way.
- The Knicks had made it a point to get Steve Novak the ball, and after initially wasting those opportunities with a few open misses, Novak finally got going with a couple threes in the fourth quarter.
- After playing his usual brief stint (a full 39 seconds this time!) when Woodson made defensive subs to end a quarter, Ronnie Brewer sadly ended his three-game streak of sub-1:00 spins with some garbage time minutes. Thankfully, the Magic went to a hack-a-Brew strategy during those late minutes, granting Ronnie two trips to the foul line and roughly 37 drawn lane violations (he shot 1-3 from the line in four attempts!).
- Jameer Nelson did this. I choose to believe that would've been a technical had it not gone in the basket.
- Kenny Albert did the play-by-play tonight. I don't mind Kenny Albert. Thought he did a perfectly adequate job. Domingo liked him. This has been the Kenny Albert report.
- Does anyone know if Kyle O'Quinn is a nice guy? If he's not, please don't tell me. He just looks so friendly and it'd crush me to find out he's a dick.
So, it took too long to get going, but the Knicks ended with the result one would expect from a good team hosting a very bad team missing its two top scorers (Arron Afflalo sat, Glen Davis broke his foot in the first half. I guess these are things a real reporter would mention early on). Tonight's offense looked a lot like the magic of mid-November, when the Knicks ran nifty sets and worked the ball around to find makeable shots and then, ya know, made them. Good basketball-playing. Bucks on Friday.