What a smooth, natural win, eh? New York and Charlotte grappled a little early, then the Knicks got the upper hand and fought off one counter after another until the game was blown open and the Bobcats were slain and we were at least briefly reminded that having a favorite basketball team can be quite satisfying. We needed that after four frustratingly uneven games to start the season. I have notes 4 u:
- This was Andrea Bargnani's night. It felt great to watch Andrea Bargnani have a night. Starting at "center" for the first time, Bargnani kept getting his touches in the middle of the floor ("The Bargnani Corridor"). He took a ton of pick-and-pop jumpers from just inside the arc and a ton more catch-and-shoot threes when good ball movement found him a step outside it, plus the occasional free throw line item off a pin-down or quick dribble move. Early on, as with all prior early ons, nothing fell. As the game progressed, Bargnani found some touch, and he had plenty of opportunities to find it. That pick-and-pop J can't really be defended, and when Bargnani started to cash them in, Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni just kept feeding him and feeding him and feeding him and feeding him with the most basic of bounce passes. On occasion, he'd pop a fake and stagger rim-ward-- most often from the baselines but ESPECIALLY on this straight-on crossover drive past Josh McRoberts that would have ended life on earth had it succeeded*. All told, it was a LOT of offense for Bargnani, and thankfully pretty good offense as well-- some great looks as a screener, some great looks as a catcher, a little creativity off the dribble, and a quiet couple of gorgeous entry passes from up top-- unfettered by the turnover spurts we'd seen previously.
*Bargnani describing that move during his halftime interview with Tina Cervasio: "Uhhh nuh score it's a good move uhhhh nuhhh i have to score that."
That was a lot of words about offense, but this was not Bargnani's night because of his offense. If you didn't watch the game, you're gonna noogie me for saying this, but Andrea Bargnani replaced Tyson Chandler's defense Friday night. I swear he did. When called upon to defend the post or protect the rim in transition, Bargnani contested shots more often than not. I'd been annoyed in prior games by his apparent one-defensive-play-per-possession quota, but we saw him hedge properly and recover to his man plenty last night, actually finishing plays instead of hanging smaller guys out to dry. And speaking of smaller guys, Bargnani's greatest victory of the night was succeeding in a defensive scheme that seemed bound to expose him. The Knicks switched a lot, because they do that, and that left Bargnani to guard Kemba Walker as frequently as anyone else did. Walker recognized his advantage and skittered every which way, dribbling like seventeen steps to each loping Bargnani stride. But by god, the cat kept the mouse in check (the mouse, in this case, is a Bobcat. Try to keep up). He kept his feet through jinks and feints and harried-- if not outright swatted-- most of Walker's mid-range jumpers. He even scrambled back to the rim to help all the guards down there corral rebounds now and then. Yes, it's one game, and yes, it's the Bobcats, but Bargnani had a wide and varied defensive assignment Friday night and he absolutely aced it. I saw volume and promise on offense. I saw excellence on defense. 'Twas Bargmania, as several of you said in the thread. I was Bargmanic.
- And now a word for the true offensive "center", Carmelo Anthony, who deferred to Bargnani quite a bit, but managed an efficient, productive night just the same. Melo took most of his touches in the post, establishing deeper and deeper position to get the better of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who'd locked him right up the previous game. Making it an ass and elbow battle instead of a feet and hands battle turned that match-up in Melo's favor. The man does not lose ass battles. Those touches gave way to more face-up things when Anthony Tolliver took over defending him for stints, and Melo got a few buckets (although not always handsome ones) from those looks, too. But for the most part, that deep positioning put Melo around the rim, which allowed him to wrassle for five offensive rebounds and several put-backs. Melo played a lot of second-fiddle, and he played it sweetly.
- Metta World Peace seemed to turn the game by checking in after about 7 minutes of the first quarter. The Knicks were getting badly out-rebounded (11-4 at that point, by my count), surrendering a lot of inside position because of a flaky match-up zone-type thing on defense. Metta checked in for Pablo Prigioni and, at the very least, ensured that the Knicks got more second opportunities on their own misses and had at least one alert human being in the paint when the Bobcats got to attacking. Interestingly enough (and allzingers summed this up well), Metta seemed to curtail his chuckish ways with Melo and Bargnani on the floor alongside him. He shot a healthy 4-9, including a three and at least one bucket off a put-back.
- Felton missed an early baseline J out of an elevator-doors set, but got some other nice looks to fall from up top in the first quarter. Then he went cold the rest of the way. Not at all cold: Pablo Prigioni, who hit three of four looong three-pointers when given space over Bargnani/Martin screens. Both guys threw lovely little bounce passes to set up Bargnani pick-and-pops. I particularly like Pablo's behind-the-back game.
- Iman Shumpert took only three shots, sinking a three and going 1-for-2 on clean pull-ups in transition. He could (should) have taken many more shots, but the ball wouldn't find him for minutes at a time, and when it did, he was more inclined to make an extra pass and keep things moving around the perimeter. His sharing set up some great looks, too, so it's not like his deference was for naught. Still, though, three shots is too few for 39 minutes. It would have been nice to see Shump run off a few curls or just take matters into his own hands and attack off the dribble. Not a bad game at all (four assists, seven rebounds), just a quiet one. Offensively. Defensively, he's still reaching too much. Good doubles and attention to the glass (and a nice few minutes on Walker), but much too much reaching in one-on-one match-ups.
- Kenyon Martin set lots of great screens in ten minutes. Amar'e Stoudemire scored off two lovely oh-yeah-he's-not-dead baseline dribble moves (and one big dunk!), drew two charges, and played comically horrendous help defense. Those two on the floor together briefly wasn't a great look.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. played 14 minutes (Woodson played a deep but more top-heavy rotation in this one, which was a bit surprising). He drilled a lovely jumper catching off a screen and another catching from a standstill, bricked a terrible pull-up, then ruined two good touches with travels later in the game.
- Beno Udrih played but I do not remember it. It ended up being just four minutes. Again, the rotation wasn't really that deep, minutes-wise.
- GARBAGE TIME!!!!! Cole Aldrich and Toure' Murry saw their first minutes as Knicks. Aldrich did nothing. Murry wishes he did nothing, because the things he did were 1. drop a pass and 2. drive directly into a defender's neck, try to shoot a runner from like 11 feet away, and offer up the easiest shot-block of all time. Nerves.
- The game-closing lineup before that: Felton, Shump, Metta, Melo, Bargnani. Those are the five that build the lead early, too.
- Knocking Melo's headband off should be a foul every time. Two shots the ball, the ball, and Melo gets one free kidney punch on the fouler. DON'T TOUCH HIS HEADBAND.
- Good lord, the Bobcats took 30 free throws. The Knicks took 14 more field goals and ten more threes, though (12-26!), so that more than evened things out. Pretty even turnover-wise, but mostly because the Knicks got sloppy when the game was already getting out of hand. I think.
That's it. Good game. The Knicks finally played confidently and consistently, and it allowed them to take care of a team they should beat. That's a start. Up next: the Spurs on Sunday. The Knicks will look just a bit different that day.