Man, that felt nice. I think we all needed that. The Knicks' visit to Milwaukee didn't start well and had us fearing the worst. Through the first quarter, New York's offense looked as tentative and sticky as it had the last few games, leaning hard on jumpers and the excellence of Carmelo Anthony until they finally started to draw some fouls. On defense, the Knicks opened the game just stooging around while Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings broke free over screens for easy buckets. Those two had 22 of the Bucks' 26 first quarter points, leading Milwaukee to a three-point lead after one.
Something fell into place in the second quarter, though. A highly goofy lineup of Pablo Prigioni, Ronnie Brewer, Chris Copeland (!), Steve Novak, and Rasheed Wallace took the floor and looked surprisingly sharp moving the ball and defending. That group earned and held a lead, then Melo, Raymond Felton, and Tyson Chandler joined Prigioni and Novak and inflated the difference to double digits with a lovely run of driving & kicking & picking & rolling action.
And that continued right through the second half. Novak replaced Kurt Thomas in the starting lineup, moving Melo back to the four, and that group kept up some solid(er) defense against Milwaukee's transition efforts and backdoor cuts, building the lead with well-spaced three-point splashings the other way. The Knicks relaxed a bit too much down the stretch-- had a fifth quarter been added, the Bucks probably would've come back-- but still emerged with the comfortable victory. Let's talk about the indavidgles:
- Carmelo Anthony played a quick, clean, excellent game, posting 29 points on 18 shots in 30 minutes. Early on, all Melo did was shoot (and hit) a couple threes over Tobias Harris, but he mixed that approach with more drives over picks, post-ups (especially when guarded by Marquis Daniels), and catch-and-shoots on inbound curls. He ripped down a couple of his own misses and drew nine free throw attempts as well. On defense, it was nice to see Melo stand his ground and offer some smarter, timelier help. Lovely game.
- Tyson Chandler got a nice rest as well, playing just 27 minutes. He was absurdly efficient in those minutes, scoring 17 points on 4-4 shooting. Most of those points came on free throws earned by slipping and rolling to the rim, catching passes on the move in traffic, and letting folks just whack him in his face. The man draws a mean foul.
- Raymond Felton had himself a solid bounce-back game after that nauseous fever dream of a performance in Brooklyn. His sluggishness over picks contributed to the success of Jennings and Ellis in the first quarter, but he made up for it as the game progressed. Felton's creation off the dribble was solid, and his defense against Jennings-- particularly in ball denial (or just outright theft. He had four steals)-- improved considerably after the first quarter.
- Pablo Prigioni, though, was the star point guard. Tonight was the first installment of regular season ¡Pablocura! Some Pabloco things we saw: 1. Two drilled three-pointers, one off the catch (I think), and the other pulling up over a pick. 2. Beautiful entry passes and shuffle feeds in the pick-and-roll (he might've had a double-double if Copeland didn't fumble so many passes). 3. A couple sneaky strips and poke-aways and one stolen offensive rebound. 4. Some brilliant extra passes from down under the basket. 5. One impossible running banker on the right side. 6. The most endearing halftime interview I've ever seen. Aside from a couple sloppy post entries, Pablo's 28 minutes were pretty perfect and crucial to the Knicks' big win.
- Related: Steve Novak had himself another fantastic outing, this time in front of his parents and hometown crowd. He drilled six jumpers-- all of them assisted, five of them behind the arc, one inside the arc off a nice fake 'n' dribble-- and picked a lazy pass for a fast break lay-in took roughly fourteen minutes from one end to the other. I swear I wrote an entire tweet and deleted it while Novak was dribbling down the floor. If he'd dunked that, I probably would've swallowed my tongue.
- Ronnie Brewer had an oddly long run-- 31 minutes-- and didn't shoot well (1-4) with that taped finger, but did make some nice passes off the dribble.
- J.R. Smith played an impressively bad 18 minutes. Some of it was J.R.'s own fault, like the reckless dribbles into traffic and missed out-of-rhythm jumpers. Some of it was just unlucky, like the five fouls J.R. managed to draw in that short spin, none of which were too blatant. Oh well. Maybe Milwaukee's really fun.
- Rasheed Wallace was worse. His unwillingness to make the extra swing pass when Steve Novak is on the floor makes my gurts burble. Sheed also shot a fade-away about a month short of the rim and front-rimmed an exceptionally depressing dunk attempt from a James White-esque distance. He immediately begged off the floor and could be seen looking as forlorn as we've ever seen him while contemplating his mortality on the bench.
- White got to spin, by the way, but only at the ends of halves. He still managed to play as many minutes as starting power forward Kurt Thomas.
- I don't think Copeland caught a single pass cleanly in his 11 minutes, and he got quite a few of them sent his way. Probably just the jitterz.
- We saw Prigioni/Felton tandems in parts of the second, third, and fourth quarters. This team seems to function better with two point guards on the floor.
- Novak can't always be relied upon to hold his own on defense (though I thought he did so tonight, including in help situations), but I'm very much in favor of starting him over Thomas like Woodson did in the second half.
- J.R. Smith's only made jumper was ruined by MSG's technical difficulties. The feed blacked out right as Smith set his feet to shoot. It was just that kind of night.
- Mike Breen on Larry Sanders, following a turnover: "You never know where he's going with the ball." Clyde: "HE doesn't know where he's going with the ball."
Yeap. Like StarksMiddleFinger said, tonight was the first game in a week or two-- wins included-- that actually felt good. New York's defense and ball movement still weren't at their week one levels, but they were waaaay better than anything we've seen since around the time they beat the Hornets. It was so reassuring to be reminded that the Knicks have that in them, even without Jason Kidd out there to keep everyone in check. Good times. Good night.