Given the early Sunday start and the potential for hangover from Friday's sublime win over the Heat, I came into today's game against the 76ers fully expecting a letdown. Oddly enough, the Knicks not only avoided said letdown, but built upon the previous victory. For eight straight quarters now, the look has been more or less the same: On offense, the Knicks feature either Carmelo Anthony in the post or a high pick-and-roll. If the defense pinches to negate either of those first options, the Knicks whip the ball around the perimeter to find the D's weak point and attack it. On defense, they contain transition, help, and rotate without fouling. It's pretty cool. Like blutspender in the game thread, I am filled with joy right now.
To those of you reading that description and saying "well yeah, that's how basketball works": I know, right!? When's the last time you saw the Knicks play basketball correctly on both ends for 96 consecutive minutes? There have been brief letups, sure, but nothing more than a few possessions here and there. In related news, New York has yet to trail an opponent. A 2-0 start is nothing in the scheme of things, but it's the first time they've done that since 1999, and they've won convincingly against non-pushovers. Pushunders?
- The Knicks once again leaned heavily on the three-pointer in the first half. They shot 5-9 from outside in the first quarter, cooled off significantly (2-7) in the second, then moved their business inside the arc for most of the second half. That seems like a healthy progression, no? They lived by the three early, but didn't die by the three when that seemed a possibility.
- On that note, here's a tweet from ESPN's Mark Simon:
Knicks were 5-11 in paint in 1st quarter vs 76ers, 13-16 the rest of the way.
- Let's talk about the individuals, shall we? Carmelo Anthony was terrific. Better than he was against the Heat, I thought. We didn't witness the same torrent of scoring we saw in Friday's first quarter, but rather a steady, varied game's worth of production with fewer set-busting jaunts into chuckery. On most possessions, he'd set up on either side within 16 feet or so, accept the ball and either challenge Thaddeus Young one-on-one or, if the Sixers sent help (which they did often and indiscriminately), kick back to the perimeter. Melo recognized that Young couldn't handle him on the move and identified when the Sixers couldn't afford to help off a shooter or cutter (props to Woodson for arranging those scenarios), and exploited all that by dancing past Young for some lovely finishes and drawn fouls.
- Melo, to my eye, set a lot more ball screens in this one than he did Friday (perhaps because Tyson Chandler wasn't himself). This pretty much never manifested in him receiving the ball on a roll to the rim, but it often created the space for him to get an easy catch-and-make in the near future.
- Young got his, too, mostly by attacking the offensive glass. I'll take it, though. It looked to me like those opportunities arose because: 1. Melo was working hard to contest his initial shots and playing solid help D as well. 2. The flu-stricken Tyson Chandler wasn't minding the boards as reliably as the healthy Tyson Chander would. I feel great about the way Melo defended and enjoyed both his violent swat on
Evan Turner Nick Young with the subsequent ball-saving, drink-spilling leap into the crowd and his abrupt snaggling of Dorell Wright's face/dribble that resulted in the ball going out of bounds off Wright's foot. Melo had an excellent all-around game, and he had it without catching fire from the field or waking up for some marquee match-up or anything like that. He just did his job and did it very well.
- I said this on Twitter, but it feels pretty surreal to watch Jason Kidd make all these small, ingenious plays to rescue possessions on either end of the floor. He's excelled at the basic stuff like hitting his open threes and moving the ball and staying in front of his man and stuff, but I'm especially enjoying all this little shit that used to be so infuriating when he played against the Knicks. The wily old coot jumps passing lanes in such a timely, casual manner that you almost feel embarrassed for the interceptee. He's shown a knack for drawing fouls in dicey scenarios. He keeps looking off open men only to find opener men seconds later. Oh, and the guy hit TWO driving (well, maybe not driving. Coasting, maybe. Ghost-riding?) layups. Kidd was a key cog in both the ball movement and the halfcourt defense, and he added all those little tricks and treats to boot. Great game.
- Oh man, and that stolen entry pass that turned into a long outlet for a Melo buzzer-beater to end the first half! Holy shit! I'm beginning to frighten myself with how much I've enjoyed these first two games of Kidd.
- Tyson Chandler was clearly feeling shitty. He defended and rebounded well enough in his 21 minutes, but was visibly shuffling around and missed a few plays he'd usually make. Feel better, big friend.
- Not at all Tyson's fault: All the lobs folks kept throwing his way when he was just trying to relax and have a good time around the rim. Dude knows how to oop an alley, but not standing with three defenders all up in his armpits.
- In general, everyone was a little pass-happy. Steve Novak called the over-passing-- paraphrasing here-- "one of them good problems" after the game, and he's right, but at a certain point you've just gotta take the open three or try to finish at the basket.
- While we're talking about him: Novak had a quiet day. He drilled his first two threes-- one coming from a miss free throw, the other blanked in the right corner-- but missed some easier ones down the stretch. His defense was spotty, too, particularly in help situations. I did take note of a couple solid box-outs, so there's that.
- Raymond Felton started the game very aggressively. He bricked a long three late in the clock to start things, but began to make great use of picks as the first quarter progressed. He got into the paint for a couple finishes, spun into at least one made jumper, and kicked out plenty as well. After dropping nine points in the first, though, Felton didn't do much else. He had one gorgeous finish (stemming from Melo passing out of the post, incidentally) off the glass in the second quarter, and that's pretty much all. Ray was also the dispenser of a few of those awful lobs to Chandler.
- Ronnie Brewer continued to run the floor and cut and (for the most part) finish when people fed him. He also nailed a corner three and actually made some good stuff happen off the dribble, too, though that one pass intended for Tyson Chandler's hands ended up finding Tyson Chandler's tummy, which wasn't ideal. Oh, and Ronnie just haunted Nick Young, who played a lot of minutes after Jason Richardson sprained his ankle early. Nick Young's level of accuracy has little to do with the quality of the shot's he's taking, but, either way, Brewer encouraged those bad shot attempts and chaperoned a 2-10 outing from the field.
- Fucking Jrue Holiday always hits his threes against the Knicks.
- Kurt Thomas earned himself a flagrant foul for trying to detach Evan Turner's forehead, and did plenty of fine passing, screening, and rebounding as well. He also finished an up-and-under and-one from Kidd. Kinda thought he was going to dunk for a second there, but that just would have been too much after those two Kidd lay-ins. People would've started grumbling about steroid use.
- J.R. Smith didn't start the game well. He lost track of Dorell Wright over screens, threw some ill-advised passes (an eight-foot-high pass to six-foot-high Ray Felton, for instance), and got a little careless with his handle. The rest of the way, I'd say he made two great plays for every bad one. There were some really, truly disgusting shot attempts (a couple of which went in, of course) in there, but also plenty of smart extra passes, some good, solid makes off the catch, and a team-leading nine rebounds. Aside from the early troubles chasing Wright, J.R.'s defense was solid enough.
- Pablo Prigioni, again, looked a little too tentative. When probed by a defender, he'd turn his back on the play (this action could be named in honor of any of a half dozen Knick point guards from the last decade) instead of trying to dribble past them. On the occasions when he did penetrate, he'd turn down open layups for bad, telegraphed cross-court passes. I'm not expecting slashin' dunks on the reg, but I think we saw in the preseason that Pablo's capable of better. Stealing an inbound pass in the backcourt was pretty badass, though.
- Mike Woodson, for the second game in a row, appeased the crowd by pulling Rasheed Wallace off the bench in the final minutes, only this time there were like four minutes left and the Knicks were only up 11. Woodson went on to trot Chris Copeland and James White out there (both scored, and so did Sheed!) with two minutes to go and New York up 12. Ballsy.
- Wally Sczcerbiak calls the sharp turns at the elbows of the three-point line "witch's nipples", something he apparently learned from Kevin McHale. I don't really know what to do with this information. I also never want to see a witch topless now, and I kinda did before.
- Steve Novak played center for a little while there. The Sixers had a small lineup out there, too, but still...a moment to be cherished by all.
- The Knicks committed 14 turnovers and forced 18. They mostly took great care of the ball, but things got a little sloppy for a stretch in the third quarter.
Crazy. Sexy. Cool. This has been a terrific opening weekend of Knicks basketball. I feel as much unadulterated pleasure about this little stretch as I have about anything the Knicks have ever done. An exposure of just two games will do that, but I'm going to milk every last drop out of this season-opening success until the other shoe drops. Good basketball, Knicks.