Yeah, like SweatbandProliferation commented in the thread, the Knicks badly needed a win today. A failure to take care of the Hornets would have meant flying to London with a four-game losing streak in their wake, and that's no way to leave home.
The Knicks didn't actually start this game like they had any interest in halting the slide. Their pick-and-roll coverages looked droopy as ever, repeatedly dragging Tyson Chandler out of position to allow open inside looks and offensive rebounds. On offense, Jason Kidd continued to throw precarious passes on the move and Carmelo Anthony shot terribly (1-8 in the first quarter) off the catch and in isolation. Kidd struggling to distribute plus Melo and J.R. Smith missing everything in isolation plus poor defense did not make for a pleasant first quarter. New York might've been looking at a steep climb had the Hornets not fallen off after the first six minutes and shot an uncharacteristically poor percentage on open outside shots. Also warding off doom: Chris Copeland's 11 first quarter points from the starting small forward spot.
New Orleans built just a seven-point lead out of New York's crap, though (and got three of those points from an awful last-second J.R. Smith foul), and they came undone once New York woke up in the second quarter. Some combination of shitty New Orleans bench play and better Knicks pressure on pick-and-roll D (beginning with some timely help by Amar'e Stoudemire and Ronnie Brewer) held the 'Nets to just twelve points in the second while Melo finally started to hit jumpers and draw fouls.
And New York more or less held on from there. New York's failure to get inside buckets (or fouls after New Orleans got in the penalty) made for a dicey third quarter, but an 11-0 run by an Amar'e-anchored second unit gave New York a comfortable lead in the fourth.
- Melo missed some bad looks in this one-- including a few tough attempts over double teams-- but early on, he was just cold. Over time, Melo's shots began to drop, which seemed to stoke his defensive energy, which in turn made for better, quicker attempts in transition, which cycled into an adequate closing line of 27 and 7. I liked that Melo looked to face up and drive on Anthony Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu, and I liked the catch-and-shoot looks he got as the roll man even though they didn't all drop. Much better rotations and close-outs after a sluggish first quarter, too.
- After struggling early to balance help with Robin Lopez Management (one of the core requirements in pest control training programs), Tyson Chandler took better care later to contest the curly man around the basket and battle him on the boards. As has been the case in the Felton-less era, passes in to Chandler were either forced and intercepted or too far from the rim and kinda scary. He at least did a decent job of gathering tough passes and drawing the occasional foul. Great defense after the first, though, including a fun moment in which he switched onto Brian Roberts out on the perimeter and very casually swatted his last-second three.
- Chris Copeland has to have earned himself the interim starting job, right? Cope was THE source of Knicks offense with three catch-and-threes and a nice cutting dunk in the first quarter. Woodson kinda forgot about Cope again for the rest of the first half-- he didn't return until there were about two minutes left-- but he got a reminder when Cope passed deftly out of a baseline double team to hockey-assist a Melo three toward the end of the half. He added a couple nice drives and a pair of fourth quarter jumpers to complete a much-needed turn as secondary scorer in J.R. Smith's stead.
- Smith didn't sit out or anything. He just played unusually low minutes (27) because he kept missing yucky contested jumpers and committed that one horrendous foul to grant Roberts three unnecessary free throws. Smith came out in the second half without the headband holding his eye bandage in place and ran some nice pick-and-rolls and hit some shots in the second half. I imagine we've seen the last of the headband.
- Two very J.R. second half moments: 1. J.R. bricking an awful off-balance jumper, then haranguing the ref all the way down the floor about a perceived foul that absolutely did not happen and getting a technical for it. 2. J.R. drawing a foul right before the third quarter buzzer, causing quarter-ending confusion for the second time in the game, and taking the opportunity to practice his free throws while arena employees mistakenly stormed the floor with t-shirt cannons.
- Amar'e Stoudemire didn't get many pick-and-roll touches because the guards just couldn't find the space or the angles to hit him in motion. I still thought this was his best game so far, or at least the game in which his presence on the floor helped the team most. To begin with, I thought I saw Amar'e make the right stay vs. help/sag vs. contest decisions more often than not. He played some good help on guards, got a hand in his own man's face a few times, and mostly avoided crippling the Knicks defensively, which is great. On offense, his successful touches were limited to some quick baseline dribble moves to finish or draw contact, but I thought his gravity in the pick-and-roll played a huge part in some of the open jumpers other Knicks enjoyed, especially during the early fourth. Pablo Prigioni and Amar'e sucking in the defense to open outside attempts was all I hoped for out of a healthy second unit, and we got a good look at that potential this afternoon.
- After a first quarter fraught with hospital passes, Jason Kidd settled down and put together a pretty nice game. Playing alongside Prigioni for stretches allowed Kidd to focus on hitting threes off the catch and making quick extra passes around the arc. He showed some savvy in help defense, too, with a couple nice deflections.
- Prigioni was instrumental in both of New York's best stretches. He buzzed around New Orleans ballhandlers to force a couple turnovers and ignite fast breaks (one of which he finished impressively after playing catch with Melo), then fed New York's outside onslaught in the fourth. I wish Pablo could have found Amar'e rolling to the rim on a few more occasions, but given his tendency to throw passes away in traffic, I'll take clean kick-outs over forced entries every time. Pablo hit a pretty big three in the third quarter, too, just when the Hornets were about to pull even.
- James White started at the two and played perfectly adequate defense. His size allows him to switch onto bigs without automatically surrendering a basket, which is nice. Still just ten minutes in a start.
- Meanwhile, following a DNP-CD in the last game, Ronnie Brewer played 14 productive minutes off the bench. He, like White, switched seamlessly onto bigger Hornets (terrifying image) and contested their shots. Brewer could have shot better than 1-3, too, but after finishing a nice entry from J.R. with a baseline lay-in, he flubbed the exact same shot a minute later, then rimmed a tip-dunk, then passed up a wide-open look under the rim. Ronnie Brewer's confidence is a fragile snowflake. Still, I thought Brewer made good use of an appropriate minute allotment.
- I was in full-on "what the hell is Steve Novak doing out there he's not helping get Copeland back on the floor where did all my punctuation go" mode during the first half, but he followed through with three nice-lookin' threes off the catch in the second half.
- Clyde's excited to go to London because of the "charcolate" and because he wants to buy some spats. He's also never seen The Birdcage.
- I thought I heard Clyde pronounced Greivis Vasquez's surname correctly a few times, but he joined Mike Breen in saying "Vas-kwez" at certain points, maybe just to humor him. Usually it's Clyde's mispronunciations that are contagious, like when the entire boradcast team find themselves saying "Chris Barsh", but not today.
- Mike Breen, during a sudden moment of quiet in the second half: "Everybody decided to stop talking at the same time."
So, the Knicks managed to end this stretch on a high note before leaving the country. It helped that New Orleans executed poorly, but I thought the Mike Woodson did the Knicks a few favors-- starting Melo at the four, running Kidd off the ball alongside Prigioni whenever possible-- to ape the lineups that succeeded the most when everyone was healthy and the offense was best in the league. I hope all that holds up, but I also hope the Knicks are approaching full health and presenting less of a rotational challenge once they return stateside. For now, we can look forward to what should hopefully be a fun week and change, and do so without the looming stench of a four-game losing streak.
Update: Totally forgot to mention Mike Breen's story about getting out-marathoned by a guy in a Scooby Doo costume. The story included an awful Scooby impression and, I think, a moral of some sort. I guess he was talking about this guy? I was and am kinda confused.