The Knicks' performance in Orlando tonight bore eerie resemblance to their win over the Magic in November and eerier resemblance to a few recent losses, but it ended with New York on top points-wise, and they give you a win for that.
The game had a bizarre ebb and flow: The Magic bolted out to a 14-2 lead because the Knicks sagged off shooters and coughed up turnovers, and also because they were hotter than heat itself. Orlando dropped an avalanche of early jumpers, then worked the ball inside for easy baskets the rest of the period. The second quarter began with Orlando up nine, at which point the Knicks suddenly started forcing turnovers and passing crisply in transition for quick, easy baskets. Tighter defense and the fast-paced excellence of Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith devoured Orlando's edge, pushing New York up four by halftime. I think there was an 18-3 run in there.
The second half was pretty much the same, but more so. The Knicks fell well behind again, this time because Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni couldn't catch Jameer Nelson if you gave them a Jameer Nelson-sized net (pretty much a standard butterfly net). Nelson broke free from Knick point guards with ease, the other Knicks (especially when Amar'e Stoudemire and Steve Novak manned the interior) helped and rotated without ease, and the Magic got all kinds of wide-ass open looks inside and around the perimeter. Orlando led by eight at the end of the third.
Annnnd then the Knicks took over again. I'm often annoyed by how readily advantage changes hands in movies with karate bros or sword fighting or whatever. Like, one guy is sitting on the other guy's neck just pummeling him about the face, then with a simple counter-move, the tables turn and the pummeler becomes the pummelee. It just seems unrealistic that the upper hand could switch that promptly.
But anyway, that's what happened. Orlando suddenly abandoned everything that had been buoying their offense and the Knicks rolled them over and beat them senseless. Nelson's pick-and-roll activity dissolved into simple dump-offs for jumpers off the catch, none of which fell. On the other end, the Magic kept sticking poor Josh McRoberts and Nikola Vucevic on Melo, which was about as plum an invitation as a guy of Melo's habitus and ability can receive. Melo walked over McBob and Vucevic like they were welcome mats, driving, jab-stepping, faking, and squaring up to pour in 16 of his 40 points. New York pulled ahead by two with five minutes to go and pretty much cruised from there forward, with each basket either produced by or radiating from Melo's hands. New York never quite pushed it to double digits, but held on comfortably through the final minutes.
Some individual notes:
- Pretty neat that one of Melo's most prolific scoring games of the season was also his top assisting game. When calling his own number, Melo gave Orlando the usual mix of step-backs and first steps, drawing fouls and splashing from absolutely everywhere despite being in apparent pain of some sort (or at least Clyde and Breen kept using the word "grimace". Maybe they meant he craved milkshakes?)*. And yeah, his passing was as sharp as ever. He tossed some perfect cross-court feeds out of baseline doubles, pinpoint entries to backdoor cutters, and plenty of hockey assists around the perimeter, too. And just to complete the magnificence, Melo put in some excellent defensive possessions bird-dogging J.J. Redick over screens in the fourth quarter. I like Melo.
- Jason Kidd's triple-double will happen. It just hasn't yet. Tonight he rediscovered his three-point stroke (5-8, 15 points), racked up eight assists in transition and some nice stretches of two-man game with Melo, and snaggled eight rebounds as well.
- Hard to argue with Tyson Chandler's offensive performance (6-6 and five offensive rebounds, including a couple monstrous and-one tip-ins), but I thought he had a spotty game defensively. As usual, the guards frequently pickled Chandler by letting Nelson escape in his direction, but even still, Chandler seemed out of position too often, allowing McBob and Vucevic a few too many offensive rebounds and easy buckets.
- I expect to see the ambulance-chasing law firm of McBob & Vucevic in late-night TV ads sometime soon.
- Ronnie Brewer played 17 minutes, which is the longest he's spun in a few weeks. This was one of the first times I really NOTICED him on defense. He got beat backdoor once or twice, but really bothered Arron Afflalo on some possessions.
- Wait, Afflalo shot 10 of fucking 14? Really? Maybe I hallucinated Brewer's good defense. I'm gonna need someone to back me up on that one. (Afflalo did commit three turnovers.) (And I guess it was J.R./Melo guarding Afflalo most of the time.)
- Marcus Camby's didn't defend as effectively as he did against San Antonio, but god DAMN did I love those lobs. Camby opened the game by forcing and turning over a lob to Chandler when he wasn't even remotely open and threw a couple more bad passes throughout the game (one so high over Kidd's head that he didn't even reach for it), but mostly tossed perfect, unbelievably precise lobs from the top of the key. He'd chill up top totally unguarded while the Knicks ran motion to get Chandler mismatched or fronted near the rim, then put the ball right beside the rim where only Chandler (or Melo at one point, though he missed) could reach and dunk it. As a few of y'all said, Camby's been throwing better entry passes than several starting point guards we've watched over the last few years.
- Amar'e made a bit more progress in his third game back. His offense was about the same: Either wide-open dunks off nice baseline cuts/rolls or strenuous moves around the basket that ended up catching front rim. There was progress, though: Amar'e threw an outstanding cross-court pass out of a double team to a Melo three and made a handful of solid defensive plays. He drew a transition charge on Afflalo, contested a few McBob shots nicely, knocked an entry pass off a Magician's foot for a turnover, and actually contested Nelson a few times on switches. I also liked his effort on the offensive glass and his and-one baby hook in a pick-and-roll set with Pablo Prigioni in the fourth.
- 'Twas a fairly quiet J.R. Smith game, at least relative to his recent brilliance. His best stretch came in the second quarter, when he scored six points in what felt like ten seconds by repeatedly wheeling free in transition and getting all the way to the rim. Actually, now that I look back, his fourth quarter was pretty nice as well: Some tough one-on-one finishes and a couple important assists for an Amar'e baseline dunk and the Kidd elbow three that pretty much sealed the game.
- Steve Novak received a pretty generous 28 minutes, including what felt like extra minutes with the closing unit. He hit just two of six threes but, ya know, drew attention and stuff.
- Pablo Prigioni also shot just 2-6, but deserved more than two assists. Amar'e and the shooters wasted a few gorgeous passes Pablo tossed out of the pick-and-roll. Awful defense on Nelson, though.
- Chris Copeland played just four minutes. Passed up an open three to feed Brewer behind the arc (people need to stop doing this), then missed a three of his own.
- Clydespeak: Vucevic = "Vukavich". Nicholson = Like, "Nikoloas" or something. I couldn't even tell.
- New York committed three turnovers in the first five minutes. They finished with eight.
- I went back and re-watched the fourth quarter to see why the Magic scored just 17 points and, besides some kiiiinda tighter Knick rotations, it mostly just seemed like Orlando stopped running the high pick-and-roll for Nelson that had earned them so many baskets in the third quarter. I don't know if they were tired or afraid of Chandler or tanking or what, but it was weird to see them go away from the one thing that had consistently killed New York all night. Not complaining, just saying.
Like StarksMiddleFinger commented, the Knicks are gonna need to be waaaaay more consistent defensively if they wish to beat teams better than the Magic (more like the Spurs game, less like the first and third quarters of this one), but in the event of a prolonged defensive breakdown, it's pretty pleasant to have Melo around.
It's a two-game win streak! I like win streaks. The bigger, the better. On that note: The Celtics are up next. I'm already ragin'. For now, good night.
*Update: It was the knee. He's fine, though.