The Knicks teed up a blowout win, but ended up recording a regular win. Anyone who's watched the Knicks for a while saw the way they charged ahead in the first half and feared a downturn in the second half. And, sure enough, even though the Bucks were missing Brandon Knight (injury) and most of Larry Sanders (foul trouble), they nearly ruined New York's victorious home opener. Nearly. All the fast-paced, plundering mayhem of the first half gave way to a second half fraught with goofy, unforced turnovers and forgiving inside defense. The Knicks collected themselves down the stretch, though, or we'd be freaking out right now. Tyson Chandler keyed a game-closing run with deflections down low and rim-splintering finishes at the other end. Raymond Felton's passing, Pablo Prigioni's peskiness, and a couple Carmelo Anthony buckets factored into the final stand, but Tyson felt like THE man who made certain the Knicks wouldn't get humiliated, like allzingers said in the thread.
Before humiliation was even an option, the Knicks dominated. Granted, they dominated against a team that gave regular minutes to Nate Wolters and Khris "Yes, really, Khris" Middleton, but dominating is dominating. They just took all the basketballs. Without an even remotely experienced point guard, the Bucks were an easy target for New York's full-court pressure and hyper-aggressive backcourt double-teams. The disreputable law firm of Chandler, Shumpert, Felton & Prigioni swiped every bare dribble, poached many an obvious passing lane, and jumped pick-and-rolls to draw charges, hardly letting the Bucks get a shot in edgewise. The Knicks turned all those takeaways into something lovely and unfamiliar: fast-break points; 22 of them in the first half alone. While Felton showed typical punch on the break and Melo and Chandler leaked for easy finishes, Shump really shone as a guy newly able to accelerate across halfcourt, navigate through traffic with a rapid but controlled dribble, and absorb contract to finish with either hand. Like, even when he got flagrant-fouled. Did you know you get two shots to make one free throw before getting the ball back if you draw a flagrant while scoring? You shouldn't commit a flagrant foul while letting someone score. That's just about the worst thing you can do defensively. I keep typing "fragrant foul". That's when you fart and somebody. You shouldn't do that either. That's seven shots to make four and the ball back.
All that back-and-forth action meant we saw unusually few proper halfcourt sets. And the ones we did see struck me as a bit different. We saw flashes of peak-2012-2013 Knicks, like some hot potato passing around the perimeter and plenty of 1-5 pick-and-roll. More than anything, though, we saw post-ups. Or at least it felt that way. We're used to seeing Melo down there (and he was down there), but less used to seeing Shump back down for a possession or two, Metta World Peace go to work from the left block, or Chandler fight for position down low early in shot clocks. And the stuff in between the post-ups was way less perimeter-oriented than we came to expect from last year's Knicks. New York took just five threes in the first half. Shump got his up, but Melo mostly eschewed catch-and-shoots around the arc, Metta fancied himself a point-center, Felton and Beno Udrih mostly wanted to drive and pull-up for short jumpers, and Bargnani used a lot of off-ball down-screens that left him around the free throw line. So, lots of fast-break points and free throws and two-pointers, relatively few threes. Different. Not *bad* or even unexpected...just different. Something to keep an eye on.
The Knicks did attempt more threes in the second half. They were just bad, ugly, stupid ones taken off flat feet and minimal ball movement. I'm not thaaaat worked up about the collapse overall, though. A lot of the comeback felt like a pile-up of dumb little things. The Knicks threw passes through each other's hands with bizarre regularity. The Bucks kept coming up with loose balls. The Knicks stopped getting the foul calls that had boosted their scoring in the first half. The Bucks got all sorts of hook shots and mid-range nonsense to drop. Onnnnn the other hand, there is a line between good, aggressive pressure defense and outright wildness. The sloppier second-half Knicks stayed pressuring full-court to knock time off the clock, but did a far worse job recovering back into a decent half-court formation, which led in turn to over-switching, over-helping, and easy shots or offensive rebounds any time the Bucks made a simple dribble move or entry pass. It's striking how an aggressive defense gives up the best possible shots-- lay-ups and open threes-- if the aggression is uncontrolled or half-assed. And, of course, the Knicks got stagnant on offense. That's a given for a shitty stretch. They actually over-passed at times, but mostly resorted to dribbling in place and thinking about doing stuff but not actually doing stuff when the Bucks hit them with a little zone defense.
In short, I was pleased but not quite convinced by the vigorous first half, and annoyed but not quite distraught over the hapless second half. It was very nice to see the Knicks refocus their intensity in the final minutes. It was was really just a matter of rebooting the energy to backpedal into defensive sets after they were done pressuring, then turning turnovers into easy buckets. We didn't get to see much in the way of set inbound plays out of timeouts or anything. We did see a perfect and super deep 1-5 pick-and-roll to get Chandler his game-punctuating alley-oop flush, and we saw Melo work out of super deep post position for one of his late buckets. Super deep.
Some notes on lineups and individuals:
- Welcome back, Tyson Chandler. Gone were the milquetoast stylings of last May. Back were the ferocious basketball-assaults we know and love. The feeling was actually reminiscent of a similar near-blown-comeback game: Chandler's debut on the first day back from the lockout on Christmas 2011 against the Celtics. Watching Chandler cover poor perimeter D with layup-annihilations, stand his ground in the post, and reach skyward on the roll to spike lobs and caroms gave me a grand feeling of "oh, wow, we have THAT on our roster." Chandler mixed in a dash of new stuff-- he took two jumpers out to 18 feet and drained the one of them that made sense-- but last night was mostly about watching the old Chandler (the real Chandler) unfurl his wings. Stick around, real Tyson Chandler. If you were needed that often to defend Nate Wolters...you're gonna be needed a lot.
- Not much to say about Melo. He drilled his first jumper of the game pulling up over a Chandler screen, then took (and missed) just three more from then on. Like I said, he got most of his looks down low and ended up taking just 16 shots in 38 minutes. Some of that came from off-ball movement that screened for him or with him and spat him out near the rim (great) or around the free throw line (a little weird) instead of out behind the arc. Ten rebounds is a nice amount of rebounds, and they weren't just self-tip-ins and the like. Melo's averaging a double-double!
- Iman Shumpert played a very good game with plenty of room to improve. The good stuff we saw included some newly refined work off the dribble, both in transition and slicing diagonally over picks. He kept his dribble low, changed pace appropriately, and showed comfort finishing with either hand. My main offensive gripe was that Shumpert-- perhaps showing some nerves-- appeared drained of the perimeter confidence we saw in the preseason. He hesitated before pulling from outside, and sometimes opted to swallow open looks entirely, going just 1-5 from outside on the night. Iman already looks much more comfortable driving than he did last season, so I'm all for it, but if you're open, you shoot that three, Shump! You're good at it! Meanwhile, Shump's defense was typical of the Shumpert-toothed tiger. Though he didn't come up with any steals, he took a violent rip at several Milwaukee possessions, breaking up easy looks at the basket. Of course, he often found opportunities to rip away looks at the basket because he overplayed and gave up a step too often.
- Oh, and if you're wondering, Shump's late-game absence seems to have been a cramp-related thing. Bananas, sir.
- Raymond Felton played wonderfully on offense, especially before he tweaked his nagging hamstring injury. Ray only settled for a few jumpers, and they were of the solid, straight-footed variety. He mostly utilized dizzying changes of pace to shed defenders and penetrate, often all the way into the rim. Watching Felton work on the run made me hope we'll see the Knicks maintain that effort to get out in transition when possible. He scampers with such grace, that little penguin.
- For all his wonderful passing lane invasion, Pablo Prigioni was kind of a mess in the second half. I thought he might be a stabilizing force after Beno Udrih looked a little too hurried running the offense, but Pablo, too, got caught dribbling into a thicket or leaving his feet without anywhere to pass. Just some rust, I reckon. Nothing rusty, though, about Pablo laying his 36 year-old body out to corral a crucial turnover in the final two minutes.
- And yeah, Beno played wild as hell, penetrating willy-nilly without much regard for the state of the defense. I like Beno's verve (at least on offense), but him treating defenders like doors instead of walls isn't the best-looking approach. We know he's got the penetrating ability; he's just gotta pick the right spots to employ it. He's not as slippery as he thinks he is. Oh, and keep fighting over picks, Beno. You mostly didn't, but you looked good when you did. Pretty awful debut overall. Very loosey-goosey. The loosiest goosey I ever saw.
- Andrea Bargnani's real Knick debut was similarly awful. It felt like only the bad plays went well. When Bargnani spaced the floor poorly, caught a pass between his wrists, then attempted an awkward shot from an awkward range, he succeeded (except for that time he shot directly into John Henson's forearm). When he hung out at the perimeter and got good, open touches with which he could shoot or drive, he failed. Bargnani being way more comfortable around the free-throw line than around the perimeter doesn't have to be a bad thing, but it seems to contrast with the way the Knicks want to use him. On the other end, Bargnani was good for one sound defensive play per possession, as if he were meeting a quota. Like "yes, I will hedge properly to thwart this pick-and-roll, but no, I will not use the ample time I have to recover and protect the rim. You got it, guards." As such, Bargnani playing "center" was nooooot a good look. The only time it looked even intermittently passable was when Metta World Peace joined Bargnani in the frontcourt and helped out around the rim (i.e. Bargnani wasn't truly the center), but I wouldn't count on that pairing at all. A Bargnani/Kenyon Martin frontcourt also looked slightly un-terrible, though Martin played only five minutes. I feel like another five minutes of Kenyon placed smartly in the second half might have made a major difference.
- Metta was the first man off the bench, and the guy who checked in when Shump cramped up late. As I mentioned, he fancied himself more of a slasher and poster-up than a floor-spreader. I prefer the posting-up to the slashing (please don't slash), but hey, no harm in camping out now and then! On the other end, we saw a lot of smart/scary doubling and strong work on the defensive glass.
- Tim Hardaway Jr. has not missed as a Knick. His stroke looked effortless and utterly without jitter in game one of his NBA career. He has gotten lost on defensive rotations, but he has not missed.
- I hope Knick guards will remember that Chandler can't do much with pick-and-roll passes just below the free-throw line. The man moves in straight lines and needs that extra step, lest disaster strike upon reception. Save those early passes for Amar'e.
- I mentioned Chandler setting up down low, but-- especially when the offense was really cooking-- we saw him in plenty of Horns sets around the elbow, handing off and rolling and setting nice screens.
- Dear MSG crowd: 1. Do not boo Andrea Bargnani. That doesn't help. 2. Maybe resist the urge to go "OHHHH" the moment Raymond Felton crosses someone up. I feel like he shoots as soon as he hears that.
- Woodson played his whole rotation in the first quarter alone. Ten guys.
- Turnovers by quarter, I think: 4, 4, 5, 9. No, don't do that.
- I liked when Clyde compared Felton's "feline quickness" to Shumpert's "canine defense". I would describe Beno's penetrating efforts last night as "lutrine".
I'm glad the Knicks won. I'm not quite sure who the Knicks are after one game out of 82, nor did I expect to be. They definitely didn't look like a copy of last year's team. I'm certain they'll need to play a lot better-- more composed on defense, less mistake-prone on offense-- to beat, say, the Bulls in Chicago.