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Knicks 96, Bucks 86

Hell of a second half.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

You know, the Knicks have beaten much better teams than the Bucks this season, but the way New York went about beating Milwaukee tonight felt important. See, this one didn't start so well. First the Knicks failed to exploit Milwaukee's cold start by missing all their own damn shots. Then the Bucks found a groove and things got slimy pretty fast.

In a mildly surprising turn of events, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis didn't really produce much against New York's poor defensive backcourt, but they did: 1. hit early threes and 2. work over picks to draw switches for their big men, and that just befuddled the Knicks. Ersan Ilyasova scored easily over mismatches and the Bucks cleaned up their own misses while New York burped up turnovers and missed threes. A 10-0 Knick run in the second quarter kept the Bucks from really running away, but Milwaukee held a six-point lead at halftime, then inflated it to a dozen with a quick run to start the second half.

Then...I don't know what happened, but something turned. After a couple defensive lapses in the first minute of the third, Mike Woodson yanked Iman Shumpert off the floor in a huff and sent J.R. Smith into the game. Soon thereafter, the Knicks grabbed a hold of Milwaukee with a succession of threes from J.R. and Carmelo Anthony. The Bucks strained and strained to blow it open again by forcing turnovers, but with Amar'e Stoudemire now on the floor, New York kept their grip and overtook them. Through some combination of improved Knick rotations and a tight rim (might explain the Knicks' first-half shooting), Milwaukee went straight-up frigid. The Bucks shot 13-41 for 33 second-half points, including just 13 in the fourth quarter, and Tyson Chandler made damn sure they didn't get any more second opportunities with his best rebounding performance of the season.

And this time, instead of squandering their stops, the Knicks pulled ahead for good. Amar'e finished his night with a couple splendid moves to open the fourth. Melo couldn't get anything to drop, but drew help, shared the ball nicely and, at last, got some assists in the process. Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert made surprise returns-- Felton from a scary but apparently minor aggravation of his hand injury, Shump from Woodson's doghouse-- and exploited that open space on the wings to can some big threes and wreak havoc in the lane.

It'd be nice to just start a game strong and dominate the whole way one of these nights, but I'm still pleased with the way New York won. The only way to correct for that first half was to absolutely own the second, and they did that with much tighter defensive rotations and better shooting. And on a pretty rough night for Melo, J.R. and Amar'e dropped 17 apiece off the bench, Chandler inhaled rebounds, and Felton played a composed, efficient game even some injury. Some more notes:

- Chandler worked for those 20-- though the Bucks aren't a great rebounding team, he really had to battle-- but credit the whole group for pursuing loose balls. Melo and Amar'e combined for 15 additional boards and the guards all hung back to clean up the scraps.

- He hit some big shots, shared the ball nicely, and pulled down eight boards, but Melo just didn't have it tonight. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute gave him a little trouble on the baseline, but even when he got clean looks on the move or off the catch, he struck rim. And I have no idea where those seven turnovers came from. His wrist appeared to be bugging him after he swiped someone's arm in the second half, so I wonder if that had something to do with it. Either way, 'twas an inefficient night, but not a total failure in the slightest. Those makes came at important moments and the passing and rebounding served the Knicks well. That one dunk was pretty impressive, too.

- More beautiful post finishes, more trips to the foul line for Amar'e, and he actually shot well (7-8) from the line on a night when the team as a whole (well, Melo, really) struggled from there. The Bucks beat him a few times with first half pick-and-rolls, but I thought his defense tightened up along with everyone else's in the second half.

- Shump really got shook a few times in this one, so it was wonderful to see him make some big defensive plays-- a couple strips, aggressive traps, and contested shots-- hit a three, and drive diagonally for a couple finishes down the stretch. Redeemed a terrible start. Ran a few nice pick-and-rolls along the way.

- Felton had a few of his lobs cut off and whipped two passes straight into the stands, but limited his turnovers otherwise and made a point of attacking constantly for inside buckets (including one gorgeous transition finish off a littl crossover) and kick-outs. He quietly played some sharp defensive possessions in the fourth quarter, too.

- Jason Kidd got to play just 24 minutes and didn't shoot so hot (1-5 from downtown, pretty much all of them wide open). His help defense to open the game was unbelievable, though. I think he at least touched the ball on like the first six Milwaukee possessions.

- This didn't really register during the game, but J.R. Smith attempted 14 shots and 13(!) of them were three-pointers. Mostly decent ones off the catch, too. Five makes is not quiiiite enough makes to justify 13 attempts without driving, but I didn't notice much poor shot selection in this one. Better threes than long twos. J.R. played spots of solid defense on Legendary Knick Assassin Mike Dunleavy The Lesser, too. Dunleavy shot 4-5, but J.R. forced some tough shots and at least one turnover by sticking with him over screens and whatnot.

- Pablo Prigioni's defense seemed kind of okay (drew a charge!) and he hustled for a pretty important save, but that's about it. Steve Novak hit his first three on the strong side of some high-low Amar'e-Melo action, then missed his next two.

- On that note, it was nice to see Melo and Amar'e work on the same (left, usually) side of the floor a bit. It's pretty great to watch a team help OFF Melo to contest Amar'e in the post.

- Ekpe Udoh realllly went at Novak for a few possessions in the second quarter. Novak does a lot for people's self esteem.

- Breen and Clyde had a couple understated gems in this one:

1. Breen, commenting on the MSG music selection: "I like that stuff, the Gary Clark Jr.". Clyde: Yeah. It sounds good." (And later, in reference to the song "Ain't Messin' 'Round"): "The Bucks ARE messing around!"

2. Breen, looking at a couple fans in blue and orange Spiderman-styled gimp suits: "To each his own."

- 40 seconds of garbage time for Ronnie Brewer tonight!!!! He's got a new sub-1:00 streak going!!!!

- Yo, if y'all aren't gonna play Tobias Harris and John Henson, just hand 'em over (not that Woodson would be any more generous with minutes...). (I know those guys get minutes sometimes, by the way. Pretty much nothing in New York, though).

Excellent. This one looked so much like a typical Robert Randolph-cursed Friday Night Knicks stinker, but New York warded off the Bucks and the foul spirits with that second half burst. The 29-15 (Quick side note: The Knicks are 29-15. That's fucking crazy.) Knicks host the Kings Saturday night. Time for some payback for that kidney-punch of a loss in December.