The Knicks climbed back into the second seed tonight, and they did so with a dominant performance in the second leg of their home-and-home with Toronto. Facing the Raptors in New York this time, the Knicks delivered a performance reminiscent of the halcyon days of November, like NYraider29 mentioned in the thread. They kept moving the ball wonderfully on offense, igniting a lot of that movement with 18 forced turnovers, a season-high 14 of them off steals.
That's pretty much all there was to it. The Raptors, even without Rudy Gay, only occasionally bothered to exploit the Knicks in transition or out of the pick-and-roll, settling mostly for long, arrhythmic jumpers. This time around, Alan Anderson hadn't been possessed by the spirit of an NBA superstar, so the chuckin' approach didn't go so well for Toronto. With the exception of the second quarter (in which the Knicks scored so much it didn't matter), the Raptors failed to get much offense going at all.
The Knicks led by 15 to open the fourth. Their minuscule reserve lineup did the starters a mitzvah by keeping it that way, building that up to 20+ so Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin could rest the final frame a night after each playing heavy minutes.
Some notes, beginning with those two:
- This, to me, was the game in which Melo looked most "back" post-knee-drainage. A couple silly pull-ups and missed bunnies sullied his line (I get to determine which shots were legit and which were mere blips worthy of dismissal), but he looked sharp on offense. Landry Fields took most of the possessions guarding Melo and Melo went right back to work ass-dozing Fields into the paint to score and draw fouls over, around, and through him. Dude passed nicely out of the post, too, creating the usual weak-side looks out of double teams. It was an especially gritty, workmanlike performance from Melo, too. He drew a bunch of fouls (10-10 from the line), defended better off the ball than he did in the previous game, grabbed eight rebounds (three offensive), and even gave Fields a nice, sound shove in retaliation for an uncalled foul.
- Once again, Martin was pretty brilliant. He's got a real knack-- Amar'esque, frankly-- for filling lanes in transition or creeping along the baseline right as his defender bails to help on a penetrating guard. That gift for spacing also allows Kenyon to shake free for lobs and put-back dunks, and he threw down a few of those tonight, punctuating each with a deranged bellow. Martin's defense was typically excellent, too, as he mixed some violent blocks and strips in with the usual smart rotations and tireless barking. His highlight came at the end of the first half, when-- following two big dunks and an especially percussive swat of John Lucas-- the crowd chanted "KEN-YON MAR-TIN [clap clap clapclapfart]" as he stepped to the free throw line. If I must pick nits, Martin did brick a couple pick-and-pop jumpers (that's not really part of his game, as much as he's trying to make it so) and lose his man while helping a few times. The latter was often the responsibility of someone failing to rotate behind him, though. Great game, Kenyon Martin. I remain in awe.
- Iman Shumpert played a quietly splendid game. On offense, he turned the usual weak-side catches into 2-4 shooting from the deep corner and a couple baseline drives, adding a few lovely shuffle passes out of the pick-and-roll as well. On defense, he gave us perhaps the best version of the Shumpert-Toothed Tiger we've seen all year, snaggling possession away from a couple Raptors, including Jonas Valanciunas when he dared hold the ball low under the rim. That's the Shump we know and love: just HOUNDING folks and greedily snatching their basketballs away. He had four steals, if you'd like a number.
- Raymond Felton joined in the larceny, too. Aside from a couple nice drives and entry passes, Felton was unusually intent on creeping up on ballhandlers to poke the ball away from behind. He got three steals and at least one rebound by sneaking up on people.
- Speaking of sneaking, Pablo Prigioni didn't throw himself in front of any inbound passes (that I saw), but did grab six rebounds and throw six assists, including an incredible lead bounce pass to Martin out of the pick-and-roll. I've yet to look for video of that one, but it better be up by the morning. OR ELSE.
- J.R. Smith played one of the worst quarters imaginable, entering with five minutes to go and soiling those five minutes with three turnovers and a couple terrible shot attempts. After that, he was pretty solid. He kept right on driving to the basket, drawing another eight free throw attempts in the process (and hitting seven of them, so his mom might not be mad). After two solid middle quarters, J.R. exploded in garbage time, as is his wont. He drove and pushed in transition for some of those buckets, assists, and free throws, and crept to the rim as the buzzer sounded for a wonderfully unsportsmanlike final two points.
- Jason Kidd celebrated his 40th birthday with so many great plays in help defense, a vintage (we'll allow it. It's his birthday.) lob to Kenyon, and a perfect shooting line of 1-1 from downtown. Happy birthday, Jason.
- I thought both Chris Copeland and Steve Novak looked better defensively and on the glass than they usually do. Cope hit both of his threes and cut baseline for some finishes off the catch. Novak hit one of two threes and, according to the box score, one of four twos as well? I only remember one two-pointer. I detect either tomfoolery or an unusually large pair of shoes.
- Marcus Camby didn't play tonight (Haven't heard why. I assume he was just sitting the SEGABABA), so an exceptionally small lineup-- like, three guards with Cope and Novak as the "big men-- saw pretty heavy minutes. The Raptors only really exploited that early in the second quarter, when they spent a few minutes thriving in transition and on the offensive glass before getting bored and reverting to long twos.
- At one point in the fourth quarter, J.R. took a sorta accidental dribble while facing up in the corner and-- before making another move-- went right ahead and asked Courtney Kirkland if he was allowed to keep dribbling. Kirkland said no, so he didn't. That's proactive basketball, friends. I expect all players to go ask a referee for clarification before they foul somebody or travel or whatever from now on. If you set that precedent, then every time you get whistled for something, you can flip out at the ref like "why didn't you TELL me that was gonna be a foul!?!".
- Mike Breen told a really weird story that, if I heard it correctly, was about Alan Anderson wearing a diamond-encrusted shirt during the X-ray portion of a pre-draft physical, then having the team that ran the physical call him to ask if he had bullets lodged in his torso. I didn't really hear the story completely and need some clarification on that.
That's all! The Knicks swept the home-and-home and got their fourth straight win. Better yet, the Nets and Pacers (and Celtics, just for fun) both lost, so the Knicks are, for the moment, second in the East and 2.5 games up on Brooklyn in the Atlantic. The schedule's about to get tough again, so those are good places to be.
More in the morning. Good night!