That's ten straight wins now, and tonight's may have been my favorite of the bunch. As was the case in Miami, the Knicks didn't open the game on their best behavior, but built up to a dominant fourth quarter that propelled them way ahead of the faltering Hawks, just like our friend CARMP described in the thread. After a bunch of near-collapses, I find myself appreciating these games in which the Knicks improve and make adjustments as the game progresses. Finishing strong-- even after a rough start-- feels a lot better to me than narrowly avoiding disaster.
Tonight saw three tightly contested quarters characterized by so very much Carmelo Anthony basket-making and so very much sloppy defense at the other end. The Knicks granted noted three-point shooter Kyle Korver as many threes as he pleased, then allowed the other Hawks to stomp the paint during a wretched third quarter. It didn't look all that different from what Mike Miller and the Heat had going early on Tuesday, with all sorts of poorly executed doubles and switches leading to open looks. Just like Tuesday, though, Melo kept New York afloat. Wearing that same glassy expression, Melo varied his approach a bit this time, firing off another barrage of jumpers while mixing in some drive-by buckets and dazzling moves out of the post. DeShawn Stevenson, Josh Smith, and Dahntay Jones each took turns hassling, but Melo paid them no mind. Again, the guy has quite obviously been in a zone this week. Melo looks totally glazed over, as if he's been hypnotized. I'm not sure he even notices defenders in his vicinity.
That said, Melo noticing defenders and responding appropriately was one of several great things to occur in the fourth quarter. Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith began to erupt during Melo's early-period rest-- Felton chugging to the rim over Chandler picks, Smith steamrolling Shelvin Mack-- and continued to do so once the hot hand returned. New York ditched the pick-and-roll for the Melo post-up and Atlanta responded by sending more consistent doubles. Melo countered with some brilliant re-posts and bail-outs to the weak side that fed a couple J.R. daggers. All that helped, and a defense finally intent on jumping passing lanes and tailing Korver (praise be to Smith and Jason Kidd) helped a lot, too. The Knicks won the fourth quarter 27-14, turning what looked like another close finish into a blowout in front of an almost uncomfortably joyous crowd.
Some other notes:
- Here are some updates on Tyson Chandler (who still looked uncomfortable) and Kenyon Martin (whose knee acted up). Those two split the 48 minutes evenly and neither did much of note. Chandler did set some great screens and deter a few shots in the paint down the stretch.
- After some unfriendly rolls early on, it was wonderful to watch Felton take over in the fourth. It wasn't anything complicated-- just a lot of solid, centrally placed Chandler screens that gave Felton the room to accelerate and pick a side of the rim on the fly. He ditched Jeff Teague and kept Al Horford in his back pocket on three or four consecutive fourth-quarter drives to the rim.
- It should also be mentioned that Felton and Pablo Prigioni did an intermittently okay job staying in front of Jeff Teague. Teague wasn't aggressive as he was in the previous meeting, but even the instances in which he did attack met halfway decent resistance.
- Pablo also drained a couple crucial threes during a third quarter in which his over-dribbling was partially responsible for a New York slump.
- Until the fourth quarter, J.R. Smith didn't look so sharp. He wasn't using very many picks, instead trying to just beat guys one-on-one. He had his moments in that approach, but often surrendered to even token help defense around the free throw line. In the fourth, he trampled Mack a few times in the post, then turned weak-side catches off Melo post-ups into a big three and a bigger baseline dunk. He also played a useful part in the Korver-chasing down the stretch.
- Oh, two great J.R. moments: 1. In the first quarter, he dribbled out the final seconds of a shot clock, felt what he thought was a foul, heard no whistle, then grouchily heaved the ball at the backboard...only the clock hadn't quite expired, and the ball went in. 2. J.R.'s final shot of the game was like a demented Dream Shake in which he pivoted a full semi-circle around Teague, then dropped in a preposterous leaning jumper at the buzzer.
- Iman Shumpert played just 23 minutes (although the entire first quarter and the beginning of the second) and didn't shoot so hot (2-6). His tendency to help was also the chief culprit in Korver's parade of open looks. Shump did, however, do a lot of diligent boxing out and intelligent doubling early in the game. Spaced the floor well, too, but just couldn't get anything but his at-rim attempts to fall.
- Aside from all the step-back jumpers and decisive dribble moves, I loved the handful of buckets Melo got by sealing and finishing a perfect Jason Kidd pass. The Knicks routinely struggle with fronts, but Kidd's got wonderful timing and precision on his entry lobs. The best was a play in the fourth quarter in which Melo kicked out to Kidd, re-posted, then pulled the old Dwight Howard backdoor spin to catch and finish an impossibly accurate alley-oop feed.
- Kidd otherwise had a pretty quiet outing. He was one of several to get torched by Korver early and he blew a lot of good swing passes by either bricking open threes or swallowing them and killing shot clock. He made plenty of great deflections, though, and did a much better job bothering Korver in the fourth.
- Steve Novak hit three very snappy threes and did a nice job boxing out. Chris Copeland played just two minutes before getting yanked for good.
- Atlanta always brings the weird out of Clyde. Tonight he we got "Oliver" for Anthony Tolliver to go with the usual Kyle "Karver", Al "Harvard", and "Jarsh" Smith. Clyde also responded to Mike Breen's announcement of Friday's ceremony for the 1973 team with a very warm "yayyyyy" and referred to Melo's dominance of various Atlanta defenders as "genocide for the Hawks".
- Good god, did Jarsh Smith miss a lot of free throws. 0-7 from the line was enough to single-handedly make a meaningful difference in the outcome.