This year's Knicks are Phil Jackson's Frankenstein monster: an ambitious project with a lot of parts and pieces being tested together to see what works, a process requiring repeated failure in order to ultimately succeed. Some nights-- some glorious nights-- it's alive! Other nights, the monster twitches some, and that's all it does.
Tonight, the Knicks Jekyll'd their way to their best half of the season. They dominated the first quarter, ripping off an early 14-2 run thanks to consistent dribble penetration from Iman Shumpert breaking down the defense and setting up teammates. After the recent arrhythmic offense, the Knicks were a philharmonic orchestra. Players were moving. So was the ball. There were lefty lay-ins and quick confident jumpers in the half-court and on fast breaks that went swish in the night and Shump dunks. Decisions were crisp; aggression was controlled, efficient. Carmelo Anthony had 14 and 8 on 60% shooting after the first. The Knicks were up 12. Atlanta poked away in the second, but the Knicks closed strong: after scoring only six points the first six minutes of the second quarter, they erupted for 23 over the next six. They shot 59%, outrebounded Atlanta, outscored them in the paint, and had 18 assists from 8 different players, 6 from Shump.
Then the second half started and Team Hyderbockers showed up. The change was instantaneous: in their first possession Carmelo held the ball, held it, held it, held it, pulled up and missed, and it was like 28 Days Later: that miss infected everyone. Tim Hardaway Jr. started shooting threes right off the catch. Samuel Dalembert experimented with offense. Shane Larkin pulled up for long twos. The hard rock of the first available shot outshone the rare gem of the best shot. The Hawks came back, things went back and forth until late, then Atlanta pulled ahead and stayed ahead. Apparently Kyle Korver exists...something the Knicks might want to add to their scouting reports. With a little over a minute left in the game, the Knicks only had 29 second-half points. If you missed the game, that stat should give you an idea what you missed; if you saw the game, it crystallizes what you wish you'd missed.
- Color blindness is also known as "color vision deficiency." Relatedly, Shumpert is now in his fourth year and I have no read on him. A couple weeks ago I was horrified to realize his Knick career to date couldn't hold Gerald Wilkins' career's jock. But then Shump has a night like tonight-- outside of Texas, no less!-- when he looks like young Scottie Pippen. He opened defending Korver, shifted to Jeff Teague when Larkin had foul trouble, and remained a steady secondary force on offense, creating for others and finding his own offense in rhythm.
I had no issue with the Knicks letting Shump hit restricted free agency (the Spurs and Warriors did the same with Kawhi Leonard and Harrison Barnes). But I have to cop to Iman Vision Deficiency (IVD). I have no clue what to make of this guy.
- It wasn't as impressive as the time Vince Carter hurdled ex-never-was-Knick Frederic Weis, but it was pretty cool seeing Dalembert block a shot and land on the guy after doing so. I think it was Teague. If you land on the guy you swat you should get like an extra half a block.
- Cleanthony Early came in early again, this time with 5:00 left in the first. So...maybe he's a thing now?
- When the Hawks hit a three to tie things in the fourth, Derek Fisher didn't call a timeout. I like when coaches do that. Let the team play through bad stretches. Sink or swim's tried and true. Plus last year the Knicks never seemed to have timeouts left late in games because every time the opponent went on a 6-2 run they'd burn one. Having said that, I have big-picture questions after the small-picture of this game.
Who is the Knicks' leader? Carmelo's the alpha dog, but I'm not sure he's the leader. Is it Fisher? If so, what, if anything, can one take from him going as long as he did the 2nd half with lineups that weren't working (this wasn't Jason Smith's finest hour)? Could Fisher have done anything to stop the bleeding and resurrect the five-fingers-as-one-hand groupthink that was clicking in the first half? How come with 40 seconds left and the Knicks needing to foul, it looked like no one realized Shumpert had five and someone else needed to foul a Hawk? Shump ended up taking his sixth there.
Did Atlanta make some adjustment the Knicks couldn't counter? Is this one of those games that goes down as another battle lost on the long road to winning the war, and Fisher realized the lessons learned mattered most?
- Jason Smith mirrors New York City: some good stuff. Some not so good. Not always pretty. But always happening.
- Carmelo's first quarter: 14 points, 6/10 FGs, 8 rebounds.
- Carmelo afterwards: 6 points, 2/10 FGs, 1 rebound.
- Shane Larkin had 9 points, 4 assists and 1 turnover. He looks like what he is: a talented but inexperienced backup who's been forced to start at the deepest position in the league. But when you lose a game late and the backbreaker comes when Jeff Teague physically dominates you like he's Russell Freaking Westbrook, your team has a positional issue.
- The Hawks took 36 free throws to the Knicks' 11. Early on, the way the Knick offense was clicking, they were getting the kind of looks that are so good there's no chance for a defender to foul. But that wasn't the main reason for the disparity. The Knicks were in the penalty early in the first three quarters, a worrying trend. Dumb fouls, too. Quit it, Knicks.
- You know you're green when Kyle Korver goes at you one-on-one like most guys go at Kyle Korver one-on-one. Get ready for your close-up, Cleanthony.
- Where did you watch the game tonight? At home in sweatpants? Out with friends at a bar? Guess what? Wherever you were, you singlehandedly forced as many Hawk turnovers in the third quarter as the Knicks. Zero.
- This is the kind of game you figure Jose Calderon would come in handy.
- Fisher left Carmelo in to start the 2nd quarter...for one minute and five seconds. Dipping his toes in the water, I guess.
- Adam Keefe looks like he'd play a Kennedy in a TV miniseries. If they still made TV miniseries. I miss those. War and Remembrance was the best.
- I see what you did there with 20 seconds left, Hawks P.A. And you're right. It is Peanut Butter Jelly Time.
- Walt Frazier calling John Starks "Starky" during the trivia question...I don't know. I didn't like that. Something weird there. It felt wrong. Like, crossing the streams wrong.
- Mike Scott scared the hell out of me as a Met fan in 1986 and Mike Scott scares the hell out of me as a Knick fan now.
- Derek Fisher's tie was straight out of the Regis Philbin "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" collection.
Abandon no hope, all ye who've entered here. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness. As Lavor Postell wrote, "As bad as that was, that wasn't as bad as last year." That's the 2014-15 narcotic: the here-and-now's all about the journey and not the destination. The Knicks' next destination is a rematch against the Hawks Monday home in New York. If they copy who they were in the first half and paste it into the second, the kids'll be all right.