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Knicks 104, Hawks 94: ‘Bully ball!’

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The Knicks smacked around the Hawks on a Sunday afternoon.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

How right you were, Mr. Millsap: The New York Knicks came into their clash with the Atlanta Hawks ranked 29th in the NBA in defensive rating. That team, however, was nowhere to be found on Sunday afternoon. The ‘Bockers played smart; they played tough. They gritted and scrapped and got under the skin of the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference. And they won, 104-94.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the game was how well New York held onto its lead. The Hawks never regained an advantage after the first quarter. The game was never a blowout, but the Knicks successfully parried every Atlanta run until finally stretching the lead into double-digits in the third quarter. They dropped the Hawks and kept them down until the final whistle. As P&T’er NewYorkSports&Chelsea exclaimed, it was peak bully ball from damn near everyone involved.

Notes:

  • I had a little discussion about whether we were matching Bully Melo or Dad Melo after Carmelo Anthony grabbed his own miss like three times before finally drawing the foul that essentially sealed the game. Indeed, it was a very bullyish possession, but in coming that late in the game it was, in my humble opinion, a fine example of Dad cleaning up the kids’ messes and putting the game to bed. It helped that he also buried a three on the next possession. Melo matched his season high with 31 points, though this performance was much different than the time he dropped 31 on the Raptors last weekend. In that game, he gave back damn near every point he scored with some butt-nasty defense; Sunday, the points came with some sturdy D and the kind of play-making we saw from him in 2015-16. Melo seems to be getting more comfortable with his new teammates.
  • This is how far Kristaps Porzingis has come: At no point did his face-off with three-time All-Star Paul Millsap feel like a mismatch. Millsap is the kind of stretch 4 who is usually a nightmare for Kristaps to guard, but the Unicorn handled himself well, fighting the Hawks’ best player to essentially a draw: both players scored 19 points, though it took Millsap two more shots to get there. Kristaps also grabbed 11 rebounds. No, he didn’t have a particularly good game ... and all he did was match one of the league’s best forwards. Kid’s good.
  • I highly suggest you watch this Willy Hernangomez highlight package:

The stretch of play starting around the 3:10 mark might be the non-Kristaps highlight of the season for me: Willy stones Dwight Howard on defense, then out-muscles Dwight for an offense rebound, prompting a petulant foul that very well could have been called a flagrant. There were still five minutes to go in the game, but for all intents and purposes Dwight was finished. Willy had gotten to him, psyched him out. The big Spaniard put up 7 points and 8 rebounds in 29 minutes of playing time. It could very well have been more if his teammates had found him on the block. Tremendous all-around game for the kid.

Also: Willy does not feel pain. His opponents feel pain.

  • Kyle O’Quinn got the start in place of Joakim Noah, who was out with some kind of sickness, and really set the pace early. This was by far the most intelligent I’ve seen O’Quinn play this year — he was constantly exactly where he needed to be, doing exactly what he needed to do, on both offense and defense. He dropped an efficient 8 points and 8 rebounds and did a superlative job anchoring the defense.
  • This will probably go under-reported, but Courtney Lee saved the Knicks’ bacon at the start of the third quarter. The team came out of the half stagnant on offense, and it was Lee running pick-and-roll with O’Quinn and Porzingis that brought the team back to life before Atlanta could take the lead. Lee brushed off a rough few games with a solid all-round performance: 14 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals. It was an important reminder that even when he’s not shooting well, he is infinitely better at basketball than Arron Afflalo.
  • Derrick Rose owned Dennis Schroder so damn hard defensively, the Hawks’ starting point guard didn’t even play in the fourth quarter. But please, Derrick, cut down on the jump-passes.
  • Big ups to Marshall Plumlee, who saw the first action of his NBA career. His day was so crazy that we had to make it into a separate article.
  • Noah didn’t play, and the Knicks won. I don’t think that is as big a deal as it will assuredly be made out to be.

The Knicks will look to get to .500 against Portland and their awesome stable of guards. It’ll be a tough matchup, but the game will be at the Garden, which might just finally be turning back into a place opponents don’t want to play.