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MSG Dispatches: Knicks' defensive adjuments on Al Jefferson sparked comeback

The Knicks upped their defensive intensity and keyed in on Al Jefferson to help erase a 15-point third quarter deficit.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Paul George said the Knicks played the same defense late in the second half that his Pacers were able to build a double-digit third quarter lead against.

But New York upped its intensity and made some defensive adjustments, keying on Al Jefferson to turn a 15-point deficit into a 118-111 win over Indiana on Tuesday.

“We started giving Al Jefferson some different looks,” said Knicks guard Courtney Lee. “We started sending guys at him to try to slow him down. He had an effective first half, and we wanted to make sure that when he got in, we slowed him down a little bit.”

Jefferson tortured the Knicks in the first half, scoring 14 points in just eight minutes on the floor. But New York swarmed him on the low post in the second half, communicating as a team to force Indiana’s spark plug into tough spots.

Derrick Rose said it was a dual effort from Kyle O’Quinn and Joakim Noah that helped limit Jefferson in the second half.

“On a great player like that, no matter how old he is, he got a lot of game still, and he’s tough to guard down there,” he said. “And [Noah] and [O’Quinn] did a great job with just contesting his shots and communicating on the defensive end.”

O’Quinn, who called Tuesday’s game a “must, must, must-win,” said the Knicks had no choice but to up their energy in the fourth quarter.

“We knew what was at stake. We knew we didn’t wanna come in here and try to find out why we didn’t win,” said O’Quinn, who finished with six points, six rebounds, two steals and a block. The Knicks outscored Indiana by nine with its reserve big man on the floor. “ So I think Jo stepped up (and) got big rebounds, KP stepped up,” he continued. “As a team though, we can’t point nobody out, but as a team we came together.”

Added Rose: “Just our energy level. In the second half, I think we played with a lot of energy. We gave it the second and third effort.”

Carmelo Anthony was the Broadway star, tying a season-high 35 points and nailing five threes in a row to lead the charge, while Rose — in his return from back spasms that sidelined him for three games — supplied 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting. Kristaps Porzingis also added 21 points and three blocks, and the Knicks ended their three-game losing streak to avoid falling back down to .500.

Anthony said the Knicks’ big three needs consistently good play “in order to take that next step.”

“We’re gonna need guys stepping up, making plays at different spurts of the game,” he said. “We don’t need one person doing it every game. I think that’s why we put this team together because we know we have guys that can step up when we need to.”

Despite the Knicks’ win, Porzingis was critical of his team’s trend of slow starts. New York was able to make a late push riding a barrage of three-pointers down the stretch, but the second-year seven-footer says his team needs to get out of the habit of allowing early deficits.

“We’ve got to figure it out from the beginning just to have a better start to the game and not put ourselves in a situation like that,” he said. “We’re happy that we won the game, but we won’t be able to win every game like this. So, I’m happy that we won, but we’ve gotta figure it out.”

Noah’s resurgence

After playing in just 11 minutes in New York’s loss to Denver, Joakim Noah finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in 30 minutes for his second double-double of the season. Rose said Noah’s trademark intensity helped make the difference on the defensive end.

“Playing with that energy, giving it a second chance, blocking shots,” he said. “KP wasn’t around and as a big that’s what we need. We need every shot at the basket to be contested.”

Missing Rose

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek admitted the team may have missed Rose while he was sidelined due to injury. New York was 2-5 with Rose out nursing back spasms and had dropped three of its five games on the road. But Rose scored 24 points in his return to the lineup and helped push the Knicks out of their three-game skid.

“It felt good to have him back out there tonight,” Anthony said of Rose. “I think we just play differently when he’s able to be out there on the court with us. The way that he’s feeling more and more comfortable with himself and his body, being healthy. You can just see the difference in him and the guys that are around him.”

The Pacers tried to key in on Rose defensively, setting screens to get the switch onto Paul George. But Rose made life difficult for Indiana’s star forward, contributing to a defensive effort that held George to just 6-for-16 shooting from the field.

“He played really well tonight, and I was really impressed with the way he guarded Paul George,” Noah said. “You don’t really see too many point guards taking that challenge.”

Chasson Randle update

Randle suffered an orbital fracture during preseason that cost him a legitimate shot at a Knicks roster spot in the off-season. He has since been torching the D-League for the Westchester Knicks, New York’s D-League affiliate.

Randle has totaled 97 points in his last three Westchester games. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said while the team is monitoring their point guard’s D-League dominance, they cannot call him up unless there is an injury because their roster is full at 15 players.


  • Lance Thomas played in six minutes and was one-for-one from the field, but the Pacers outscored the Knicks by 10 while Thomas was on the floor. Conversely, New York outscored Indiana by 16 when playing Justin Holiday, who finished with seven points, four rebounds and three assists.
  • Willy Hernangomez only played two minutes, but Hornacek chalked his bench time up to Al Jefferson’s experience on the low post and Indiana’s small, up-tempo offense.
  • The Knicks were plus-10 with Jennings on the floor. He came up with a key steal on an inbounds play that led to a game-tying Kristaps Porzingis three-pointer late in the fourth quarter.

Next 5: Dec. 22 vs. ORL, Dec. 25 vs. BOS, Dec. 28 @ ATL, Dec. 31 @ HOU, Jan. 2 vs. ORL