The Knicks gave a reminder tonight that they are indeed human beings. Their machine-like precision from the first three games seemed
unsustainable; their winning ways, however, still remain.
At 4-0, the last remaining undefeated team in the NBA, the Knicks took down their fourth straight opponent by double-digits, beating the Dallas Mavericks 104-94. The Mavs came in playing some of the best basketball in the Western Conference, despite missing their superstar Dirk Nowitzki. Coming into the game, Dallas was 4-1, a testament to the undeniably excellent coaching of Rick Carlisle. However, his Mavericks, after a hot start, wilted down the stretch under an intense, scavenging New York defense.
It wasn’t always pretty for New York. In the first half, the two teams exchanged blows trading baskets and stops, and Dallas looked ready to pull away at any moment. But New York just kept scratching for life. A fade-away three-pointer by J.R. Smith at the end of the half kept the Knicks within two – a sign of their desperate clinging to the game. The third quarter was the difference-maker for New York. J.R. Smith once again swooped in with some timely buckets on jumpers and drives to push the Knicks ahead. The Knicks outscored the Mavericks 29-21 in that essential third quarter.
Smith was not alone, of course. Carmelo Anthony continued his torrid stretch at the power forward by dropping in a season high 31 points on 10-22 shooting. For the most part, it was not the team-conscious, well-behaved ‘Melo that we’ve seen thus far this season – some forced transition buckets, and headstrong determination to unsuccessfully take it to Dahntay Jones come to mind – but he was nonetheless effective. Against the likes of Jae Crowder, Brendan Wright, and Vince Carter, Anthony simply exerted his will, bullying his way to the basket or knocking down some midrange jumpers.
Tyson Chandler’s return to health was also a successful one, punctuated by a rim-rocking, and-1 put-back dunk over Jae Crowder following an Anthony miss. Chandler, seemingly fully healthy for the first time this season, dropped in 11 points and 9 rebounds.
However, it was not always sugar and sweets for the Knicks. The Mavericks, whose playing style is nearly machine-like in their own right, began the game hot from three-point land, led by O.J. Mayo who finished with 23 points on 5-10 shooting from beyond the arc. Had foul trouble not limited him, Mayo looked set to become the latest addition on a long list of Knick-killers. Chris Kaman and Vince Carter (rocking an American-flag themed headband recalling Easy Rider) combined for 29 points off the bench.
The Mavs hung around for awhile with the Knicks, but couldn’t pull it out in the end. The Knicks’ defense stifled the Mavs into only 16 fourth-quarter points, including a nearly four-minute scoring drought. The same defense which Mike Woodson has so often praised and relied upon, was the turning point for a Knicks team whose offense also faltered down the stretch with a few turnovers and sloppy, isolation ball.
The margin of victories still remains in double-digits, but tonight proved that every win won’t be easy, and they won’t always be pretty. The Knicks won in a grinding fashion, and their winning percentage still remains the best in the league.
– A few folks have noted on Twitter that Raymond Felton doesn’t seem to be in game shape yet. That might explain his hot starts and lowly finished this season, as well as his horrid finishing around the basket – a sign of some jello-y legs. Felton was pretty bad tonight: 8 points on 3-11 shooting, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers.
– Marcus Camby made his season debut and was mostly quiet. It was still nice to see the old, lanky string bean out on the MSG floor again, though.
– Ronnie Brewer’s prowess from the corner three remains; he made 2-4 from beyond the arc tonight. Ronnie also has a nose for timely offensive boards, which has been a pleasant surprise. His explosion around the basket, however, is still reminiscent of wet gunpowder. A couple more botched layups for Brewer tonight.
– Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni only saw 15 and 10 minutes tonight, respectively. Odd, considering Felton’s struggles. It remains to be seen whether there was any health-related issues affecting their playing time.
– The Knicks won the turnover battle by a large margin – 9 to Dallas’s 20. However, the Knicks shot just 26-38 from the free throw line. Had this game been close, that would’ve been a killer.
The Knicks play the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night.