Perhaps it was closer than it needed to be, but when they needed it most, the Knicks rediscovered their offense and were able to hold off the Orlando Magic for a 99-89 victory.
Two trends still remain for the Knicks: they’ve beaten all of their opponents by double-digits and they are still the only undefeated team in the NBA. Most people would not have expected the lowly Magic to give the Knicks a run for their money to end both streaks, but credit must be given to Orlando for putting up a feisty effort against a somewhat lackadaisical Knicks squad who have played just two games over the last eight days.
Through the majority of the game the Knicks were flat. The Magic continually beat the Knicks on backdoor cuts, curls around the perimeter, and on the boards, getting themselves easy baskets against a slightly disinterested Knicks defense. On offense, the Knicks looked more stagnant than we’ve seen all season. The Magic’s defensive gameplan seemed to center on Raymond Felton by having guards go under screens against Felton and letting him shoot long twos and midrange jumpers. All 21 of Felton’s points were needed, but his 23 shots and only 5 assists was hardly efficient.
J.R. Smith, seemingly the savior once again tonight, checked in early off the bench in the first and third quarters and provided an immediate boost. Smith’s second half, in particular, was a potential game-changer. The Knicks began the second half slowly, when Woodson, quick on the trigger, pulled Brewer out of the game and inserted Smith after only two minutes. In the third quarter, Smith went 5-5 from the field for 12 points, while also grabbing 2 boards and dishing out an assist.He finished with 21 points on 9-14 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. He continues to be tremendous off the bench.
The first half, despite only trailing by four at the end of it, was lowly for the Knicks. Perhaps as a result of the time off between games, they looked a step slow on their rotations and didn’t move the ball with the same continuity that had been seen in the first four games. Carmelo Anthony and Felton did the lion’s share of scoring in the first half. Anthony finished the game with 25 points on 11-22 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds. Much of his work on offense came from pull-up jumpers and crafty moves off the dribble as he was often double-teamed when he tried to post up. Though it was still a solid, efficient effort from Anthony, it lacked some of the pizzazz that we’d seen in previous games.
But it was defensively where the Knicks had most of their problems. Anthony was a culprit on some lackluster defensive possessions as he moseyed down the court, upset (rightly so) about some no-calls on offense. The half-effort was sort of indicative of the team as a whole on the defensive end. The Knicks were also out-rebounded 25-16 in the first half (42-31 for the game) and allowed 53 first-half points to an Orland team that was ranked last in the NBA on offense.
Luckily for the Knicks, their opponent tonight was just not fit to ever really run away with the game. Against a better team, the Knicks’ effort through the first three quarters would have put them in a deeper hole. Instead, going into the deciding fourth quarter, New York actually led by one point, 77-76.
The fourth quarter was a glimpse of the more dominant, rascally Knicks that have been on display thus far this season. New York’s defensive rotations were quick and decisive, never allowing Orlando good looks at the basket; their hands were active, often disturbing shooters and penetrators. Only 13 points for Orland, compared to the Knicks’ 22 in the fourth quarter. The Knicks found something of a groove in that final period, too, as Jason Kidd’s steady hands contributed to five points of his own and some buckets for Smith, while Felton assisted on a few baskets for Chandler, including a finally-well-timed alley-oop.
Despite their struggles and mostly questionable effort, the Knicks came away with a win and final results similar to what’s been seen all season. Two ugly wins in a row, yet the Knicks seem undaunted. Tonight, they entered the critical final quarter with an air of confidence that the lesser, more inexperienced Magic would not be able to handle them. And they were right: the Knicks came away with their fifth double-digit victory in a row.
– According to Frank Isola, Ronnie Brewer was held out for most of the second half because of some knee swelling. This might explain why he was so quickly yanked in favor of J.R. Smith.
– Rasheed Wallace continues to be the first big off the bench for the Knicks, which has been less-than-thrilling. ‘Sheed has been pretty good at posting up and finishing around the basket so far this season – the problem is he rarely does it. Tonight he was 2-7 from the field, 0-5 from three-point range. On defense, he has been burned by younger, quicker big men and has contributed little else during his playing time. Marcus Camby is still working his way back into shape, familiarizing himself with the playbook, but Kurt Thomas’s sudden disappearance from the rotation is odd.
– As some folks have pointed out on Twitter, it appears Steve Novak’s quicker release this season has messed with his accuracy. Tonight he was only 1-2, and over the last three games (tonight included), he’s just 2-8. Come back to us, Steve!
– Pablo Prigioni didn’t play in the second half…?
– As mentioned, Carmelo Anthony’ scoring methods tonight resembled his past play more than the well-behaved ‘Melo we’ve seen this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he begins to revert back to those ways, or if he keeps up his smarter shot selection, with more post-ups and passes out of double teams. If he does keep it up, can he/will he keep it up when his own shot isn’t falling or when the Knicks struggle like they did tonight.
Either way, the Knicks will need a better effort for the coming games. A huge back-to-back test comes this Thursday with a game in San Antonio, and a game Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.