Facing an important game with conference and division standings ramifications, the New York Knicks went into Boston and soundly beat the Celtics, 100-85. It was the first time the Knicks have swept the Celtics in Boston since 2003-04.
Both teams took the floor considerably short-handed. The Knicks were missing most of their big men, still without the help of Tyson Chandler and, of course, Kurt Thomas, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Rasheed Wallace. The Celtics were missing Kevin Garnett and Courtney Lee, and still without Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger. What resulted was likely the smallest combination of players that NBA has seen this season. Rarely did a player taller than 6’9″ or 6’10” even step on the floor for either team – the tallest player likely being Steve Novak at 6’10”, while Chris Copeland, Kenyon Martin, and Jeff Green all stand around 6’9″.
However, short-handedness aside, the Knicks persevered while the Celtics languished. After a tight first quarter, the Knicks used a huge first half from J.R. Smith to take a double-digit lead into halftime. While Boston made some pushes in the second half, New York’s defense was stingy enough at times to prevent Boston’s poor offense from executing to any threatening degree. In turn, the Knicks relied heavily on Smith and Carmelo Anthony to carry the offense, with some helpful contributions coming from the backcourt and from Novak and Martin. Boston never made a serious run, and the Knicks were able to essentially cruise through the later minutes of the fourth quarter and take their fifth win in a row.
Let’s take a look at the individual performances with player report cards.
J.R. Smith – 34 minutes, 32 points, 13-24 FG, 5-5 FT, 7 rebounds, 3 steals
Bravo, Mr. Smith. As mentioned, the Knicks relied heavily on Smith’s contributions tonight, and he came through. From the moment he stepped on the floor, Smith was basket-bound perhaps more than we’ve ever seen him. A bouquet of forays into the paint, mixed with some crossovers, hesitation moves, and off-balance leaners in every direction freed Smith up from the Celtics’ lacking one-on-one defense. A look at the play-by-play shows a whole bevy of “Smith driving layup shot”s and very few “Smith jump shot”s. In the second half, when Smith became a little less driven to attack the basket, it was already too late for Boston; J.R. was feeling it enough to can a whole bunch of tough, contested jumpers late in the shot clock. That night against OKC was special, but this may have been the best offensive performance we’ve seen from Smith.
Final Grade: A+
Carmelo Anthony – 36 minutes, 29 points, 10-30 FG, 2-8 3FG, 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals
Arguably the worst post-knee-drain performance from ‘Melo. The post-up game was mostly futile against big, strong defenders like Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, or Brandon Bass, and Anthony looked nonexplosive on offense, particularly on deep jumpers which he continually bricked. A handful of Anthony’s points just came as a result of bullying defenders to the rim where he tipped in misses or drew fouls. His shot selection from deep left a bit to be desired, either shooting too impulsively or looking as if he was thinking far too much about where and when to pull the trigger. Chalk it up to an off night, but in a game where the Knicks led for the better part of three quarters, Anthony shouldn’t have played the most minutes of anyone in orange and blue.
Final Grade: B-
Kenyon Martin – 25 minutes, 9 points, 4-7 FG, 5 rebounds, 1 block, 4 fouls
The Knicks’ current resident big man had another effective outing, almost single-handedly solidifying the center position. Martin doesn’t have the defensive communication of Tyson Chandler, but he does provide some resistance around the basket, and his penchant for simply whacking any drivers tickles me and probably helps the Knicks’ defense a little bit. Most of his points came on dunks and putback slams, but his presence in the pick-and-roll also organizes the Knicks to a degree. When Chandler eventually returns, Martin will probably come off the bench and play a very useful role.
Final Grade: B
Steve Novak – 18 minutes, 9 points, 3-6 FG, 1 rebound, 1 block
Novak continues to struggle to find open looks, but he makes his own life a lot easier when he plays aggressively. That is, when he cuts hard, pump fakes hard, and if a defender goes by him, using an escape dribble to create space, and put up a shot. On his three misses, Novak was hesitant and hurried a shot over a quickly approaching close-out. On his three makes, Novak shot the ball with confidence, and used a good pump fake and dribble to give himself space to shoot the ball. A couple of makes from Novak really opens up the offense that much more for the Knicks.
Final Grade: B
Pablo Prigioni – 30 minutes, 7 points, 3-6 FG, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 TOs
“El Mosquito,” as I’m now going to call Pablo, continues to thrive in the starting lineup. Nothing flashy, but a couple of steals, nice passes, and one particular Celtic-momentum-busting three in the third quarter stick out as Pablo’s effect on the game. Also, the Knicks are now 5-0 with Prigs as a starter.
Final Grade: B
Raymond Felton – 32 minutes, 6 points, 3-6 FG, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 TO
As Felton plays more of an off-ball role with Prigioni in the starting lineup, his numbers are dropping, his game stats are becoming quite pedestrian, and his on-court effect is becoming harder to pinpoint. And in a strange way, this more subdued Felton actually seems like the most effective version. Whereas his occasional past shot-heaving and determination to try and take over the offense at critical moments used to stand out perhaps more than some of his solid playmaking, lately Felton has been acting as a secondary playmaker on the floor, and he’s been picking his spots more carefully. In this particular case, I fondly recall a few nice hesitation moves on drives to the basket for some scooping layups, and a few nice assists to shooters. To summarize: Felton is playing well with a diminished role.
Final Grade: B-
Jason Kidd – 23 minutes, 2-3 FG, 5 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal
Don’t worry – it’s not easy for me to accept being upset, either, at the idea of Jason Kidd retiring after this year when it’s discussed during the game broadcast. Kidd and Kenyon Martin, two of my most loathed players in the early and mid-2000s are suddenly two old guys who I recognize have very important rolls on this Knicks team. For instance, a couple of deflections and a steal, and a momentous three-pointer to hold off Boston’s third quarter surge come to mind as Kidd’s imprint on this game.
Final Grade: B
Iman Shumpert – 26 minutes, 2 points, 1-3 FG, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
When J.R. Smith is rolling like he was, and the two-PG lineups are working like they were, there’s not much room for Shumpert to contribute. However, that’s also the case when Woodson decides to stick him on the much bigger, stronger Paul Pierce. Game by game, Shumpert and Woodson are slowly figuring out his place in the offense and on defense when the aggression is there.
Final Grade: C+
Chris Copeland – 13 minutes, 1 points, 0-4 FG, 5 rebounds
Copeland kind of runs like a man trudging through knee-high quick sand. He also got shook badly by Paul Pierce on a baseline drive. While still bedeviled by injuries, the Knicks will need Copeland to fill in the rotation as a big man, but he’s not doing much to earn minutes from Woodson when the playoffs come around and the other big men (hopefully) start returning.
Final Grade: C-
The Knicks moved back into second place in the East with the win and will return to MSG tomorrow to face the Memphis Grizzlies.