It wasn’t a pretty game. Melo referred to it in his post-game interview as an “ugly, grind-out win.” The threes weren’t falling like they did in the first few games while the Mavs were red hot in the first half behind the arc. But the Knicks held strong through their defense and got hot at the right time behind a scroching 3rd quarter from JR Smith to take a 104-94 win and remain the NBA’s only undefeated time at 4-0.
The Mavs’ OJ Mayo, who has been a monster at the season’s start with several 30 points games, set the tone for his squad immediately by sinking a three-pointer to start the game. The Knicks didn’t find many fast breaks opportunities but relied on Melo working rookie Jae Crowder off the block to the tune of 10 points in the opening quarter. Raymond Felton thrived as well in dropping five assists early (finishing with nine), several being easy pick and rolls with Tyson for slams and alley oops.
Marcus Camby made his Knicks return after a 10 absence which helped immediately with rebounding, but not with Mayo’s deadly shooting (two threes to start the second quarter). Steve Novak was cold in missing his first three shots, leading to the Mavs going on a 8-0 run. The ghost of Vince Carter also found his jumper and posted up JR Smith twice for quick buckets to give the Mavs a 39-30 lead. Although Dallas was shooting 50% for three, the Knicks climbed back to tie it 44-44 behind a three point play from Ronnie Brewer and a three-pointer from Melo. However, the Mavs would finish the quarter with a 57-55 behind an emotional Melo getting a tech for complaining about a missed foul and sitting after getting three fouls. In addition, the Mavs were finishing strong at the rim, especially a highlight worthy facial on Rasheed Wallace to close the half.
Although Mayo nailed another three to start the third, it would thankfully be the last they’d make the rest of the half. Jason Kidd was strong defensively — the veteran guard got some key steals for fast breaks and caught OJ Mayo with his fourth foul on a charge, removing the Mavs’ best shooter from the floor. The Knicks had the same problem, as Melo getting too aggressive on D forced him to sit with roughly seven minutes left in the third with four fouls. The interior defense gave up a few inside shots to Chris Kaman and Crowder, but JR Smith started getting hot with his jumper to push the Knicks in front 78-71, and later Novak found the range from three to maintain a 82-76 lead.
It was nip and tuck for a large chunk of the fourth with Kaman getting to post-up and JR Smith making a few ill-advised fouls. But JR made up for it with deflections that lead to steals, and Chandler putting a statement on the game with a putback dunk off a Melo missed layup for a 12-point lead with six minutes remaining. At that point, both squads got very sloppy with missed free throws and fouls, but NY’s lead was enough to see them down the stretch to the 104-94 win.
The Mavs didn’t get held in the 80s, but the Knicks defense succeeded in causing 20 turnovers while keeping theirs to 9 (they average 12). The scoring was impressive with Melo dropping 31, Smith 22 and Brewer 13. The defense was tenacious with multiple steals from Felton (2), Kidd (3), Brewer (2) and Smith (4). This is our best start since the Finals 1993-1994 squad and our home record under Mike Woodson has been extended to 12-2, the two losses coming in the regular and post-season to the Miami Heat.
There will still be some detractors being that the Mavs were missing Dirk Nowitzski and Shawn Marion, but it’s very hard for me to have any sympathy for banged squads when we have been without our second-leading scorer (Amar’e Stoudemire) and best perimeter defender (Iman Shumpert). Hell, we just got our backup center on the floor last night with Camby. We have a very big game coming up next Thursday on the road against the Spurs, but we have to stay focused and take care of business in our next one, a Tuesday game against the Magic. Orlando is in a freefall at the moment having lost their last three, but we need to up for them and not fall into a “trap game.”
Until then, let’s enjoy being the only remaining undefeated team in NBA!