What the hell is going on?! That phrase had to be going through the minds of most Knicks fans watching the first three quarters last night of the game against the Magic, the first of a three-game road trip. The Knickstape was being out hustled by rookies, whining to refs, not closing out on shooters and letting guys get easy drives to the basket. But then a light switch went off in the fourth, spurred by pivotal plays from Jason Kidd, that lead to the Knicks allowing only 12 points in the quarter in route to a 99-89 win to keep their undefeated streak alive at 5-0.
As with the Mavericks, the Knicks started slow in the first but ended the quarter strong with a 15-8 run to go up 27-23. Then the Knicks had their worst quarter of the season in the second, launching too many bricked threes (Melo, Wallace) and showing poor interior defense. JJ Reddick found the outside range with his jumper, and the Knicks became statues of defense, having an outrageous moment of letting Glenn Davis ignite a one-man fast break beating Melo and Felton to the hole. What made matters more frustrating is this collapse happened right after a Novak three had put them up 10. Magic rookie Maurice Harkless had NY looking bad with his hustle plays and defense on Melo. The 19-year-old had 10 points and six rebounds at halftime, a major reason for the Magic holding a 53-49 lead at intermission. Adding on to the woes was the Magic holding a rebounding edge of 25-16.
The third was better; guys like Raymond Felton and JR Smith made sure to drive into the lane for buckets. JR continued to have the sweet touch, dropping a three-pointer to tie things early at 63. Still, the Knicks were not meeting the energy of the Magic and continued giving up their own three-pointers due to bad rotations. Melo got no calls inside and visibly frustrated. Thankfully JR’s play, capped by a nice alley oop to Tyson Chandler, helped the Knicks take a slim lead of 77-76 into the fourth.
The Magic had been shooting 54%, but that ceased when it counted. After some back and forth baskets early on, Jason Kidd made a three-pointer to take an 82-80 lead and tied up Aaron Afflalo to force a jump ball. Kidd later hit a floater in the lane after a Magic put back miss. Melo then got focused on defense, getting a steal that lead to a JR Smith step-back jumper to cap a 7-0 run. The better close-out defense on the Magic shooters forced contested misses, and Melo put his stamp on the game late with a turnaround jumper in the post and a three-pointer. Felton got Chandler back in on the action with another alley oop, and before you knew it, a JR Smith jumper had pushed the lead to 97-84 with just a few minutes remaining.
The Knicks ended with three guys dropping over 20 points: Melo (25), Smith (21) and Felton (21). Knicks fans can take solace in the fact this would have unquestionably been a game we would’ve lost at this time last season. The necessary adjustments were made and the talent level of our team showed its class in the last quarter.
Now for the bad. I understand Melo’s frustration when he’s hacked inside to dead whistles. But that’s no excuse to not get back on defense and allow easy baskets. He’s the leader of our team and everyone will take their queue’s from his attitude. If you noticed, Chandler started complaining not long after Melo and seemed disinterested. While it’s great we still have that “0” in the loss column, that will quickly change if we come out for Thursday’s game against San Antonio like this. We have to click on all cylinders as that team’s confidence will by sky-high following that game-winning three-pointer Danny Green delivered over Kobe Bryant to down the Lakers last night.
Until next time, Knicks faithful.