For most of the first quarter, it looked like a rout. The Knicks were forcing turnovers and hitting nearly all of their open shots to the tune of a 21-6 lead. Then some mental lapses brought the Suns back in it — Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler picked up 2 fouls each, and Rasheed Wallace picked up two dumb technicals (off an unnecessary hard foul on Luis Scola after the whistle and yelling “Ball Don’t Lie!” when the technical shot was missed). This left the Knicks undersized, but rookie Chris Copeland stepped up huge, going 4-5 from the field in the first half to help lift the Knicks to a 106-99 win to go 7-0 at Madison Square Garden.
The Wallace ejection coupled with Melo and Tyson sitting helped prompt an 8-0 Suns run and only a 24-20 lead after one despite leading by as much as 15. Copeland responded well off the bench hitting his outside jumpers and having a monster putback dunk off a Melo miss. Steve Novak contributed three 3-pointers on a Suns teams ranked with the worse three-point defense in the league. Felton’s jumper was cooking as well, and Melo abused P.J. Tucker with several turnaround jumpers in the paint. Before you knew it, Melo had 17 points in 16 minutes and the lead was 59-42 at halftime.
The Knicks started the third strong with Melo meeting every Mike Beasley three with one of his own. As the quarter wore on, NY had a brief time of sloppy defense and let Shannon Brown get off with several shots, including two layups (one of which being a three-point play) to cut the lead to 74-60. Novak added a three, but got beat on defense that lead to a three-point play inside for Markieff Morris. Luckily, the Knicks had several guys shooting over 40% from three this afternoon, and Ronnie Brewer added another to keep the Suns clawing from behind (80-63). Melo had a nice defensive stop to prevent an easy Shannon Brown layup fast break, but Brown’s hot shooting continued. Melo put an end to that by drawing a foul inside for easy free throws and hitting a step-back three-pointer over Tucker with 2 seconds left in the third to push the lead back to 17 points (89-72) and notch his 30th point.
The Knicks were horrid for most of the fourth. JR Smith continued bricking shots and Suns shooters were being left open to drain long jumpers. Melo had to come right back in, but that still didn’t prevent Sebastian Telfair from draining a transition three to cut the Knicks advantage to 91-82 courtesy of another Suns 8-0 run. Suns would get as close as six before a Tyson putback dunk and a tough Felton drive over Marcin Gortat pushed the lead back to 10 (95-85) with 5:52 remaining. With the offense sputtering, Raymond Felton hit two jumpers to keep the Suns at arm’s length. However, a Melo turnover that resulted in a fast break layup and two missed Ronnie Brewer free throws had the Knicks clinging to a six point lead, 103-97, with 45 seconds left. It would take free throws from JR and Chandler in the final 30 seconds to finally ice the game 106-99.
This was much too close for my liking. After Melo pushed the game to 17 points at the end of the third, that should have been the end of it. But games like this happen. Why Coach Woodson didn’t give Chris Copeland any burn after a great first half was mind-boggling. Melo was huge as usual with 34 points, but it was Felton (23 pts, 7 assts, 0 TO) and Chandler (15 pts, 13 rebs.) that sealed this one. After such a nice game against Washington on Friday, JR Smith was abysmal today with just 4 points on 1-11 shooting. We can only hope JR gets it together.
Knicks are back at it on Wednesday in Charlotte against the Bobcats.