What a difference a halftime makes. Coming off the disappointing loss to the Jazz on Sunday, and a tough stretch of games coming against division rivals Boston and Toronto, tonight’s game against the Nets was the proverbial “must-win.” With a 2-4 record, the Knicks couldn’t afford to dig themselves an early hole in the win-loss column. Despite the slow start, a 3rd quarter scoring barrage from Carmelo Anthony (22 points) coupled with excellent passing from Brandon Jennings (11 assists) and offense from Kristaps Porzingis (21 points) powered New York to a 110-96 victory at Madison Square Garden.
TRASH EARLY DEFENSE: We don’t carry the dubious distinction of having the worst defense in the league for nothing. The Nets came out smoking from behind the arc with 5 three pointers in the first and backup Justin Hamilton burning us for 15 points. The Knicks shot an abysmal 28% with Melo’s 0/4 start being the main culprit. Down 29-19 after 12 minutes, the Knicks’s bench was also outscored 16-7.
SLOWLY RIGHTING THE SHIP: The second quarter was sloppy (5 Knick turnovers by the 7:52 mark), but sheer effort pulled New York within striking distance. The ball started moving due to Joakim Noah’s passing, and Melo found his offense by via two three pointers that slashed the deficit to three, 53-50. Although the Nets held the lead at halftime, the Knicks kept the fouling and free throw opportunities in check (7 personal fouls, 9 Net free throws).
MELO’S 14 STRAIGHT: Early on, the third quarter was a mixed bag. Derrick Rose (14 points) scored 6 points to narrow the deficit to 59-58, but then the Knicks had one of their bouts of ineptitude and failed to score for the next three minutes. Brooklyn went on a 8-0 run to extend their lead to 67-58.
Then Melo woke up. His did most of his damage on mid-range jumpers, scoring 14 straight points to get New York a 70-69 lead headed into the fourth.
THE EURO LINEUP: The early fourth quarter lineup is where Coach Hornacek has had issues. But tonight, he staggered the starter minutes to allow Porzingis to run with Jennings, Vujacic, Hernangomez and Kuzmiskas. Sasha kicked off the fourth with a three pointer and would be a +23 despite a two bonehead turnovers. Jennings shot poorly (1-6), but was the arguably the catalyst for this victory with his passing. He found Porzingis twice for open three-pointers and as a trailer on a dunk turned three point play. That capped a 20-7 run that put New York up 92-78 and essentially iced the game.
PROMISING DEVELOPMENTS: Porzingis’ 21 points marked the first time in his career where he’s had three consecutive 20-point games. The scary thing is he still hasn’t developed a go-to move in isolation, so he’s dependent on screens and moving off-ball for his opportunities. If he keeps moving at this pace, those moves will gradually come and he’ll be ready to become the first option on offense within 2-3 years.
Willy Hernangomez had his best game as Knick — 14 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. He excelled with the second unit manned by Jennings and not surprisingly showed great chemistry with old teammate Porzingis. Hernangomez’s skill with the pick and roll gives him immense upside over Kyle O’Quinn when it comes to playing time decisions.
Today’s win marked the first game this season where the Knicks held an opponent under 100 points. Yes, one of Nets’ key pieces in Jeremy Lin wasn’t playing, but business was handled against a team short on talent. After a first half which saw them shoot 55%, the Nets could only manage 41 points in the second half and had a stretch of missing 14 straight shots.
The Knicks are back in action this Friday against the Celtics.