[Video] Choke Averted — Knicks 89, Pistons 85

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A win is a win, but last night’s game unnecessarily went down to the wire after the Knicks blew an early 15-point 4th quarter lead and had to rely on Melo free throws (and the ever-present bad Josh Smith jumpshot) to pull out a 89-85 victory at MSG.

2 BAD, 2 GOOD: Why did this game turn out to be so difficult? It’s hard to cruise to a win when your play right down the middle between horrible and great. The Knicks put together a very good first and third quarter, where they outscored Detroit 24-21 and 32-17, respectively. The second and fourth quarters saw them shooting under 35% and get outscored 20-17 and 27-16.

A THIRD THAT SHOULD HAVE ENDED MATTERS: After settling for a 41 tie at halftime, the Knicks blew open the game behind three consecutive treys from Carmelo Anthony to push the lead to 58-49. The rest of the team fed off that energy and became terrors in the passing lanes and on double teams to force seven turnovers (the majority of them on Josh Smith) that lead to repeated fast breaks, including a Shumpert three-point play on Greg Monroe. It turned out to be a 25-3 run that gave NY a 73-58 lead going into the fourth. That should have been the last we saw of the starters.

JR SMITH THE CATALYST: Knick fans have come to expect trouble when we see JR starting the fourth. He made several bad passes that lead to turnovers, and the Pistons began to creep back by getting to the foul line. JR had a few iso plays that went nowhere as well. Instead of getting benched, JR continued to get crucial fourth quarter minutes that did the team no favors. In his 30 minutes, JR contributed 6 points (2/6 shooting) and 2 assists. He also got some boos when introduced and very audible groans when he touched the ball in crunch time.

FELTON NEARLY BLOWS HIS SOLID RETURN: For most of the game, Raymond Felton played well in his return (12 points, 6 assists). He moved the ball and his jumper was working off pick n’ rolls. The big problems happened late in the fourth when he coughed off the ball on back to back possessions. They were the result of bad concentration — Jennings picked his pocket close to halfcourt, and Felton got stripped driving right into heavy traffic. On top of that, he missed a second free throw that would have iced the game. Thankfully, Melo got a key offensive rebound to save the day.

MELO VS. J-SMOOVE: Melo (34 points) and Josh Smith (21 points) were battling all night, with Melo getting the better of it most of the evening. However, Smith made a strong push late in the fourth to get the Pistons back in it and got a key offensive foul on Melo with less than 30 seconds remaining and 86-85. Smith then blundered with this airball jumper.

The funniest thing about this clip was Melo feeling mighty proud like he blocked the shot.

OTHER CONTRIBUTORS: Despite the game being uneven from a playing standpoint, the Knicks were able to gut this out due to varied team contributions. Andrea Bargnani cooled after a fast shooting start, but had a double double (13 points, 11 rebounds). Stoudemire got abused a lot by Detroit’s formidable frontcourt, but still managed to drop 9 points and 5 rebounds in 24 minutes. Shumpert only scored 5 points, but also had 6 rebounds and 5 assists in addition to being the main defensive spark in the third quarter run.

The Knicks got the win, but they’ll need to regain their Texas trip form if they have any hope of being the Miami Heat Thursday night.

10 and Counting — Melo and JR Turn Atlanta Into MSG South, Knicks Defeat Hawks 95-82

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On the second night of a road back to back, the Knicks had every reason to pack this one in. What we received was another stellar performance from Carmelo Anthony. And even more importantly, our superstar got to lay back in the fourth quarter while others stepped up to put the Atlanta Hawks out of their misery. The Knicks win streak has now hit double digits and with this play, it might not be stopping anytime soon.

 

MELO CARRIES THE LOAD THROUGH THREE:  After a quiet 1-4 shooting start, Melo erupted for 13 points in the first quarter and 24 points by halftime. Unlike last night’s 50 point game, which was exclusively on perimeter jumpers, Melo went inside out on Josh Smith, who was completely hapless on defense. When the Hawks doubled, Melo didn’t force it and kicked out to the open man. Unfortunately, most of the open looks from Jason Kidd, JR Smith and Raymond Felton weren’t being converted on, which allowed the Hawks to hang around.

Atlanta took a brief lead in the third behind Kyle Korver’s hot shooting (25 points, six three-pointers), but the Knicks never allowed Atlanta to get more than a point or two in front.

While it was awesome watching Melo torch Smith, you began wondering if he would have any gas left for the fourth, as he had to 36 of the Knicks’ 68 points headed into the final stanza.

 

FELTON AND JR COME ALIVE: Wondering how the Knicks walked out of Atlanta with a double-digit lead with Melo only scoring four points in the fourth? That falls on Felton and Smith, who combined for an astounding 20 points on 9/12 shooting. Both had been struggling with their shots, but everything came together when it mattered. Felton attacked the lane fearlessly for repeated layups due to the Hawks defense focusing too closely on Melo. And JR, who couldn’t finish at the rim for nothing in the previous three quarters, was now shaking Hawks players at will for short jumpers and a dagger three late that put New York up 87-76. The life had been sucked out of the Hawks and JR added some more dirt to their grave by blowing past Josh Smith for a two-handed slam. Smith finished with 19 points while Felton contributed 14.

 

THE ROUGH SPOTS:  The second and third quarter were frustrating to watch as the Knicks were giving the Hawks unnecessary life. The main culprit that stood out was Iman Shumpert. He made the repeated blunder of sagging off Kyle Korver and getting burned for three-pointers. This was why Coach Woodson elected to go with Jason Kidd to close out the fourth. It ended up being a wise decision, as Kidd was huge in shutting down Korver and keeping the ball moving to the tune of 7 assists (the best being a alley oop slam to Melo in the fourth). Kidd also protected the boards with 5 rebounds.

 

WOUNDED WARRIOR: Tyson Chandler is jsut two games into his return froma  bulging disc in his neck. Last game he complained of stiffness, and tonight he was seen holding his left clavicle area after a rebound in the first half. Although he didn’t have much in the way of points (2) or rebounds (4), he did a good job of keeping Al Horford nullified (9 points, 7 rebounds).

 

90 POINTS IN 24 HOURS: Let’s get back to Melo. The man’s stat line in the last 24 hours is 35/53 (8/12 from downtown) for 66% shooting, Nearly everything was within the flow of the offense and he made the right passes when needed. When you hear people say Melo is the best scorer in the NBA, these are the games that support that opinion. And I’ll go on record as predicting he’ll have a monster April and take his first scoring title.

 

MSG SOUTH: The Knicks are 6-1 over their last seven meetings with the Hawks. Once again, the Hawks had their arena turned into MSG South. It was downright embarrassing how loud the Knickstape faithful chanted “MVP!” for Melo in the fourth as he capped the evening with 40 points. If it wasn’t for the court colors, you’d swear they were playing in at the original Madison Square Garden.

 

Does the streak hit 11 games? We’ll find out on Friday when the Knicks head back home to face the Bucks.

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3 to the Head: Melo’s Career-High Nine 3s Lift Knicks Past Hawks

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We’ve seen this scenario before. Just last month against the Sacramento Kings, we saw the ball get batted around and end up at the three-point line where we got our hearts broken. Deja vu looked to be in the cards as Josh Smith, who had swished a three earlier in the quarter, got a wide open look at the basket. Instead, the open shot careened off the rim and the Knicks overcame their bad defense to escape with a narrow 106-104 win.

I wouldn’t call this a good win; it was more of a relief when the final buzzer sounded. Onto the reason’s why.

 

BAD DEFENSE: From the opening tip, the lane stayed wide open and ATL’s Jeff Teague took full advantage of Raymond Felton to the tune of 18 first half points. Felton found his own jumper but couldn’t get any help defense and at times the game resembled a layup drill.

The Hawks would shoot 60% from the field and notch 50 points (!) in the paint. The Knicks continually shot themselves in the foot but having their inept defense eliminate their good offensive runs. At several points throughout the game, the Knicks would go on runs ranging from 16-0 to 7-0 only to have their work erased in a minute by giving up open 3s and layups.

Iman Shumpert was one of the few bright spots on defense in the first half by holding Kyle Krover, coming off 8 three-pointers in his last game against the Celtics, to just 1 point in the first half. For whatever reason, Coach Woodson didn’t play him much at all in the second half.

 

STOUDEMIRE GREAT ONCE AGAIN: Stat put up some excellent numbers again with 18 points on 6-9 shooting and 8 rebounds (4 offensive). With that type of output, we can live with the occasional blunders (3 turnovers) and bad fouls (4). Woodson knows this team’s future is dependent on the chemistry building between our Big Three and he wisely played them together down the stretch.

 

MELO ON FIRE: When he went 1-5 in the first quarter, I expected Melo to have a hard time dealing with Josh Smith for the rest of the night. That went out the window in the second quarter when Melo hit three straight from behind the arc (one damn near at half court). I was highly annoyed when he slammed the ball after getting poked in the eye which lead to a tech late in the fourth, but he immediately redeemed himself with the game-winning “And 1” drive on Josh Smith.

 

PRIGIONI AND SHUMPERT: Prigioni gave us 6 points (all from three) and 4 assists in 10 minutes  which was essential early on in the second quarter. And although he didn’t get to contribute much in the second half, Shumpert provided 2 steals and 8 points in his 19 minutes.

 

Melo’s hero ball worked tonight, but let’s hope the offense gets more varied and in sync as the chemistry builds with Felton and Shump back on the court.

[youtube http://youtu.be/EzvZIYf2zus]