Melo the Closer – Knicks 111, Hawks 106

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The Knicks overcame the heartbreak of Friday’s defeat in Boston by putting together a wholly efficient offensive performance to take a 111-106 victory over a red-hot shooting Atlanta Hawks team at Madison Square Garden. Outside of one moping player, all was well in NYC last night.

 

GOOD AND BAD DEFENSE: The Knicks did an excellent job of disrupting the Hawks offense with deflections and steals. They forced 12 turnovers in the first half and 27 for the entire game. It was completely necessary to offset the scorching shooting of the Hawks, who shot around 60% for most of the game. The percentage was due to the inside dominance of Paul Millsap (18 points, 8 rebounds) and Al Horford (17 points, 6 rebounds) coupled with the Knicks guards amazingly losing Kyle Korver on the perimeter (13 points, 4-9 from three).

THE SPARKS: We know Melo will get his, but the question with this Knicks team is who backs up our star player. Last night it was Tim Hardaway Jr. (13 points) who was aggressive getting to the rim for several dunks in the first half. Stoudemire (9 points, 5 rebounds) had a quieter game by his recent standards, but his output was great in getting the Knicks breathing room in the second quarter despite the Hawks shooting around 56% in the first half.

MELO THE FOCUS BUT TEAM EFFORT: The second half is where the team has had problems and in the third bad defense reared its ugly head. The Knicks had a 62-48 lead after the first few minutes, but left Korver open for back to back treys to help ignite a 15-6 run. ATL could not miss from the perimeter and were just behind 81-77 going into the fourth.

Up until that point, Melo had shot 9/15 from the field. There were a few rushed shots from him, but outside of that the team made his job much easier. Prigioni was dishing sweet passes to Melo and Bargnani. And speaking of Prigioni, his shooting kept the defense honest, dropping 11 points (3-6 from downtown). This gave NY a nice 15-point cushion late — under those cirmcumstances, Melo’s heat-check three, which went in to make the lead 106-93, was welcomed. Melo ended with another good stat line of 35 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.

The reason for the seemingly close score was Atlanta hitting four straight threes in less than two minutes of garbage time.

SULKING JR: Although JR Smith got the starting assignment at small forward, he managed just 1-8 from the field in 24 minutes (benched for all of the 4th). He looked like he was at a funeral on the sidelines with Prigioni trying to console him. This comes on the heels of JR just attempting one shot against Boston.

A lot of fans are ready to ship JR out, but my memory is not short. His bench play last year was key in our team finishing at the second seed. With the knee surgery, I’ll give JR at least until the All-Star break to get it together.

1ST HALF HIGHLIGHTS

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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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