After a dominant, defense-heavy win over the San Antonio Spurs last game, most of us were hoping a light bulb had gone off for the Knicks in realizing their defense has to be like that every game. At the very least, we hoped the defense wouldn’t go to shit in the very next game.
That’s exactly what happened in the opening quarter last night against the lowly Orlando Magic, who blitzed the Knicks for a 36-point first quarter and replicated another 30 point-plus quarter after the half to go into the final quarter with an eight point lead. But luckily for us, NY has this MVP candidate on the squad you may have heard of… Carmelo Anthony.
It wasn’t pretty at times, but Melo’s 40 points (16 in the fourth) was a joy to watch. Onto the game’s notable points.
WE’LL HAVE TO LIVE WITH OPPOSING GUARDS GOING OFF (FOR NOW): Face it, Knicks fans. We’ll have to live with the fact that any team with quick point guards are going to give us fits until Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert make it back. Jameer Nelson lit up Jason Kidd in the first quarter last night for 12 points. Kidd couldn’t keep up on screens or when Nelson drove to the basket. Pablo Prigioni did marginally better, but it was a recurring problem in the first and third quarters.
ONLY DEFENSE FOR 2 QUARTERS, BUT IT WAS DAMN GOOD DEFENSE: The Knicks again played hard defense when they wanted to. But when they did, the team had phenomenal results. After giving up 36 points in the first, the Knicks held the Magic to just 19 points in the second while scoring 32. The offense was spurned on by a aggressive Carmelo Anthony, who came in at the 9 minute mark and was able to draw a third foul on Vucevic. This helped to open up the lane and the rebounding for the Knicks. JR Smith took full advantage, earning three-point plays at the rim and driving at will. Aside for some late defensive lapses in the second that lead to JJ Redick hitting a three to pull the Magic within 2, the Knicks played strong to take a four-point lead, 59-55, at halftime.
The Knicks started the third strong but inexpicably fell apart halfway through. This coincided with Nelson, and Arron Affalo for that matter, getting hot from mid and long-range. A coast to coast Nelson drive off a jump ball gave the Magic the lead for the quarter, and he added further damage with three pointers. Affalo got in his own and even a four-point play earlier in the quarter to give the Magic a nice 87-79 lead going into the fourth.
The Knicks woke up again and held the Magic to just 17 points. NY somewhat got a break in the Magic waiting a little too long to put Nelson back in, but even then the defense was stifling. With the game on the line, we had the ultimate closer in Melo and the Magic had no one.
JOSH MCROBERTS ON MELO?: Poor Josh McRoberts probably woke up this morning in a cold sweat and shivering from the lingering effects of that torching he received from Melo in the fourth. Melo was literally toying with him: exaggerated dribbling, holding the ball to the end of the shot clock, and chuckling repeatedly after every bucket. Vucevic got some abuse too when he had to guard Melo on switches. Melo pretty much lived in the post with short jumpers and the Magic had no answers. A double team late in the quarter led to an open Kidd three-pointer which served as the dagger in putting them up 111-1104.
MELO’s DEFENSE: Lost in Melo’s 40 point performance was his great defense on JJ Redick in the fourth. It seemed like a crazy move to have Melo chasing Redick on screens, but he stayed with him most of the time. Redick is a rhythm shooter and you could see he never felt comfortable shooting over Melo. He had several possible game-changing three-pointers that bricked and finished the game shooting 3-10.
CAMBY LIMITED AND RIGHTLY SO: The Spurs game had a lot of people saying Marcus Camby in our starting lineup was the solution to our defensive woes. Well, Camby had 2 points, 1 rebound and 0 blocks yesterday. The lineup needs to be adjusted to the competition and that was proven in spades last night. The most promising thing I liked about Camby’s time was his passing out of the high post. His teammates fumbled some of them (including Melo on what looked to be an easy alley oop) and hopefully that improves in the coming weeks.
STAT TRYING HARD: It was rough watching Amar’e Stoudemire. On the positive end, he was getting to the rim easily on pick and rolls and his first step. But once he got there, he couldn’t finish for anything — either his shot got swatted or rimmed out. You could see it was bothering him and Melo had some encouraging words. I liked that the team kept going to him even with the repeated misses. He started the fourth good with a three-point play and a open dunk, so that’s promising. The defense is still shaky, but 11 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes is solid.
JR, TYSON AND KIDD: JR Smith couldn’t extend his 20 point game streak to six, but his 18 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals were very important. If he didn’t get his fifth foul early in the fourth, I’m sure he would have been even more aggressive. Kidd did get lit up for 29 points from Nelson, but he dropped 15 points, going 5-8 from downtown. Chandler couldn’t keep Vucevic off the boards (18 rebounds), but he contributed another strong double double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, going 6-6 from the field. And all three were very strong defensively in the closing fourth quarter.
I want the team to get all the rest they need because we have the division rival Celtics next, who are currently on a two-game winning streak and looking to pick things up to get back into the playoff picture.