Try, try again, Knickerbockers.
It wasn’t exactly a “something’s gotta give” game, with New York (5-4) riding a two-game winning streak and Charlotte having lost two straight since upsetting the Knicks in MSG last Wednesday, but it was an important test nonetheless.
And in the end, on a night when the Knick-bench “poured in” just 3 points, it was New York’s Big-Three – for the first time each eclipsing 20 points in the same game – that made all the difference. After surrendering 118 points to this same Bobcat team just five days ago, the Knicks’ defense was much more accountable tonight, and their surprising use of a zone-defense at times was a welcome sight.
Of course, nothing comes easy for this D’Antoni-team, and their proclivity to go stand around and watch Carmelo Anthony (22 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists) play iso-ball resurfaced yet again, this time during a stagnant opening nine-minutes of the fourth quarter in which they made just two buckets.
The Knicks are now back over .500 for the first time since their opening-day win against the Celtics on Christmas Day, but with the red-hot Philadelphia 76’ers coming to town tomorrow, the good vibes may not necessarily last.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- Tyson Chandler was in full-on beast-mode (20 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals), and the Garden-faithful were once again treated to several “Lob City East” moments. Of particular interest was that the Knicks seemed to be playing a zone-trap defense for various stretches of the game, with Chandler directing his teammates from the paint. As noted previously, if the Knicks can mix up different looks on the defensive end from time-to-time, their individual defensive shortcomings can be masked somewhat. Again, as Chandler himself has repeatedly said, the communication and trust will take time to fully develop, but they are making progress, as evidenced by the Knicks holding Charlotte to just 42% from the field.
- Much like the poor execution, good results-win against the Wizards last Friday, New York found way to win last night, even when their two stars, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire (25 points, 12 rebounds), shot the rock poorly. The All-Star duo combined to go just 13-for-43 against Charlotte, but once again, just when it seemed like the game might be slipping away, ‘Melo simply refused to let New York lose. Sort of. More on that later.
- If you haven’t already ordered your Iman Shumpert jersey, you might want to get right on that. As is becoming a nightly-occurrence, the rookie from Georgia Tech impressed again, pouring in 16 points on 7-of-13 shooting and adding 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Of all the early-season accolades for Shumpert, I remain most impressed by his defensive tenacity. He simply never gives an inch, and his ridiculous 7’0 wingspan confounds opposing guards to no end. In theory, Iman’s size and moxie should be a potentially-major weapon for the Knicks when they do battle against the Miami Heat, as New York has never had a defensive answer for Dwyane Wade. Now, this is not to say that Shumpert can or will shut Wade down entirely, but making him work harder, at his age, and with his minutes logged, can only help matters. If only New York had someone capable of shutting down Lebron James.
- ‘BOUNDING & RESOUNDING! For the third straight game, the Knicks out-rebounded their opponent. Even more surprising, however, was that the oft-maligned Stoudemire grabbed eight (count ‘em 8!) offensive rebounds. I didn’t think that Amar’e reads this blog, but his collection of 12 rebounds in three of the last four games can’t be a coincidence, can it?
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- Sooner or later, someone is going to have to tell D’Antoni that his team is in the midst of a lockout-shortened season. ‘Melo, STAT and Chandler each played 39 minutes last night, and anyone watching the game could see that both Anthony and Stoudemire are already feeling the effects of so many games in so few days. It’s not an easy predicament for MDA. The embattled-coach works in the fiery cauldron called Gotham, and the team’s tepid start hasn’t exactly created a cushion for resting the Knicks’ stars. That is what is so unfortunate about New York’s failure to capitalize on their relatively soft schedule thus far; when they need their stars against the upper-echelon teams, like the aforementioned Heat, those minutes may not be so readily-available. That, and the likelihood that either Anthony or Stoudemire sustain a significant injury should be enough motivation for the coach to rely on players like Steve Novak and/or Renaldo Balkman, even if just for brief interludes. With four games in six nights, starting tomorrow against the Sixers, I’d be very surprised if MDA doesn’t go with a deeper rotation.
- The Knicks received absolutely nothing from their shallow bench last night, as the Mike Bibby-revival was put on hold, for one game, anyway. The bench contributed just one Toney Douglas field goal and a free throw from Josh Harrellson, but to make matters worse, Douglas appeared to re-aggravate his surgically-repaired right shoulder in the game. New York cannot afford to lose Douglas for any significant stretch of time, especially with a Baron Davis-return still weeks away, and Shumpert’s offense now part of the starting unit’s attack.
- Sure, Knick fans love watching Carmelo Anthony take games over in the fourth quarter, but unfortunately his teammates also seem to love watching him, too. A repeatedly-confounding Knick-propensity, D’Antoni must figure out a way – whether via set plays, effective timeout-usage or even electroshock-therapy – to recognize and correct his team’s systemic and recurring offensive-stagnation. The Knicks can execute their offense with selflessness, ball movement and smart shot-selection – we know this because they do this for the majority of the game – but the question is will they? I’d like to believe that things will get better as the season progresses, but ‘Melo’s historical ball-stopping tendancies cannot be completely ignored.
- Boris Diaw (19 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists) just missed his sixth career triple-double, and it was his third near-miss on the season already.
- Former Knick Derrick Brown, he of the out-of-this-world atheltic ability, got just 19 minutes of burn last night, but managed to grab 8 rebounds. Some fans were disappointed that New York did not re-sign Brown, but I’ve seen nothing from his game to suggest that he’s ready to be a viable option at the NBA-level yet.
- Jared Jefferies remains about a week away from returning. Unfortunatelty, the Knicks could really use his versatility and minutes now, especially with the grueling schedule on-tap.
- Next up for the ‘Bockers: v. PHL Wednesday, 7:30 EST.
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Photo by Dan Lippitt/NBAE via Getty Images