The Knicks beat the Raptors, 106-87, and with the win, the Knicks have won all four games Mike Woodson has coached and all four of those wins have been by double digits. The win also pushed their record at MSG to 14-10.
During their four game winning streak, their two stars, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, have been playing much better defense and Stoudemire has looked like the player that he was during the first half of last season, when he made the All-Star team. Their all around excellence in this game, combined with five players scoring in double figures, helped the Knicks dominate from start to finish.
Even though they are still two games below .500, at 22-24, and are presently in eighth place, the Knicks are playing like the second or third best team in the conference and if they want a chance of finishing in fifth or sixth place in the East, they will have to continue to beat teams under .500. This is realistic, and critical, since staying out of the seventh or eighth seed will avoid playing the Heat or Bulls in the first round.
Stoudemire had 22 points (8-13), 12 rebounds, two assists and continued his trend of being much more aggressive at the basket. Anthony scored 17 points (+28), eight rebounds and five assists. The only negative about his game is that he shot 5-15 from the field, but three of those misses were on one possession. It definitely seems like Melo is playing with a renewed passion for the game with Woodson as the coach.
Another player who is back on track is none other than Jeremy Lin. The two categories that he needed to improve were his shooting percentage and his turnover rate and the past few games he has done just that. He scored 18 points (6-10), had 10 impressive assists and three rebounds.
The players who scored in double figures besides Lin, Stoudemire and Anthony were Tyson Chandler (18) and J.R. Smith who had 11 points and six rebounds.
The Raptors are only 15-31, but this was Jose Calderon’s first game back after missing five games. He is one of the best passing point guards in the league.
Lin got injured early as he collided with DeMar DeRozan while driving to the basket, as Derozan’s hand smacked Lin’s nose, but he was able to come back into the game after a timeout. The score was 6-5, Raptors, when the Knicks were forced to tend to Lin.
The Knicks shared the ball on offense early, as they had seven assists in the first eight minutes of the game. This led to 16 points as Woodson has said that he wants to continue the ball movement that D’Antoni preached, but involve more isolation for Melo and Stat in the right situations. It also helps that Woodson holds players accountable and tells them exactly what they need to do.
The Knicks continued to excel on the offensive end as they finished the quarter with a three-point lead, 27-24. Mike Bibby played three early minutes since Baron Davis is out with an injury, but should return tomorrow.
Novak, who is second in the NBA in three-point shooting, made a 3 to give the Knicks a seven-point lead.
The Knicks are playing improved defense in the second quarter highlighted by JR Smith drawing his second offensive foul. He is usually known for his offense so it is definitely a plus that he is picking up the intensity on the defensive end. He also showed impressive hustle as he was able to lay-in an air-ball by Melo.
Jared Jeffries also showed increased offensive assertiveness in the second quarter as he was able to pump-fake to draw a foul and also make his only two free-throw attempts.
Melo did hustle in the first half on defense, as he hustled as hard as he could to prevent Linas Kliza from making a corner three. Lin was able to distribute, picking up six assists, highlighted by a pass that led to a dunk for Stoudemire. The Knicks played much better defense in the second quarter, as Woodson preaches intensity on the defensive end, and the tenacity on defensive end has led to fast break points.
The only negative about the first-half for the Knicks is that they only shot 8-13 from the line. They did impressively only turn the ball over five times, while having 14 assists, which is almost a 3-1 assist to turnover ratio.
The Knicks are not switching as much on screens, as they would do it constantly under D’Antoni.
To give the Knicks an 11-point lead Lin made a pass from half-court to Landry Fields for the crowd pleasing alley-oop. They have a special connection on the court as they are very close off of the court.
Aaron Gray picked up three fouls in seven minutes, but with 7:47 left in the third he was called for two technical fouls. He first kicked the ball when it was on the ground and then excessively argued with the officials. This led to the Knicks scoring five-points on that possession as Fields had an impressive left-handed drive to the basket, Lin made two technical free throws and Chandler made another free throw.
That five-point swing gave the Knicks a 67-54 advantage.
Lin was able to once again display his clutch shooting as he was able to made a three as the shot clock expired as Shumpert passed him the ball as the Raptor defense contained his attempted drive to the hoop.
After Shumpert took a jumper from the free throw line with a few seconds left, Stoudemire was impressively able to get the rebound and make the lay-up as time expired. Even though Stat was always in favor of D’Antoni while he was the coach, it seems like he has also been inspired by the coaching change.
After a stretch when the Knicks played suspect defense, Novak was able to deflect the ball and then nail an open three off a no-look pass from Lin, to push the lead to 11. Stoudemire played tenacious defense on the next play preventing a score.
The Knicks would have an impressive four point run to give them a game-high 18-point lead. Lin forced a turnover after an erratic Raptors pass and would use his speed to execute a fast break slam. On the next possession he stole the ball, saw Chandler cutting to the basket and threw him a perfect pass for the alley-oop. This four point stretch, in the middle of a 15-3 run, would ice the game.
The Knicks were averaging 10 steals a game during the three-game winning streak.
Josh Harrelson and even Toney Douglas came into the game with 2:54 remaining. Douglas had not played the last 15 games and had just returned from the birth of his son.
Melo impressively has 20 assists during this four-game winning streak. If Lin, Stoudemire and Anthony can continue to play like they did tonight, and the team continues the defensive intensity, which it looks like they will, they will be tough to beat.