This had the potential to be a trap game – the Knicks, coming off an impressive win in Milwaukee, the Washington Wizards coming off their first win of the season. It would’ve been all too easy for the Knicks to cruise into and through this game, only to meet some hungry Wizards, clinging to their slowly dissolving pride, and find themelves engaged in a serious basketball battle (basketbattle). Luckily, the Knicks avoid such a typical letdown and effectively crushed their struggling opponent by 21 points.
The Knicks and Wizards both began the game in sloppy fashion. For the Knicks, decent offensive execution led to generally good shots early on, but those usual looks just wouldn’t fall at first. On defense, they met a Wizards team that is perpetually in a ‘get-mine’ mind frame. The Wizards, perhaps more than any team we’ve seen thus far, possess a plethora of fellows who excel in the dribble, dribble, dribble, pull-up jumper game. If your individual defenders are not up to stopping that one-on-one attack, it can be dangerous. Tonight, those shots didn’t fall too often for the Wiz, but early on it did open the Knicks up to allowing more than enough offensive rebounds for the Wizards to make up for bad shots or turnovers.
As mentioned, the Knicks were getting decent looks to begin with, but just couldn’t get them to drop. Raymond Felton’s first two three-point attempts – both open as a result of good ball movement – went halfway down before popping out. Tyson Chandler didn’t hold up his torrid shooting streak to quite the same level, either, and Carmelo Anthony didn’t find much success attacking the basket unless it ended in a foul.
Much of the Knicks’ early offensive game plan came on 1-5 pick-and-rolls where Felton would dart into the lane, kick it out to the perimeter, and let the ball move inside and out until someone got a look. If not, it seemed many of the Knicks’ possessions began with feeding Carmelo in the high post around the free-throw-line-extended area, getting a pick from Tyson Chandler, and working off the dribble towards the hoop, or passing out of the pick-and-roll to shooters. This eventually paid off in the form of back-to-back assists on three-pointers from Ronnie Brewer and J.R. Smith. Very excellent basketball from ‘Melo.
While the Wizards more-or-less floundered in their iso-style, pull-up/step-back jumper offense, and some unsuccessful post-ups from Kevin Seraphin (thanks, Kev). The Knicks received a boost off their bench from Smith who connected on two three-pointers while assisting on two other baskets. His final trey capped the quarter with the Knicks leading 26-17.
The second quarter showed signs of the dreaded let-up by the Knicks, and the Wizards’ offensive approach proved to show some effectiveness as well. Part of this was due to the fact that the Wizards’ bench seems to just have better players. Nene, a starter on most teams, came off the bench, dunked a little bit on Steve Novak, and controlled the paint on offense, while guys like Jordan Crawford and Martell Webster had some fun of their own working off the dribble to the basket or for jumpers.
The Knicks, however, responded with some more stellar play from J.R. Smith and Pablo Prigioni. Smith connected on two more baskets while Prigs hit a step-back, rainbow three from the elbow to beat the shot clock, and then another deep one from straight on. In general, throughout the first half, Anthony and Smith set up a number of their teammates for looks inside and out, combining for 11 total assists at halftime. While Smith did not struggle shooting the ball, it was encouraged to see Anthony contributing in other ways while generally being harassed on offense.
‘Melo finally came unhinged to hit a pull-up three pointer that bounced around and through to end the first half. Though the Knicks gave up 29 points to Washington in the second quarter, the Knicks still led 57-46, with Anthony in triple-double-watch territory, with 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Going into halftime, J.R. Smith told Tina Cervasio that the Knicks’ first half effort wasn’t good enough. This provided the impetus for the second half as the Knicks came out fully focused, determined to bury their opponent well before the final buzzer. Just as we had gotten so used to seeing early on in the season, the Knicks clamped down on defense while loosening up some nuts and bolts on offense.
Raymond Felton and Anthony, the two most laboring Knicks on offense in the first half, were the catalysts in the third quarter. Felton took advantage of the room he was given under screens by Wizards defenders by either plopping in mid-range jumpers or turning the corner and finishing around the basket. Anthony finally got to the rim and finished while receiving a couple more calls – though still not enough for the amount of contact – and heading to the free throw line. Together, the two combined for 14 of the Knicks’ 29 third quarter points.
The defense also took advantage of the Wizards’ lack of offensive game plan, generally stifling jump shooters or contesting looks at the rim. By eye, it seemed most of the Wizards’ points came at the free throw line.
A couple of terrific highlights came in the third quarter as the Knicks slowly pushed their lead high into the ‘teens. One came on a back-court steal from Ronnie Brewer, who fed Tyson Chandler steamrolling down the lane for a massive one-handed smash. The other came after a timeout, where Prigioni threw an inbounds lob for Smith. The pass, a little short, was caught by Smith, mid-air, under the basket, and tossed back out to Rasheed Wallace beyond the arc where he hit the straight-on three.
By the end of the quarter, the Knicks led 86-65, and were headed towards a quarter of garbage time.
The quarter of J.R. Smith. I’ve yet to see a player who genuinely enjoys garbage time more than J.R. Smith, unshackled from the burdens of organized, disciplined basketball.
The Wizards had essentially conceded the loss while the Knicks had accepted the win, but two competitors remained on the floor: J.R. Smith and Jordan Crawford, fingers tinkering on the triggers of their six-shooters, ready to unload.
The two slingers went back and forth in the quarter, hitting an array of shots on crossovers, pull-ups, step-backs, and twirling moves towards the hoop. Smith feasted on step-back, fade-away jumpers, but his indisputable highlight came on an alley-oop. Prigioni poked the ball away from Bradley Beal, Chris Copeland picked it up and tried advancing a pass to Prigioni, but hit him in the leg. Steve Novak caught it, threw it up to Prigs who passed the halfcourt line, paused for a second, and then threw a perfect lob to Smith, who caught it at the rim and reversed it in. It was all fun for Smith as he finished with 20 points, 10 of them in the fourth quarter.
The Knicks cruised to the win, allowing most of their top guns to relax on the bench and enjoy the proper work they’d put in earlier in the game. The Knicks won their 12th consecutive game over the Wizards, finishing 108-87.
- On the topic of the fourth quarter: Mike Woodson oddly ignored the crowd’s chants for Marcus Camby. There must be something else going on there that we don’t know about. Either Camby isn’t in physical condition to play (Rasheed Wallace was not either, though) or he’s done something to anger the goatee’d one.
- Carmelo Anthony’s triple double watch dissipated after halftime, but he finished with 20, 5, 5 in less than 28 minutes tonight, and that rest is more important. ‘Melo began the game at small forward again with Kurt Thomas playing the 4, but to my eye, it seemed that Anthony played most of his minutes at power forward still.
- It sure is great to see Steve Novak’s touch from beyond the arc again. There were a few frightening weeks there where he was oddly off, but he seems to have recovered. He finished with 9 points tonight on 3-6 shooting. Also nice: 5 rebounds, +10, and a hard foul on Beal at the rim during garbage time.
- After a few games where they were a bit turnover-happy, the Knicks only had eight tonight, meaning Woody and co. will be lining up on the baseline next practice!
That’s about it for tonight. The Knicks finished November at a very solid 11-4 while dealing with one of the most difficult schedules in the NBA. Tonight’s win also marked a 6-0 home record to start the season – their first since 1992! The Knicks kick off December with a game against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.