Recap: Knicks 106, Suns 99

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An afternoon game that began with some wonderful basketball nearly turned sour before the Knicks were able to salvage a win over the Phoenix Suns. Thrice the Knicks built big leads and tip-toed on the edge of turning it into a blowout, only to have the Suns fight back into it behind some nice execution of their own and some lapses in effort from the Knicks. Behind some individual heroics of Raymond Felton and the strong performances of Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks clung to the big leads they’d built in the quarters prior. It was close in the end, but the Knicks were able to pull out the victory to remain undefeated at home and kick off December the right way.

First Quarter

The game began splendidly for New York, somewhat atypically of their usual matinee games. As Mike Breen and Clyde Frazier noted, the Knicks looked very composed on offense early on, patiently getting into their sets which included a nice combination of pick-and-rolls, curls for Felton off the ball, and some double-cross screens from Kurt Thomas and Chandler to free up Brewer and Anthony. When the Knicks didn’t run any particular sets, Felton and Anthony worked off the dribble by themselves, usually with success. All five starters splashed and smashed in the opening minutes as the Knicks ran out to a 21-6 lead.

However, the Suns fought back, in part because the Knicks’ own effort and execution let-up. The Knicks got sloppy on offense as Chandler blew an alley-oop, Steve Novak missed some treys because of some hasty close-outs by Phoenix, and J.R. Smith began misfiring in what would by a game-long trend. Phoenix’s offense recuperated a little bit, and began to get themselves back into the thick of things.

The Knicks’ problems were exacerbated by Chandler and Anthony picking up their second personal fouls, respectively, and heading to an already-thin bench missing Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby. Things were exacerbated even further when Rasheed Wallace entered the game. Wallace fouled Luis Scola hard on a drive and was called for a technical for some post-whistle physicality. ‘Sheed, of course did not appreciate the call. When Goran Dragic missed the technical free throw, ‘Sheed let out a resounding “Ball don’t lie!” which earned him his second technical and his first ejection in a Knicks uniform.

With Chandler and Anthony in foul trouble, the Knicks closed out the quarter with a small lineup feature Kurt Thomas at center, and the Suns wiggled their way back within four points, closing the quarter at 24-20. After going up 15 early, the Knicks scored just three points in the final 5:15 of the quarter.

Second Quarter

The Knicks’ short-handedness, however, prompted Mike Woodson to give Chris Copeland some extensive spin, and this turned out to be a good thing. Copeland was active in his nine-minute stint, scoring on a variety of jumpers and drives, rebounding the ball, playing the passing lanes, and contesting shots. Copeland’s indisputable highlight of the night was a soaring putback slam off a missed shot, which sent the Garden into a frenzy. When he returned to the bench with three minutes remaining in the quarter, he had tallied 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block – all career-highs.

While Copeland was the spark, he received help from others. Steve Novak found the range, and later in the quarter, Felton and Anthony checked back in and the offense ran much smoother – to the tune of a 35-point quarter. Anthony, after a brief stretch of sloppy play (a blown dunk and a turnover from some excessive dribbling), got it going. He mixed his looks up on an array of tantalizing, turn-around jumpers over Phoenix’s P.J. Tucker, or just blowing by defenders and getting to the rim.

On defense, the Knicks weren’t anything special. The Suns were able to score at a decent pace, but just couldn’t keep up with the Knicks’ offensive attack. An 11-point flurry to close the half put the Knicks up 59-42 after two quarters.

Third Quarter

The second half began much in the way the first half ended. Mike Woodson told his team to not let up and to put the game away and the Knicks responded… for a time. Felton, Anthony, and Chandler combined for the Knicks’ first 15 points, as they raced out to a 74-54 lead early in the quarter. The pace quickened and neither team looked particularly interested in stopping one another, instead opting for an offense-heavy shootout as if these were the Knicks and Suns teams of old.

However, the uptempo attack seemed to wear on the Knicks as the quarter went on. Anthony began forcing some shots, J.R. Smith’s insertion for Brewer paid no dividends as he continued to misfire, and the Knicks’ sturdy defense became lackadaisical. Shannon Brown went on a personal scoring spree of his own, attacking the basket at the expense of the foul-bedeviled Chandler, and hitting jumpers when given room.

However, the Knicks weren’t in immediate danger as they responded with a timely run of their own, with three-pointers from Brewer and Novak, and jumpers from Felton and Anthony. Anthony punctuated the quarter with a spiffy crossover, step-back three over Tucker, pushing the Knicks’ lead 89-72 going into the fourth quarter.

Fourth Quarter

The 30 allowed third quarter points from the Knicks, however, gave the Suns the confidence they needed.

New York, perhaps sensing the finish line too early, eased up considerably on defense. Sebastian Telfair and Shannon Brown provided the impetus for the Suns in their run. The Knicks’ defense – to my eye – was not having trouble with regards to their knack for switching or being out-rebounded; the problems just seemed to stem from lazy close-outs, going under screens, and losing track of players in transition. Telfair made the Knicks pay with seven quick points early, prompting Woodson to call a timeout when a three-pointer cut the Knicks’ lead to six.

The Knicks once again responded with a trio of baskets from Chandler, Anthony, and Felton, to push the Knicks’ lead back to 12. Though Anthony was the high-scoring man, and is always the go-to guy for baskets, it was Felton who saved the Knicks when they needed it most. Felton’s shot was on-point all night, but in the fourth quarter, fighting through a hurt left hand, Felton commanded the Knicks offense with authority. He punished the Suns for going under screens on pick-and-rolls, and drove the lane with abandon, finishing one very tough layup over Marcin Gortat in transition.

Still, the Knicks’ execution was sloppy down the stretch. Forced shots didn’t drop on offense, while the Suns worked for some quick, easy baskets to bring the game within six points again. Ronnie Brewer, picking up where Landry Fields left off, bricked two free throws after the Suns intentionally fouled him. Shannon Brown made a quick layup on the other end to get within four, prompting the Suns to foul J.R. Smith. Smith, who suffered through a 1-11 shooting night, confidently sank both of his free throws, however, and effectively put the Suns away.

So, the Knicks remained undefeated at home, winning 106-99, but the last quarter of play was less-than-desirable. The win is what matters most, but contrary to what we’ve seen from these Knicks, they let a tired, lesser opponent back into the game through some slightly disinterested effort and sloppy execution.

Notes

- To reiterate, Raymond Felton was fantastic. Felton finished with a line of 23 points on 10-17 shooting, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, and 0 turnovers. And now, Raymond will be getting an MRI on his hurt hand. Great.

- Carmelo Anthony’s quality of play slowly declined through the game. His shot selection became questionable, and even for his 34-point output, 27 field goal attempts is a lot – 10 of them from downtown. What was great, though: Anthony diving on the floor to save a steal he made; Anthony deflecting a pass, and running into the first row to save the ball; Anthony hustling back on defense, and deflecting a Shannon Brown layup to prevent a basket.

- An active Tyson Chandler is the best Tyson Chandler. The big man put roamed across every square inch of the court today, hedging pick-and-rolls, providing help defense to teammates, and moving around on offense, setting picks and cleaning up around the basket. 15 points on 6-8 shooting, 13 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and an odd -1 for Chandler. Impossible for that -1 to be indicative of Tyson’s impact on the game today.

- Pablo Prigioni apparently went out with Smith last night. In 8 short minutes, Prigs bricked a jumper and turned the ball over three times. The last we saw of Prigioni was MSG’s lovely shot of Roger Hinds shoving a gauze up Prigs’s nose to stop a nose bleed. What was nice, though, was interspersed interviews from Prigioni and Luis Scola, talking about how Scola influenced Pablo to come to the NBA.

- This was Rasheed Wallace’s 31st career ejection.

- Chris Copeland, after an exciting, invigorating first half, did not see any time in the second half. Sometimes I don’t understand Mike Woodson’s rotations.

As mentioned, the Knicks came away with a win, most importantly, and moved back into first place in the Atlantic Division. What will be interesting to see is if the Knicks can put away an easy opponent in the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday before going to Miami to face the Heat. Near let-ups like this afternoon’s won’t do against better opponents.