On the night of three marquee returns to Madison Square Garden – Mike D’Antoni, Chris Duhon, and Jordan Hill – the Knicks nearly gave away a once-blowout game to the slumping Los Angeles Lakers. The Knicks kicked off the evening with Carmelo Anthony in the kitchen, cookin’ with fire. What began as a shootout, with Anthony hitting everything he put up, and Kobe Bryant responding with his own offensive spectacle, turned to a blowout. The Knicks posted 41 first quarter points, and 68 for the half, to the Lakers’ 49 in the first half.
When the Knicks emerged from the locker room, however, to continue their whirlwind of destruction, Dwight Howard fouled Anthony hard, sending him crippling to the ground, giving him a sprained ankle. ‘Melo did not return for the rest of the game, and the Knicks nearly collapsed following their star’s injury. The Lakers (surprisingly) slowed the pace down, and slowly slugged it out with the Knicks, forcing New York to work without its primary weapon, while letting Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and the rest of the gang try and crawl back into it. Fortunately, when it got close, the Knicks responded with a couple of big shots and finished the game with another victory.
As mentioned, the Knicks got off to a sterling start. With Mike D’Antoni and Kobe Bryant in the building, a certain energy buzzed around this game, and Anthony responded to it appropriately. A bail-out three-pointer before the shot clock expired on the opening possession. Swish. Pull-up three-pointer in transition. Swish. A 1-4 pick-and-roll with Raymond Felton… layup for Ray, Ray. Another ‘Melo three in transition? Why not? The Garden exploded alongside Anthony’s personal pageantry, especially as it responded to the Lakers’ own rebuttals, led by Kobe Bryant who began the game in similar fashion.
The rest of the Knicks were in conjunction with Anthony in their offensive eruption. Felton thrived off the dribble, finishing little bunnies at the rim, and setting up Tyson Chandler on a lob. J.R Smith got in on the action in the early going, hitting some jumpers off the catch and off the dribble. At about the six-minute mark, the Knicks led 20-13, and then they poured it on. Anthony in particular continued his dominance, finding net on all the jumpers he put up, and taking any defenders in his way off the dribble for some smashing finishes. The onslaught came to the tune of 41 first half points, an NBA season high, while hitting 15-21 from the field.
The Lakers, did not exactly flounder on offense, putting up 27 themselves in the first quarter, but their defense was atrocious. The Knicks more-or-less got whatever they wanted, and the Lakers had no response. Early on, the Lakers already found themselves in the undesirable position of being down 41-27 on the road to the only unbeaten team at home in the NBA.
In the early goings of the second quarter, the Knicks continued to punish the Lakers’ lackluster perimeter and transition defense and their weak rotations. Rasheed Wallace, Steve Novak, and Jason Kidd got things going with five consecutive three-pointers, while the Lakers responded with just one basket in between. A ‘Sheed three put the Knicks up 58-32 with over seven minutes remaining the quarter.
However, the absurd start could only last for so long. The Knicks began to go one-on-one too much (with Anthony sitting on the bench, it should be noted), quitting on the uptempo offense and splendid ball movement that helped get them the lead in the first place. While the Lakers hardly looked composed themselves, but slowly they got themselves back into the mix of things with a 9-2 run that cut the Knicks’ lead to 15. Carmelo Anthony checked back in, but after half of a quarter of sitting on the bench, misfired on his first few attempts.
The Knicks responded, however, in the final minutes. Two turnovers led to Ronnie Brewer and Anthony dunks that stole the momentum from the Lakers briefly. The offensive outburst couldn’t and wouldn’t hold up, but New York went into halftime with a 68-49 lead.
In the third quarter, as he is wont to do, Dwight Howard ruined everything. The all-Melo, all-the-time vibe was ruined about five minutes into the third quarter. Anthony, who had just tallied 29 total points on and-one possessions before, drove the baseline, rose to the basket, and was clobbered by Howard who – in all fairness – did make an attempt on the ball, even if it was a bit excessive. Anthony went about parallel to the ground in midair, stuck his left leg down first, and his body crumbled on top of it, his leg curling up to his lower back. ‘Melo shakily got up, shot his free throws, and then asked for a sub at the next whistle, where he went back to the locker room and was diagnosed with a sprained ankle.
It was a slippery slope from this point on. Felton, who had been having a nice game up to that point (14 points, 4 assists) became the main contributor of the offense, but did it quite ineffectively. The Knicks, adhering to the slowed pace of the second half, ran a plethora of 1-5 pick-and-rolls which almost always resulted in Felton drawing the mismatch on the Lakers’ bigs, namely Howard. While this worked to some extent – Felton finished a few drives and drew a fourth foul on Dwight – it also led to a ton of deep twos that the Lakers gladly invited him to shoot. He missed a bunch of them.
The Knicks managed 25 points in the quarter because of some baskets from Chandler, Novak, and Brewer, alongside Felton, but if not for the Lakers’ own marginal futility, it would have been worse. L.A. did cut the lead to 13 on a Kobe Bryant three-pointer to finish a 31-point quarter. The third quarter ended with the Knicks leading 93-80.
The fourth quarter was a continuation of the third quarter, both teams fighting for ultimate ineptitude. The Lakers slowly chipped away at the Knicks’ lead behind Kobe Bryant’s usual gun-slinging ways, and some actual accuracy from Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks, and Devin Ebanks. It was notable that Dwight Howard had only two points in the fourth quarter on one shot. The wonders of Tyson Chandler.
On the Knicks’ end, the offense might not have been so futile if not for their continuous wasting of precious seconds on the shot clock. Perhaps it was exhaustion, perhaps it was an emotional letdown of hearing about Anthony’s injury, but the Knicks looked as if they wanted the game over with fast. Nearly every possession began with the Knicks ticking away the first ten or so seconds of the clock, swinging the ball side-to-side, and then almost invariably, running a pick-and-roll with Chandler. The Lakers defended the roll pretty well and welcomed the open 20-foot jumpers from Felton and Smith. For Smith, this was OK, as for the night, he canned 7-14 of his shots for 18 points. For Felton… 9-26 shooting night for 19 points.
For a few scary moments, the Lakers cut the Knicks’ lead to seven after a three from Bryant. However, Felton, in his redeeming moments of the quarter, ran a lovely pick-and-roll with Chandler and found him for a sky-high, swooping alley-oop. On the next possession, Felton ran another pick-and-roll and found Smith on the wing for a three-pointer which he sank. From there, despite some Laker resistance, the Knicks mostly ran out the clock, including a final sequence where Tyson Chandler tipped out two missed shots to give the Knicks’ new shot clocks and effectively end the game.
All in all, it was a necessary win over a struggling team that can still be threatening on any night. However, there’s no denying that the near-collapse post-Melo was/is a little disconcerting. Not to mention that we were robbed of what looked like an all-time performance from Anthony himself. However, the Knicks moved to an astounding 17-5 and are still the lone undefeated team at home.
- That Carmelo Anthony performance, by the way: 30 points on 10-15 shooting in less than 23 minutes. It was going to be a classic. Damn you, Dwight!
- As mentioned, Raymond Felton’s deep-two tendency off pick-and-rolls was frustrating. His shot chart is below. 5-12 finishing around a rim guarded by Dwight Howard isn’t too bad, and the high number of shot attempts at the basket is a generally good sign. 3-8 shooting from just inside the three-point line, and that 1-3 just outside the lane, though… those are shots defenses will welcome, and Felton wasn’t hitting them.
- As a fan of Mike D’Antoni’s, it was a little sad to hear he was boo’d voraciously by the Garden crowd. Of course, as noted on Twitter, Chris Duhon, his de facto PG for three of the last five years, was not. Also a little bittersweet is to see the Knicks run D’Antoni’s dream style of play right in front of his despair-ridden face.
- Jason Kidd, Felton, Smith, and Prigioni combined for 18 rebounds tonight, which is splendid ‘boudin’ from the back-court. Looking ahead, if the Knicks continue to struggle on the glass, these kinds of efforts will be needed. The Knicks were still out-rebounded by 11.
- Charles Barkley was in-arena with TNT’s broadcasting team of Marv Albert and Steve Kerr. Marv and Steve are great/fine, respectively, but Charles in insufferable when he talks about basketball. Even up 26, the Knicks hadn’t done a single thing right tonight in his mind.
- Jordan Hill checked into the game in the first quarter when Dwight Howard picked up his second foul. Carmelo promptly dunked on him, Felton crossed him over in the lane, and then Hill traveled underneath the basket right before a putback layup. Jordan Hill did not play again. Welcome back!
So, the Knicks still remain in first place in the entire Eastern Conference by a full two games. That’s great. But nearly collapsing and the uncertainty of Carmelo Anthony’ status going forward makes this one feel a little heavier than it should. The Knicks’ next game is Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.