The Knicks escaped with a win vs the Cavaliers to remain undefeated at home
The Knicks fortunately only trailed by one point, 28-27, after a rough defensive first quarter. The Cavaliers while not moving the ball particularly well – they only had four assists – but seemed to consistently beat their man one-on-one. Much of this had to do with the absence of Carmelo Anthony and Rasheed Wallace, as the Knicks were forced to play Chris Copeland and Steve Novak (at one point together) for extended minutes, neither of whom are as good defensively as Anthony. Wallace’s absence hurt Tyson Chandler’s aggressiveness as he was tentative to get a second foul after a touch foul early in the quarter. Copeland for his credit did hit all three of his shots in the quarter. On the other side of the spectrum, Jason Kidd, the number one three point shooter in the NBA heading into the night, was 0-4 from three, appearing to rush his shots. It seemed that in the absence of Carmelo Anthony, the offense did not open up as much as Mike Woodson would like as Raymond Felton and JR Smith took multiple long two pointers. The Cavaliers had opened up a six point lead when a few timely offensive rebounds led to shots by JR Smith and Steve Novak (a three pointer). The last play was particularly wild (and of no consequence) as the teams traded steals. Overall, the late quarter surge put the Knicks in a good situation, despite playing poorly in the quarter.
Johnny Hoops joined the broadcast crew during the second quarter and it seemed like the Knicks were going to pull away after some timely hoops by JR Smith and Steve Novak turned what was once a six point deficit to a six point lead. Novak was particularly effective in the second quarter, making all of his three pointers and playing good defense, especially for him. JR Smith’s shots stopped falling later in the quarter and the offense became stagnant as a result. With all the injuries, the Knicks’ second unit has little offense outside of Smith. Only four players scored: Smith, Novak, Kidd, and Kurt Thomas. Mike Woodson seemed to try to run more plays for Novak to compensate for the struggling offense. Overall, however, the Knicks second unit outplayed the second unit of the Cavs, who just aren’t that deep. Conspicuous in his absence in the second quarter was Tyson Chandler, who did not play in the quarter after getting two fouls in the first. Chandler likely could have played in the second quarter, but with Kurt Thomas giving the Knicks very good minutes, Woodson chose the safe route with Chandler who the Knicks could not afford to get into serious foul trouble with the lack of big man depth. After falling behind by seven, the Cavaliers cut the lead down to just three by the end of the half after their starters returned, trailing 48-45.
After doing very little in the first half, Tyson Chandler certainly had his presence felt in the third quarter. It seemed that Coach Woodson emphasized the importance of getting Chandler involved during halftime as the Knicks ran plenty of pick and rolls for Chandler to start the quarter and it payed it off. The Knicks scored the first seven points in the quarter to open up a ten points lead. Four of those points were four of Chandler’s impressive thirteen points in the quarter. Another development in the second quarter seemed to be an increased use of Jason Kidd as the point guard rather than as a spot up shooter. Kidd struggled shooting the entire night, but the little plays he make are too valuable to lose. Kidd’s increased point guard play seemed to help Raymond Felton, who played much more relaxed in the quarter, hitting a few threes rather than settling for long twos. Despite it feeling as if the Knicks had a comfortable lead the entire quarter, the Cavaliers continued to hang around, with a few scrappy offensive rebounds leading to buckets. Kyrie Irving’s excellent play spearheaded the Cleveland comeback, shooting 4-6 in the quarter. In a game that maybe shouldn’t have been as close as it was, the Knicks led 78-73 at the end of the third.
After a few minutes where neither team scored, two Tyson Chandler layups put the Knicks up nine in another position to pull away. The inability to hit a dagger shot, plus the grittiness of the Cavaliers, made it difficult for the Knicks to separate themselves. They almost regretted as Kyrie Irving absolutely dominated the last five minutes. With the Cavs down 90-80, Irving scored seven straight to turn a comfortable lead into a nail biter. Despite the run by Irving, the Knicks still held a comfortable lead of eight with three minutes left. That is until Irving went on another huge run. It came to the point where the Cavs had to foul the Knicks and hope that the Knicks miss free throws or the Cavs hit a bunch of threes. And that almost happened. Irving had 10 of his 41 (!) points in the fourth quarter, including two huge three pointers, which cut the lead down to three and two respectively. Suddenly, just as it appeared the Knicks were going to escape by making their free throws (which they often struggle with), they began missing them, likely due to the increased pressure after Irving’s exploits. JR Smith and Steve Novak both missed free throws, setting up the Cavs to inexplicably have the ball with a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Irving made the correct read on the play, finding Anderson Varejao, who went to the free throw line. After making the first free throw, Varejao missed the second and JR Smith secured the rebound to seal the win, 103-102.
- While the Cavaliers have one of the worst records in the NBA, they have a lot of potential. They are clearly too dependent on Kyrie Irving, who is an absolute stud, but they should be a team to be feared in the future when they get the right pieces around him.
- Despite the sensational play of Kyrie Irving, this game was as close as it was because the Knicks did not play particularly well against an inferior opponent. They seemed to lack the killer instinct, and the defense was a step slow for much of the night.
- The star of the night for the Knicks was clearly Tyson Chandler. Chandler played little in the first half due to foul trouble, but played the entire second half. He did not miss a shot in the second half and finished 9-10 with 23 points and 10 rebounds. He also played a big part in limiting Anderson Varejao to just 8 rebounds. In a statistical oddity, the Knicks were -8 with Tyson Chandler on the floor. This has much to do with most of Chandler’s minutes coming when Irving was in the game.
- The Knicks clearly missed and obviously missed Carmelo Anthony on both sides of the floor. The spacing seemed to be lacking without Anthony’s presence. The Knicks struggled to hit a pull-away shot without Anthony’s clutch shot making. Chris Copeland and Steve Novak struggled some playing against Tristan Thompson, particularly in the first half. It shows how far Anthony has come on the defensive end that the Knicks missed his defense as much as they did.
- Jason Kidd had a very odd game. Just looking at his shooting numbers would indicate that this was his worst game as a Knick, but it is hard not to feel like the Knicks would not have won this game without Kidd. Kidd had 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks, once again having an impact on the game without hitting his shot. Kidd did a great job finding Tyson Chandler for open opportunities, contributing to his big night. He is still playing way too many minutes, but the Knicks needed him tonight with all the injuries.
- Chris Copeland got his first career NBA start and played as well as anyone could have expected. He scored an efficient 11 points in 19 minutes. He struggled some with his dribbling and defense, but he filled in well enough that his presence wasn’t hurting the Knicks.
- Raymond Felton had a very efficient second half. After forcing a few shots in the first half, Felton seemed to defer a little more in the second half and let the game come to him. Breaking a streak of bad fourth quarters, Felton had 9 quiet points in the final quarter. He finished with a surprisingly quiet 25 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds.
- Steve Novak started 4-4 from three, but he did not make a shot in the second half. It seems that Novak’s three pointers spark the team and the crowd. Overall, the 4-7 from downtown, continues this hot stretch from Novak who has bounced back froma rough start to begin the season.
- JR Smith struggled offensively, shooting 6-20, but it didn’t appear as if he was taking many bad shots. His misses did not disrupt the flow of the offense, and his defense was up to par. He had a key steal in the fourth quarter as one of many hustle plays throughout the game.
- Kurt Thomas had one of his better game of the season filling in for Rasheed Wallace. He cannot space the floor like Wallace, but he had some success as the rolling to the basket. His pick and roll defense leaves something to be desired, but he had four huge offensive rebounds for a team that usually doesn’t get a bunch of offensive boards.
- Pablo Prigioni and Ronnie Brewer did not seem to have a huge impact on the game. Prigioni did not score and Brewer only scored 2 points on 1-3 shooting. Both players held their own defensively, however, and Pablo Prigioni forced two turnovers on the inbounds. James White was the only eligible Knick that did not play.
Overall, this wasn’t really a game the Knicks will hang their hat on, but it is a game they may have lost in year’s past. They are now 18-5 (10-0 at home) and have a comfortable lead in the Atlantic division. There’s no reason to complain about that.