The Knicks were handed their first home loss of the season from a Rockets team no one expected to snap New York’s dominance on their home court. Fittingly, one of the leaders of that Houston team was a guy who defied odds and led an underdog team back to relevance just months ago: Jeremy Lin. The Rockets and Lin, making his first return to Madison Square Garden, ran the Knicks ragged tonight, exposing an offense missing its primary weapons and a slow-footed defense, unable to contain the Rockets’ speedy ways, rim-darting guards, and three-point attacks. The Knicks lost their first game of the season in New York, falling to 18-6 on the season, thankful they’re done with the Houston Rockets this season.
The game’s opening moments looked as if the contest was going to live up to its national hype. Jeremy Lin, the exiled former Knick and his underdog Rockets, taking on his successors, Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd and the dominant New York Knicks. On the opening play, Ray Felton took Lin off the dribble, nailing a step-back jumper. Lin responded on the ensuing play, losing Felton on a backdoor cut along the baseline for the easy layup. It looked as if it would be a preview for a battle to come; instead, it was a preview of where the Rockets would make their living on offense.
Over the next six minutes, the Rockets scored 16 of their first 17 points at the rim on a bevy of layups and dunks from all different players. Lin and James Harden broke down the defense off the dribble, finishing at the basket themselves or setting up their teammates. The Knicks’ unusually sloppy play with the ball and brick-laden jumpshots led to easy leak-outs for Rockets players, completely uncontested by any Knicks’ defenders.
The turning point for the Knicks, the golden spot of the opening quarter, was J.R. Smith’s insertion into the game. Smith checked in for Chris Copeland (getting the start in place of Carmelo Anthony) and immediately attacked the Rockets’ defense. Smith brought the Knicks back into the game – with some help from an aggressive Felton – on a combination of spot-up jumpers and some herky-jerky drives to the basket.
Despite the Rockets’ paint-bound ways (22 points at the basket in the quarter), the Knicks led 31-29 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was a trip down the drain for the Knicks. Following their surge to get back into the game, the Knicks found themselves getting badly beaten on defense while their offense remained inept. At the end of the first quarter. J.R. Smith picked up his second foul – a foolish swipe at James Harden’s arm on a drive – and was relegated to the bench by a steaming Mike Woodson. The Knicks’ offense would never be the same.
While the Knicks struggled to find the bottom of the net, settling for arrhythmic long jumpers or turning the ball over, Lin, Harden, and the Rockets bench provided the impetus. The Rockets attacked the Knicks in the pick-and-roll, feasting more at the rim or setting up jumpers off the dribble penetration. The Knicks scored just five points in seven and a half minutes while Houston ballooned their lead to double digits.
New York’s aggravation with their inability to score or get stops was demonstrated by Chandler’s hard, flagrant-one foul on a Jeremy Lin drive. As Lin evaded a close-out on the baseline, he steamed towards the basket, jumped, and was pummeled by Chandler in the air. The Garden crowd booed (as they did to Lin all night after a warm, welcoming applause in the introductions), Chandler argued in frustration, Lin smiled and went to the free throw line. He and the Rockets were slowly taking this game away
The Rockets ended the first half up 56-42.
If the second quarter was the beginning of the flush, the third quarter was the Knicks’ collective journey through the sewage system. After scoring only 11 points in the second quarter, the Knicks would need to be an entirely different ball club in the second half. And they began that way.
Chris Copeland, after a quiet first half, erupted in the third quarter, hitting a three-pointer, and taking the ball to the basket for three straight, awkward off-balance banking layups. Felton and Chandler got in the act, too, and combined with Copeland’s nine-point explosion, the Knicks cut Houston’s lead to 60-55. However, Houston responded with a run that may have felt just a little familiar to New Yorkers. Jeremy Lin took over.
Lin began the Rockets’ eruption with a driving layup across the lane. He then assisted on a layup to Marcus Morris, a three-pointer from Morris, and after a Harden three-pointer, drove and kicked for another three-pointer for Harden. The Rockets’ five-point lead swelled to 18 as the Garden crowd groaned at the Knicks’ deflation. Woodson called timeout to try and regather his troops. When the Knicks took the floor, Lin swiped the ball from Jason Kidd and took it to the other end for a layup. The Rockets led by 20.
New York couldn’t respond as Houston continued hitting what they put in the air, finishing the third quarter with an 83-60 lead.
The nice thing about an early blowout, the burden of expectations tossed aside is that it allows players to play freely, regardless of the circumstances. For the Rockets, this meant Carlos Delfino taking and making 25-foot three-pointers from all angles, or Chandler Parsons knocking down three-pointers off the dribble over picks.
For the Knicks, it was nice display of hustle and effort from the bench’s favorite tag-team, Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland. Prigioni swiped the ball from Houston’s ball-handlers and took it coast-to-coast for layups. Chris Copeland continued his unstable, flailing drives to the basket, receiving a behind-the-back dish from Prigs, and even stepping out and knocking down back-to-back threes. None of it really mattered, though. Houston’s lead was never threatened.
Both teams’ benches ran the floor, and the final starter for either team left the game, a victory in hand. Jeremy Lin – 22 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 4 turnovers – walked towards the bench, receiving a kind hand even from some of the hostile fans, knowing he had gotten the better of the game on the MSG floor, much like he did for two fun months. The Knicks lost their first home game of the year, moving to 18-6.
- Without Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks offense continues to look messy. The Rockets blew up the Knicks’ pick-and-rolls by going under pickss or hedging the ball-handler. Felton didn’t have much success getting to the basket with the collapsed D, and his mid-range jumper won’t carry an offense on most nights. Jason Kidd couldn’t hit three-pointers; Tyson Chandler’s regular routes to the rim were denied. Without Anthony’s post-up abilities and one-on-one prowess, the Knicks spent a lot of time going east to west, forcing jumpers. Their offensive rhythm was really killed by Smith picking up the second foul early.
- New York’s 17 turnovers means they’ll be doing some running tomorrow. Whenever the Knicks turn the ball over too often, it tends to lead to ugly games (duh). Likely because of New York’s snail of a pace, turning the ball over means even less possessions. It should be noted, tonight, however, that Houston controlled the pace, which also has been another damning sign for the Knicks.
- Chris Copeland, by the way, did score 29 points on 5 rebounds. Pablo Prigioni totaled 14 points, which I believe is a season-high, to go with 5 assists.
- The last line of my game notes: “Carlos Delfino running bank shot off dribble. The end.” Yep, the about sums it up.
This isn’t a win to get too shaken up about. The Knicks had some really bad moments, but the Rockets are just a team that has their numbers. Looking ahead, the Knicks need to get their stars back, heal up some injuries (both of Felton’s hands have bone bruises), and make a better effort to tighten up lately lax defense. The next game: a visit from the Nets at MSG.