Tonight could qualify as one of those “ugly, grind-it-out” wins that are so often referred to when a basketball team squeezes out a victory by the skins of their collective teeth. Said games, however, are usually given such a description when both teams struggle to score the ball, and actually have to play ugly, hustling, desperate basketball in order to get the win. The Knicks and Hawks had to battle each other quite a bit tonight, but instead it consisted of two decent offenses going back and forth while the respective defenses played half-heartedly, with lackluster execution on both ends polluting the quality of play.
Mike Woodson and Larry Drew, the Hawks’ head coach, would probably both like their chances of getting a win if they knew their teams would shoot over 50% from the field and over 40% from three-point range. Instead, the outcome of the game hung in balance until the final buzzer. The Knicks used a heroic offensive performance from Carmelo Anthony, with some great bench production from J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire to make up for the fact that their defense begged the Hawks to take the game. A last-minute three-point play and a final stop (even with some poor defense) ended up tilting the game in the Knicks’ favor as they escaped with a win to move to 27-15.
Raymond Felton kicked the game off nicely for the Knicks, bouncing back after a poor game the night before in Philadelphia. The Hawks’ defense took a page from the rest of the league and ducked under picks, daring Felton to shoot. And to begin, Felton hit those shots, canning three in a row to start things off. The Knicks’ offense looked generally smooth as they continued with a small starting lineup with Felton and Jason Kidd in the backcourt, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, and Tyson Chandler in the frontcourt. The Knicks appeared to just run with the spread-pick-and-roll offense, and it created good looks early on.
Anthony, however, began the game slowly as he has been pretty consistently lately. Whereas the rest of the Knicks got good looks on ball movement and extra passes, Anthony forced a few seemingly arrhythmic looks and just couldn’t get the ball to drop. His offensive struggles, though, were mostly negated by a nice boost off the bench from Stoudemire and Felton.
On defense, in what would be a trend all night, the Knicks struggled to contain the speedy Jeff Teague, who burned Felton and any helping big men, on pick-and-rolls. If Teague wasn’t getting to the basket with ease, he was spotting up and hitting threes, or feeding his teammates for easy baskets.
For as good as the Knicks looked on one end of the floor, they only led 27-25 at the end of the first quarter.
The Knicks rushed out of the gates to begin the second quarter. It looked as though New York would make their big run and effectively put away the Hawks for the night. Running with mostly bench bros, Pablo Prigioni captained an excellent start for the Knicks. Prigioni nailed two three-pointers to kick things off, then assisted on the next three buckets. Using an 11-3 run, the Knicks zipped out to a 38-28 lead just three and a half minutes into the quarter.
Part of the Knicks’ run, however, was contributed by the Hawks’ terrible second unit. The Hawks struggled to defend or hit shots with a second unit headlined by Ivan Johnson, Jeremy Pargo, Zaza Pachulia, or DeShawn Stevenson (side note: a combination of Ivan Johnson and DeShawn Stevenson is terrifyingly awesome), but when Teague, Kyle Korver, Josh Smith, and Al Horford checked back in, the Hawks promptly got themselves right back into the game.
After going up by ten with 8:28 remaining, the Knicks managed just five points over the next five and a half minutes. And then Carmelo Anthony woke up. The Knicks found Anthony at the top of the key as a result of solid ball movement on back-to-back possessions, and Anthony nailed both three pointers. After a Hawks miss, Felton pushed the ball up the court, got to the right elbow, dished the ball behind him, through his legs, to a trailing Anthony who stopped and popped at the G on the Madison Square Garden logo, and drained the long bomb. The 9-0 run seemed to wake the Knicks up momentarily, but they couldn’t capitalize any further on the momentum. Going into halftime, the game was tied 52-52.
Anthony had no intentions of stopping in the second half, however. Scorching hot, Anthony canned four of the Knicks’ next five baskets, three of which were from downtown. He found himself open on a number of looks and draped by a defender on others, but none of it mattered. Each shot Anthony put up, soared through the air, effortlessly, and splashed through the net.
It all would have been great if the Knicks could have just played a lick of defense. With Anthony on pace to score 40+ points and break the Knicks’ record for three-pointers made, the Knicks still couldn’t buy themselves a sizable lead. In the first half, much of the Knicks’ defensive problems came from their incessant switching which created mismatches, and thus, open looks from the double teams they sent. In the second half, though switching was still a problem, the Knicks couldn’t defend the Hawks’ pick-and-roll, nor could they seem to muster the energy to just try hard on defense.
However, with Atlanta marginally out-playing the Knicks, New York closed the quarter strongly. Felton knocked down a three out off a pass out of a double-team from Anthony; Smith knocked down a jumper; Felton drove the lane on a high pick-and-roll and hit a cutting Amar’e for the slam; and then to end the quarter, Felton made the extra swing pass to find Anthony for one more three.
The sudden burst of offense put the Knicks up 82-74 at the end of the third quarter.
To end the third quarter, Carmelo Anthony had tied the Knicks’ all-time three-pointers made record with 9. Oddly, instead of continuing with the fluid offense that helped them get back the lead, the Knicks stagnated. Anthony ceased firing from downtown and went into iso-mode from 20-feet out. This is where the game got ugly.
Both teams just couldn’t stop the other, but not because either team was all that potent on offense. The Knicks struggled to get Anthony free and instead let him go one-on-one, where he continued to put up, and hit ridiculous shots over the Hawks’ defenders. The Knicks, meanwhile, could not stop Jeff Teague’s penetration or close out on the Hawks’ shooters quick enough. It would come down to who could hit the final shot.
For the Knicks, Anthony cooled off at the wrong moment. While trying to jab-step Stevenson into oblivion, Anthony got poked in the eye and slammed the ball down in frustration, earning himself a technical. Anthony then forced and missed his next two shots. Stoudemire was able to hit two free throws to keep the Knicks alive, but only momentarily. With 1:34 remaining, the Hawks got themselves a wide open alley-oop for Al Horford and went up by one. The Knicks floundered their next two possessions with turnovers and missed jumpers but were able to force two turnovers in a row on Josh Smith – one a backcourt violation, the other a moving pick.
With 22 seconds remaining, the Knicks inbounded the ball, down one, and went to Anthony. Instead of running out the clock, Anthony attacked the Hawks’ unsettled defense, drove past Smith to the left, hit the layup and the foul. He’d complete the three-point play to put the Knicks up by two points. The Hawks’ final play summed up the night. With 12 seconds left, Jeff Teague forced a switch on the pick-and-roll, drove to the rim, jumped, got caught in the air and kicked the ball out to the perimeter. Anthony tipped the pass and it landed in Josh Smith’s hands on the left elbow. J.R. Smith anticipated Josh Smith’s release too early, and jumped, leaving Smith for an open three-pointer. Josh Smith launched with two seconds remaining, and the ball caromed off the rim at the buzzer, giving the Knicks the 106-104 victory.
It was a sloppy, albeit intense last two minutes, but the Knicks escaped with the win.
- I believe Anthony’s exploits were described well enough above, but after a cold start, Anthony finished the game with 42 points on 15-28 shooting, 9-12 from downtown, with five rebounds. He tied the Knicks’ all-time three-pointers made record and put the team on his shoulders down the stretch. Having Carmelo Anthony on your team when he’s hot is cool. Here’s that ridonculous three-pointer he made (00:05).
- I’d like to acknowledge Amar’e Stoudemire’s game. Though Amar’e had some total “aaaaggghrrrghhh!” moments on defense (such as flattening Kyle Korver on a three-point attempt in the fourth quarter), he played a darn good offensive game. Almost all of Stoudemire’s points came around the basket, where he looks MUCH more comfortable and fluid finishing over and around defenders. He’s also seemed to find his place in the offense, setting picks at a more consistent rate, picking his spots to post-up/face-up, and cutting to the basket on almost any penetration from Felton or Anthony. Also, 8 boards from Amar’e – four offensive, four defensive. He was active on the glass in the fourth quarter and gave the Knicks some huge possessions and buckets down the stretch. 18 points on 6-9 FG, 8 rebounds, and 1 block in just under 30 minutes. So nice to see you back, STAT.
- My favorite moment of the game came in the first half. Tyson Chandler slipped a pick he set for Anthony and dove to the hoop. Anthony hit him with the pass under the basket. As the defense collapsed on him, Chandler kicked it back out to Stoudemire who was open on the wing, and connected on the 15-foot jumper. Teamwork!
- Also needs to be acknowledged: Tyson Chandler did an admirable job defending Jeff Teague on that final switch. He smothered him around the basket which forced Teague’s sloppy, midair pass that led to the missed three from Josh Smith. Tyson played with an aggravated neck, which noticeably bothered him down the stretch. I’d be surprised if he still has a head on his shoulders by Wednesday’s game.
- J.R. Smith made up for a chilly first half by finishing the game with 18 points on 7-15 shooting. That’s 36 combined points off the bench from he and Stoudemire. That is good.
- Jason Kidd didn’t play the second half because of a sore back. As Seth Rosenthal noted on Twitter, Jason Kidd is probably now an invertebrate.
- Mike Woodson refused to play Iman Shumpert late in the game when the Knicks’ perimeter defense was getting scorched by the Hawks…. Until the final play when he checked Shumpert in to guard the Hawks’ final possession.
- After a poor comeback game in Philadelphia on Saturday night, Felton finished with 12 points, 5-9 shooting, 4 rebounds, 10 assists, and 4 turnovers in 38 minutes. That’s a great night from Ray Ray, who was leaned upon heavily in the second half.
Tonight’s game was strange. Neither team played poorly, but they didn’t play well, either. Some weird stats: 33 combined turnovers for both teams, 56 combined rebounds, 57% combined FG%, 51.4% combined 3FG%. Very up-and-down, inconsistent play from both teams. What matters now is that the Knicks got the win and have two days to rest.