The Knicks snapped a four-game losing streak by defeating the Philadelphia 76ers, and retaining first place in the Atlantic Division. Heading into the game, the Knicks had been mired in a major slump on both ends of the floor, undoubtedly playing their worst basketball of the season. A last-minute loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday seemed to be the tipping point, the time where the panic button ought to be pushed. Granted, it was against a weaker opponent, but tonight’s win over the Sixers displayed better effort and determination for longer stretches than we’d seen in recent weeks.
The Knicks’ semi-renewed focus was evident in the early going. To open up the game, Carmelo Anthony pressured Thaddeus Young, playing intense, jab-happy defense that blew up the Sixers’ offensive sets. The rest of the Knicks’ followed suit, make crisper rotations, and generally sticking with their assignments. Some of this was led by Iman Shumpert covering Jrue Holiday and pestering his ball-handling and drives to the basket. A bevy of missed shots led to long rebounds, which the Knicks, especially Jason Kidd, used to push the pace. The uptempo game led to some good ball movement and good shot attempts… a number of which the Knicks missed.
Carmelo Anthony opened up the game fairly flat, missing a couple of open midrange jumpers that are usually so automatic; Raymond Felton missed some open looks from beyond the arc; Jason Kidd and Iman Shumpert struggled to find the net at all. So while the defense forced the Sixers into a bunch of tough shots and misses, the offense, while aesthetically pleasing, just wasn’t quite able to convert.
The Knicks went through a four-minute stretch where they were held without a field goal. Finally, with just over two minutes remaining, with the Knicks down 17-18, Amar’e Stoudemire scored on back-to-back plays, one of which was a gorgeous spin move from the post to split a double team, leading to an open dunk. Raymond Felton followed it up with a three-pointer, and Carmelo Anthony was able to knock down some free throws in the waning seconds to give the Knicks a 24-22 lead.
The second quarter proved to be the defining quarter for the Knicks. Led by a unit of Pablo Prigioni, J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler, the Knicks kicked off the quarter with a strong push to give the Knicks a double-digit lead. Stoudemire, in particular, boosted the Knicks with some inspiring play. During one stretch, Stoudemire tipped in misses on back-to-back possessions, then made a great rotation to stop an open dunk for Spencer Hawes, stripped him, dove out of bounds to save the ball, which led to a fastbreak for the Knicks, and a three-pointer from Novak. The Knicks kept coming with four consecutive jumpers from Stoudemire, Smith, Prigioni, and Smith again. In a little over four minutes, the Knicks’ 15-2 run pushed their lead to 41-26.
Mike Woodson’s rotations were a little puzzling, however. Instead of keeping with the unit that had given the Knicks their largest lead of the game, Woodson replaced Stoudemire with Anthony, Novak with Kidd, and Prigioni with Felton. From that point on, the Sixers outscored the Knicks 14-11. For New York, the crisp inside-outside offensive execution that helped them build the lead, disappeared. However, Carmelo Anthony’s physical superiority over any of Philadelphia’s defenders allowed him to get to the free throw line, or otherwise set up close looks inside for teammates.
Going into halftime, the Knicks still held a 52-40 lead over the Sixers.
The third quarter began with a bang in a number of ways. The Knicks kicked things off as if they were about to blow the Sixers out. Back-to-back threes from Felton and Shumpert, followed by a layup from Felton gave the Knicks a 20-point lead. The Sixers responded with three baskets of their own before things got messy.
In a battle for a rebound, Spencer Hawes threw an elbow into Carmelo Anthony’s chest. Anthony responded my nonchalantly smacking Hawes in the back of the head. Hawes took exception, turned around and got in Anthony’s face, to which Tyson Chandler “defused” things by shoving Hawes, before the referees separated the scrum. The event earned Anthony a flagrant one foul, and Chandler and Hawes both received technicals.
From then on there weren’t any more turbulent situations, but the teams exchanged baskets for most of the quarter. For the Sixers, Evan Turner blew past a number of different defenders, driving to the cup almost at will. Without Chandler in the game, the Knicks’ interior defense was weak, and the Sixers took advantage. For the Knicks, Anthony, Stoudemire, and Felton carried the load, particularly Felton whose dribble penetration gave him a number of looks at the rim, and set up his teammates for looks as well.
The Sixers edged out the Knicks a bit down the stretch to make it a nine-point game, 76-67 at the end of the third quarter.
To start the final quarter, the Prigioni-Smith-Novak-STAT-Chandler lineup continued to do good things, specifically Stoudemire who scored eight of the Knicks’ first eleven points in the quarter. Inside, Stoudemire was able shake free for inside looks, draw fouls, and can some silky smooth midrange jumpers. On cue, as Stoudemire was noticeably hot, gathering 22 points for a new season-high, Woodson subbed him out.
The Knicks also began the quarter without Felton, who was taken back into the locker room to examine a bruised heel. He would return, however.
With their lead still in the double-digits, the Knicks got noticeably lax. Their offense turned into a launching of isolated-Anthony jumpers, and off-target three-pointers from the Knicks’ backcourt. Meanwhile, the Sixers got suddenly hot, led by Jrue Holiday who connected on three three-pointers – the Sixers’ first of the game. With under two minutes, the Sixers kept chipping the Knicks’ lead down, until it was a somewhat threatening five-point game with 40 seconds left. Philadelphia, however, squandered the rest of their possessions, and the Knicks sank their free throws to secure the win.
- Stoudemire has yet to log 30 minutes or more in a game this season, and it performances like this, it seems Woodson’s insistence on limiting his minutes is hurting the team. Stoudemire, as mention, notched a new season-high with 22 points on 9-10 shooting, with 5 rebounds, and 2 steals to go along with it.
- The Felton-Kidd backcourt looked OK on the court, despite their poor shooting, as they combined for 17 points (7-22 shooting, though), 9 rebounds (all from Kidd), and 6 assists. However, they were a combined -18 when they were on the floor, surprisingly.
- Carmelo Anthony posted 29 points on just 6-18 shooting, but he went 16-18 from the FT line tonight, which really gave the Knicks’ offense a boost. The Knicks shot 15 more FTs than the Sixers and were called for four less fouls. Thanks, refs!
- ‘Melo was also a -14 for the game.
- Steve Novak was pretty quiet in this one (1-2 FG), but grabbed six rebounds!
That’s about it for this one. The Knicks’ next game is Wednesday against the Golden State Warriors. With this win, and the Nets’ loss, the Knicks are still behind the Pacers for third place, but have a two-game lead for the division.