The Knicks returned home and got themselves a much-needed blowout victory over a badly struggling team. After a brutal 1-4 Western Conference road trip, in which a number of key players went down with injuries, the Knicks have a small window of easy games to try and regain some ground, and they kicked off the stretch with a double-digit victory over the Orlando Magic. While it wasn’t a completely reassuring outing, given that the Magic are the second worst team in the league and were missing their starting center, Nikola Vucevic, the Knicks should welcome all wins with open arms as they try to get their feet back underneath them in the home stretch of the NBA season.
The Knicks began the game with the same uber-small lineup that they utilized Monday against the Utah Jazz. Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni split backcourt duties while Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, and Kenyon Martin manned the frontcourt. Initially, given the relative inexperience of the lineup, the Knicks looked a little hesitant on offense, but that was quickly shattered by Anthony hitting his first three-pointer of the game, followed by a jumper from Felton, and a fastbreak layup from Shumpert. On defense, Orlando struggled to scrape up points as the Knicks actively trapped ball-handlers on the perimeter and attacked anyone that entered the paint. The five Magic turnovers in the quarter simply gave the Knicks more opportunities to score the ball.
The defensive intensity was nice, and the offensive cohesion was unlike anything the Knicks had demonstrated in the past few weeks. The ball swung with ease around the perimeter, setting up three-pointers for Anthony, Chris Copeland, and J.R. Smith. Inside of the arc, Felton and Martin worked the pick-and-roll successfully, connecting on one pretty alley-oop. Anthony and Camby got in the act, too. Early in the clock, ‘Melo posted up on the right block, kicked the ball out to Camby on the perimeter, and then spun around and caught a beautiful pass in the air from Camby, and threw it down.
At the end of the quarter, the Knicks were en route to a blowout, up 26-15.
However, the Knicks being the Knicks, some kinks reappeared, despite the promising first quarter. The Magic used a 7-0 run to start the quarter, and cut a double-digit lead to four points. Initially, the bench lineup of Jason Kidd, Smith, Steve Novak, Copeland, and Camby struggled to defend against a semi-reckless Orlando bench squad. The Knicks took arrhythmic contested jumpers on offense, and were unable to stop penetration or inside baskets by the Magic.
While said defensive issues plagued the Knicks all quarter, the offense eventually came back around. For the second straight game, J.R. Smith made a point to work off the dribble and get to the basket where he finished a few nice drives and set up teammates with some good, open looks. Later on in the quarter, the game still only within two baskets, the Knicks and Magic shared baskets back and forth. Anthony and Shumpert connected on back-to-back threes, all the while Orlando’s indomitable Beno Udrih carved up the Knicks’ pick-and-roll defense for some floaters in the lane and some set-ups for teammates.
Despite a nice offensive showing, the Knicks only led 51-46 at the half after surrendering 31 second quarter points to Orlando.
Whatever was said to the Knicks at halftime seemed to light the fire back underneath them. Kenyon Martin opened the quarter with a nice post-up move for an and-one layup. Although he missed the free throw, Felton scurried in to collect the offensive rebound, pulled the ball back out and nailed a three-pointer. Prigioni, who actually seemed to spend more time on the ball than Felton, also made his presence felt with a three-pointer, and then ensuing assists in a pick-and-roll with Martin and a cross-court pass to Smith for a three-pointer.
Much of the Knicks’ offense thereafter came from Anthony, Smith, and Copeland, all of whom mixed up their looks on offense going inside and out, and benefiting from the generally good ball movement. Orlando, on the other hand, just didn’t have the talent to keep up. Part of that was the Knicks’ collective defensive efforts. The guards pestered Orlando’s backcourt, and even Anthony and Smith got caught in the energy, each displaying a willingness to play solid, man-to-man defense.
The Knicks outscored the Magic 32-19 in the period and led 83-65 going into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter followed the Knicks’ usual blowout script. Woodson rested guys like Anthony, Felton, and eventually Martin, and ran out a wily group featuring Kidd, Smith, James White, Copeland, and Novak, along with Martin to begin the quarter. Kidd and Smith whiffed on an alley-oop attempt. And as expected, the Knicks let up on the gas a little bit and played slightly nonchalantly, allowing the Magic to actually get within striking distance. At one point, with the Knicks’ lead down to 11, it looked as though Woodson would have to reinsert starters to take control of the game.
He didn’t, though, as the bench responded. Steve Novak hit a three-pointer to push the Knicks’ lead back to 13, then James White came up with a steal and went coast-to-coast for a dunk much better than anything he gave us in the dunk contest. Even with the game’s fate all but sealed, the Knicks didn’t let up. J.R. Smith chased Andrew Nicholson down in the final 50 seconds and pinned his layup attempt on the glass to protect the score.
When the buzzer rang, the Garden stood to its feet and applauded the Knicks for possibly the best overall effort and confident game they’d seen in recent weeks.
- Iman Shumpert didn’t play the second half after he appeared to tweak his knee at the end of the first half. He was available to play, but Woodson chose not to. Tina Cervasio grossly explained the situation that appears to not be too serious.
- The Knicks actually shot less free throws than the Magic (who are one of the worst in the league at getting to the line) and grabbed fewer boards. However, they made up for it with four less turnovers than Orlando, and by shooting a blistering 44% from beyond the arc, connecting on 15 of 34 attempts.
- Two very efficient nights for Anthony and Smith. Anthony finished with 21 points on 7-14 shooting, with 8 rebounds, 1 steal and a block. Smith finished with 22 points on 8-16 FG, grabbed 7 rebounds, and dished 2 assists.
- I don’t get MSG at my current residence, so while I watched League Pass Broadband’s coverage of the game, I missed the postgame which included Patrick Ewing(!). He and John Starks sat courtside together and received a standing ovation.
- Also, Patrick Ewing said the Knicks can’t beat the Heat.
- I’m pretty much flat-out amazed every time Kenyon Martin jumps in the air to dunk a ball or block a shot. Considering the guy is 35-years old, has undergone microfracture surgery, and been in and out of the league for the last two seasons, he’s probably still one of the Knicks’ best leapers. Thus far, I’ve greatly enjoyed Kenyon’s presence.
- The Knicks’ starting five was a combined +77 for the game. The bench was a combined -17, with Smith being the only player with a positive +/-
- A fun exchange between Clyde and Mike Breen about Kurt Thomas’s long journey through the NBA and the number of people he’s played with. Clyde: “Did he play with George Mikan?!” Breen: “Yes, he remembers playing with Dr. James Naismith!”
The Knicks still sit in third place in the East and didn’t put any distance between themselves and the Nets for the Atlantic Division lead. The Knicks play a home-and-home with the Toronto Raptors Friday and Saturday, in what could be two crucial games before another tough stretch.