Resting on the shoulders of an absolutely torrid Carmelo Anthony and a rejuvenated defense, the Knicks continued their hottest stretch in decades, winning their tenth in a row by using a dominant fourth quarter to blow up a close game. While neither New York nor Atlanta played their best basketball through the first three quarters, the teams went opposite directions in the final 12 minutes. The Knicks strung together several solid possessions on both ends of the ball, locking down Atlanta’s offense, and exploiting a defense keyed in on stopping Carmelo Anthony. Raymond Felton took advantage of this neglectful defense and repeatedly burned the Hawks in the pick-and-roll, getting to the basket for easy layups and organizing a Knicks offense that nearly doubled up the Hawks in the final quarter.
The Knicks opened the game in a little bit of a daze as they missed seven of their first eight shots, while Atlanta canned open threes, layups, and contested, improbable deep jumpers. Carmelo Anthony knocked down his first shot attempt, but struggled shortly thereafter, misfiring on some turn-around jumpers and failing to finish around the rim. J.R. Smith checked in early to give the Knicks’ offense a boost, but he, too, missed on several close attempts after working his way towards the paint off the dribble.
The Hawks, meanwhile, jumped out to a surprising 10-2 lead, before the fortunes switched. For Atlanta, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague, and Al Horford began to eat up a majority of the Hawks’ possessions, bricking routine jumpers close and far, and bricking bunnies at the rim. For the Knicks, after an initial slow start, both Anthony’s work on offense began to pay dividends as he found success driving to the cup for layups and fouls, and eventually began snapping the net on some pull-up jumpers and catch-and-shoot three-pointers.
After one, the Knicks led 23-18.
The second quarter didn’t find either team executing their best, either. Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith kicked things off for both teams with five consecutive points, respectively, both hitting on three-pointers and jumpers off the dribble. Shortly after, however, points became hard to come by. Kyle Korver oddly missed on his most wide open looks from beyond the arc while the rest of the Hawks’ thin bench failed to generate much offense at all. J.R. Smith continued to do the lion’s share of the work, but the Knicks had almost nothing to show for it.
As both starting units came back into the game with a little more than half the quarter remaining, the heat turned up again. Anthony promptly returned to disregarding whoever put their hands in his face, and was able to score on a variety of pull-up jumpers and aggressive takes to the basket. Korver made up for his misses from deep by exploiting a shaky perimeter defense and hitting jumpers off the bounce or just taking it directly to the cup.
While the Hawks’ offense was hardly scorching, the Knicks once again exhibited bad tendencies on switches and doubles, and just plain slow-footed defense on the perimeter that allowed the Hawks to get easy baskets when they actually executed. Also, once again, Knicks not named Carmelo Anthony failed to hit open looks they received from the defensive attention being paid to ‘Melo who remained blistering.
The Knicks, however, were still able to build their lead in the quarter – a testament to the Hawks’ general listlessness – and went into halftime leading 47-40.
The third quarter found Carmelo Anthony at his tip-toppest offensive form while the Knicks’ defense took a collective nosedive. Kyle Korver continued to be the Hawks’ only consistent form of offense, while everything on that end of the floor went through ‘Melo for New York.
Anthony kicked things off with an offensive rebound and layup after a missed three from Prigioni. He then operated in the pick-and-roll a bit and found Prigioni with a kick-out pass for an open three on the elbow. Later, Anthony welcomed Josh Smith and the Hawks’ sturdiest defense by simply netting difficult turn-around jumpers and splashing one- and two-dribble pull-up jumpers over out-stretched hands. Even when Smith managed to deflect the ball out of Anthony’s hands, he was able to regain possession along the baseline before it went out of bounds, and launch a 20-footer that didn’t even touch rim. 15 of the Knicks’ 21 third-quarter points came through Anthony, either by shooting or by passing.
The same lackluster defense remained for the Knicks, however, and Atlanta was actually able to work their way back to take the lead at certain points. Korver managed nine points, all on threes, in the quarter, and gave the Knicks, particularly Iman Shumpert fits, as he benefited from the space given to him off the Knicks’ needless switching and doubling. In one stretch, Shumpert left Korver open for a corner three, then proceeded to get blocked by Korver on a pull-up jumper attempt. Shump then rotated and closed out slowly on Deshawn Stevenson who scooped in for a layup and a foul on Kenyon Martin.
Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack also gave the Knicks problems as they scooted into the paint and took advantage of the Knicks’ general lack of size down low (Chandler sat out for most of the quarter, appearing in pain). The two teams traded baskets back and forth, capped off by a stepback jumper from J.R. Smith to beat the buzzer and tie the game up at 68 heading into the fourth quarter.
Once again, heading into a pivotal final quarter, the Knicks pulled themselves together, this time basically running over the Hawks. It began with far more aggressive perimeter defense, and some handsy deflection and steals in the pick-and-roll, as seen the previous night in Miami. Felton (who’d been quiet heading into the fourth) picked Mack’s pocket and went coast to coast for a layup. Smith, sensing his size advantage on Atlanta’s smaller guards, went back to work off the dribble, and spun and twisted his way for some easy, close buckets. Careless passes coupled with a feisty New York defense led to copious amounts of Atlanta turnovers; the cough-ups just kept piling up and giving New York more chances to score.
While ‘Melo sat, Felton took the reins of the offense and punished a lackadaisical Atlanta defense. Three straight times, Felton squiggled his way through the defense off the high pick-and-roll and finished at the rim for mostly uncontested layups. Quickly, the Knicks built their lead up to eight. Then, Anthony checked in.
The Hawks’ defense was already spread thin, but Anthony’s presence only furthered their problems. After checking in and executing a post-up-spin-off-alley-oop with Jason Kidd, the Hawks focused their efforts almost solely on Anthony. The Knicks used this defensive attention to get Smith going. On one gorgeous sequence, Anthony sucked in the defense, threw a cross-court pass to Smith, who blew by the later-arriving closeout, and took it in for a two-handed jam.
The Knicks built up their lead to double-digits and were slowly able to ride the game out, punctuating it with a baseline jumper from Anthony that gave him a 40-point follow-up to his 50-point explosion the night before.
- Simply stunning work from Carmelo Anthony. In his last 81 minutes, he’s netted 90 points on 35-53 shooting from the field, almost all of those coming from outside of the paint. The man is in a rhythm like never seen before while he’s worn a Knicks uniform, and his offense has been good enough to carry the Knicks through some comatose starts. It’ll be interesting to see if ‘Melo can continue to get off to hot starts (he’s scored 81 of his total points in the first three quarters of the last two games), and attract opposing defenses so much that it allows other Knicks to get hot in the fourth quarter. It’s not an ideal attack, but there isn’t a hotter player in the NBA right now.
- To speak to the above point: Smith and Felton finished with a combined 33 points on 15-31 FG. In the fourth quarter they were a combined 9-11 from the field for 19 points.
- The buzzkill in all of this is that Chandler isn’t physically right, and now Kenyon Martin’s knee is “sore” which means he’s moments away from losing a lower limb entirely.
- Those fourth-quarter Hawks turnovers that I mentioned before – seven of them in the final 12 minutes. Some of it was pesky defense from the Knicks, some of it was carelessness from Atlanta.
- Tom Izzo randomly joined the ESPN broadcast in the second quarter and spoke pretty glowingly of about every person mentioned during his air-time. This was very different than what I imagined Tom Izzo to be like in person.
- Fun sequence in the 4th quarter: J.R. Smith fronts Josh Smith in the post, gets a steal, races down court, trips over his own feet, turns it over, DeShawn Stevenson picks up the ball, races down court, gets discombobulated between passing and dribbling, turns it over.
I’m not sure how I could handle a seven-game series between the two teams, but the Knicks, in both meetings, were able to out-execute the Hawks in the fourth quarter, and come up with the win both at home and on the road. If the two teams were to meet in the playoffs, as of right now, it’d bode well for the Knicks. New York will look to continue their streak when they face the Milwaukee Bucks at home on Friday.
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