At last, the wait is over.
Some five months after the Knicks were eliminated from the 2013 NBA Playoffs by the Indiana Pacers, New York’s basketball team finally returned to action last night, outlasting the Boston Celtics in their preseason opener, 103-102.
It was an off-season of change for the ‘Bockers, both on the roster and in the front office, so after weeks of training camp, scrimmages, and random Metta World Peace antics, fans have been more than eager to see what the newly constituted Knicks roster was capable of. And for brief stretches, anyway, New York didn’t disappoint. Of course, no on-court Knicks action would be complete without some off-court drama. The game was somewhat overshadowed by rampant starting lineup chatter involving reigning Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert, the latter seemingly making it a point to show to Mike Woodson that he is capable of starting at shooting guard for the Knicks.
ICYMI, coach Woodson had said after the team’s final practice on Tuesday that he wasn’t sure who Shumpert was as a player, telling New York Daily News‘ Mitch Abramson, “He’s still a young player, but you like to think he’s grown some, mentally as well as physically, but [he] still has a ways to go.” Ironically, Shumpert was perfect at the Dunkin Donuts Center. No, really, he was, scoring 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting, with 3 three-pointers, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. Oh, he also had zero turnovers in 25 minutes, while displaying his typical agility and leadership on defense. It should be noted, too, that Shumpert was extremely supportive of his teammates, particularly the fourth quarter unit who allowed Boston to get back into the game. In fact, when Tim Hardaway Jr. knocked down the game winning shot, Shumpert could be seen jumping off the bench and celebrating exuberantly.
Most importantly, however, Shumpert appeared extremely confident on the offensive end of the floor, a quality that has been inconsistent at times during his brief NBA career. It’s hard to imagine that Woodson will be able to keep him out of the starting lineup if he continues to perform like this throughout the rest of the preseason, but when asked about starting, Shumpert told ESPN’s Ian Begley, “I don’t really care who I play with. As long as we win, I’m happy.”
Words are words, but there is no use in denying that Shumpert knows what he wants. If he keeps playing like he did last night, who’s to say he won’t get it, too.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- The regulars looked brilliant tonight. Carmelo Anthony was en fuego to start the game, hitting his first three shots of the evening. Tyson Chandler also joined the perfection party, knocking down 3-of-3 attempts, including a 15-foot jumper by the baseline. (Much has been made of Tyson working on his jumper, so perhaps this is a sign of what’s to come. the always on-point Mike Breen said it best, mentioning that Chandler doesn’t need to rely on mid-range shooting, but if he can bury one or two consistent jumpers per game, it’ll open up the paint for his teammates.) Raymond Felton looked rather swell, too, making a handful floaters, dishing some pretty dimes and generally directing traffic.
- Enter Pablo Prigioni. Prigs didn’t bring it statistically, but his play was crucial in the early stages of the game when the Knicks were trying to establish their defensive identity. In a span of 14 seconds, he forced two Celtic turnovers, one during an inbounds play and the next when Prigs forced Avery Bradley to step out of bounds and lose control of the ball. Thanks Pablo! We need more of that this season. Please don’t hurt yourself.
- In what hopefully doesn’t become a dreadful metaphor for his Knicks-tenure, Andrea Bargnani was called for a charge on his first offensive possession of the season, but Bargs surprisingly looked pretty good thereafter. When he was given the ball on the wings, Bargnani went to work and used a deadly head fake that is sure to draw a ton of fouls going forward. By the end of his night, Bargnani racked up 12 points of some very nice off-the-dribble shots, 3 rebounds, and an assist.
- The other new Knicks, Beno Udrih and Tim Hardaway Jr. also contributed in solid debuts. Udrih didn’t do much scoring, but he delivered clean, crisp passes throughout the affair, and kept his hands active on defense. As New York’s newly anointed “rook,” Hardaway Jr. had an extremely memorable evening, hititng the eventual game-winner and dropping 16 points in all on 6-of-10 shooting, including 3 three-pointers. He looked comfortable on the court and it didn’t appear that his Summer League wrist injury affected him at all. If Hardaway can give the Knicks an offensive boost in limited minutes this season (especially from beyond the arc), what is already a deep roster will be that much more deadly for opposing defenses.
- If you didn’t catch Metta World Peace‘s pregame interview with Tina Cervasio, you missed a real treat. Any time a professional athlete admits that he has no idea what city or arena he is playing in, you know you’re in for a special night. On the court, Artest played 22 hard-nosed, hustle-filled minutes. He also shot the ball well, highlighted by a pretty spin-around-a-few-times fade-away jumper in the second half.
- Cole Aldrich did his thing, grabbing rebounds and hustling for loose balls as he fights to make the team. (He also missed a dunk, which provided lolz for days, though). A World Peace/Aldrich tandem is intriguing from a defensive perspective, but the possibility of a Cole World tandem might make J. Cole mad. But, I digress.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- It’s a new season, but that doesn’t mean that the Knicks avoided getting out-rebounded by their opponent. Sigh. The Celtics, despite not having tall players, exposed the Knicks’ rebounding-allergy, a problem that simply must be addressed if New York’s championship aspirations are to be legitimized. God only knows what will happen if they face a significantly large front-court. (The Detroit Pistons come to mind.)
- There was more than a few lapses on defense due to miscommunication on pick-and-rolls. Whether due to laziness or simplybecause it was the first game of the preseason, this is something that “defensive mastermind” Woodson is going to have to fix. And quickly.
- Chris Smith.
- Clyde’s fashion was in mid-season form. Not just anyone can sport a peach-colored suit over a shiny charcoal shirt and orange polka-dotted tie.
- A fashion maven, sure, but Clyde predictably had some trouble pronouncing Udrih and Bargnani’s names. It should be a can’t-miss listen whenever those guys are on the court. Good luck with that, Clyde! Breen had some issues, too, at one point accidentally saying Bargioni instead of Bargnani. #BargnaniPrigioniFusion, FTW!
- Woodson changed up his facial hair! Mr. Potato Head kept the trademark goatee, but he also added some kind of five o’clock shadow beard. Whatever, it looked amazing.
- New York travels to Toronto – watch out, Novak and Drake! – this Friday at 7:00 p.m before facing the Celtics again on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
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