Before Tuesday night’s 116-110 loss to the Magic, many of us were looking forward to Wednesday’s date with Chris Paul and the Hornets as a meaty matchup between Knick Point Guards present and – some would hope – future. But with Chauncey Billups out of action with a bruised left quad, all eyes instead were on Toney Douglas. And what spicy buffalo eyes they were.
TD was hotter than the fire he’d been thrown into, hitting his first 4 shots – including a pair of 3s – generally making good decisions, and keeping CP3 largely in check in helping guide the NYK to a 107-88 win.
Douglas made the most of his second start of the season, tallying 24 points (including 4 from distance) on a truly filthy 94% eFG%, to go along with 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Meanwhile, CP3’s recent shooting woes – which included a 3-10 outing against the lowly Raptors the night before – continued in the Garden, as Paul finished with just 4 points on 2-7 shooting (although he did tally 10 assists).
For what seemed like the first time all year, the Knicks played another team on a back-to-back that looked more gassed than they were. With TD setting the tone, the Knicks netted a combined eFG% of 61% (including a refreshing 13/20 from downtown), as all five starters dished at least 4 assists. The Knicks took advantage of the Hornets’ palpable fatigue, attacking their front line inside early and restraining themselves to just 7 three point attempts in the first half, all the while moving the ball around with a crispness seldom seen in recent games.
And when New Orleans started collapsing in the second half, Shawne Williams made them pay, connecting on all four of his 3PT attempts in the final two frames. Extra E ended the night with a downright centennial 100% eFG% (6/8 with 4 threes). Perspective: he had been 4 for his last 23 from beyond the arc.
If tonight’s game was a bracing shot in the arm for Douglas and Extra E, it was at least a gentle waking nudge for Carmelo Anthony. In his second home game in the Garden, Melo had a slightly-better-than-typical-so-far outing, finishing with 22 on 18 shots with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, a Carmelo-y 53% TS%, and a healthy +16. Meanwhile the other arm of the law, Amar’e Stoudemire, finished with a sporadically dominating 24 on 19 shots for a wholesome and Amar’e-e 58% TS%.
Contributing to their outwardly pedestrian efficiency, both Stat and Melo struggled somewhat from the charity stripe, going a combined 10 for 16. Still, neither of the two forced the issue, and Melo in particular largely refrained from his beloved outside jumpers until late, choosing instead to attack the basket early.
Meanwhile, the recently slump-plagued Fields still managed to find ways to contribute, scoring 10 points with 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and one sigh-inducing second half triple that helped spark a Knicks run. Anthony Carter logged 18 feisty, heavy minutes spelling TD, nabbing 7 rebounds and displaying his pesky brand of D. (Carter also scored 2 points, which means I lost my bet that Chris Paul’s knee brace would tally more blocks than Carter did points.)
Without their recently conscripted general, the Bocker’s proved they could handle a half-course slugfest against a solid – though clearly tired – defensive team. And while the Knicks actually had more turnovers (16 to the Hornets’ 14), New Orleans never found themselves in a fluid enough rhythm – or shooting well enough (just a 49% eFG%, including 3 of 14 from deep) – to capitalize.
But even better than how the unexpected starting 5 played, was the 5 on the court at closing time. Yes folks, Air Mason, She-Will, Jeffrightened (so stunning was his entry, apparently, that ESPN didn’t even have him in the box score until the 4th quarter), TDDWTDD and… NewlyAcquiredFromCharlotteSixEightSwingmanDerrickBrown… all got to bring us to the final horn. Mason in particular was heavily deluged in chant from an otherwise subdued crowd (The FreeMasons? You can thank Robert for that one). The vibes worked, as Roger hit two long range jumpers to net perhaps his most rewarding 5 points in years.
And so it was that a night which many worried would turn into a Garden audition for Chris Paul morphed, instead, into a confidence-building 48 minutes for a number of Knicks. But with Billups questionable for Friday’s revenge-fest with Cleveland, Douglas in particular should be looking to turn tonight’s poised play into actual momentum for the home stretch. And maybe – if we’re really lucky – the future.