|Andrea Bargnani, PF 36 MIN | 11-16 FG | 0-0 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 23 PTS | +18
Here’s an observation based on nothing but vague, somewhat-informed guesswork: Andrea Bargnani shoots much better when his team’s ahead. In the two games prior, Bargs was aiming his shot – you knew the second it left his mitt that a miss was nigh. Last night, the mechanics were taut; the confidence buoyed by a team finally finding something in the way of an offensive groove. Also: six boards! Two steals! A complete, mostly well-rounded game peppered by but a few woeful perimeter closeouts and interior rotations. Belgioioso!
|Carmelo Anthony, SF 38 MIN | 13-22 FG | 6-6 FT | 6 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 35 PTS | +19
Minus the slight dearth of rebounds, this was Melo’s Platonic ideal of a game: A mix of bruising bullrushes to the basket, smooth perimeter destruction, and hypnotizing mid-range efficiency. When he pulled up lame on a late-second quarter drive with what looked like a gimpy hammy, our collective breathe was halted. But no locker room was needed. Instead, it seemed to realign some kind of deep inner chi, and the results were equally breathtaking – in the best way possible.
|Pablo Prigioni, PG 31 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 6 AST | 4 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 11 PTS | +17
Pablo Prigioni is the guy you hand your keys to after you and your four friends spend the night doing body shots off Jager promo models: You know no matter how messed up your team us, you know you’re at least getting home with your head attached.
Seldom is a player been more steadily spectacular without stuffing the stat sheet. Prigs took what the defense gave him, managed the offense with a tactician’s moxie, and single-handedly forced about a dozen Hawk turnovers – some off of canny deflections, others on outright thefts. But his greatest assist may have come in garbage time, when Prigs could be seen consoling a dejected J.R. Smith.
|J.R. Smith, SG 24 MIN | 1-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -5
That’s blood, by the way.
|Iman Shumpert, SG 33 MIN | 1-2 FG | 1-2 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 3 PTS | +25
Exhibit 1A of a player whose confidence has cratered beyond recognition: hoisting two shots in 33 minutes (although the first – a confident take for a deft lefty finish – had me positively giddy). Gone is the uber confident gait and poised stroke that blossomed last spring and carried into this season’s first few games; replaced by a sad shell of a Shump, all nerves and negativity. Was victimized often by Atlanta’s particle accelerator ball movement, although he finished with a team high +25. Growing pains, or a sign of something more sinister?
|Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 19 MIN | 4-8 FG | 1-2 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | -8
When I wrote this piece for Bleacher Report a few weeks back, the impetus was simple: Write something that I didn’t necessarily agree with, but would successfully get everyone’s panties in a twist. It worked, and I looked like a fool for the next four or five games.
But no more. That STAT’s knees are grinding on borrowed time has become sad, sentimental gospel. But damn if he’s going to flicker out without one final, prolonged conflagration. The clumsy ineptitude that defined the season’s first 10 games is gone. In its stead, a guy who looked like he spent two summers training with, like, Hakeem Olajuwon or something. Two-dimensional though the moves may be, the precision and power with which STAT has been executing them is perhaps the single biggest factor in New York regaining some semblance of mojo.
|Metta World Peace, SF 9 MIN | 2-5 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -12
More spot duty, more spotty play. It’s impossible to say whether the minimal minutes levied on World Peace in recent weeks is a sign of a rotational relevance to come. Or whether Woodson has designs on saving him for the season’ stretch. Whatever the strategy, let’s hope the resulting play yields a little more dynamism than this.
|Beno Udrih, PG 18 MIN | 3-7 FG | 4-4 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 2 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 10 PTS | -14
Competent follow-up to Friday night’s basketball apocalypse – his -14 be damned. You have to wonder how many more blasé spins Beno’s due before Toure leapfrogs him in the rotation. Then again, given Woodson’s almost religious deference to veteran’s…. no.
Beno doesn’t get a snowman because I ran out of snow.
|Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 27 MIN | 5-10 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 13 PTS | +5
His first shot was a lefty baby hook in the lane that might’ve been a D-League offense had I been coaching. But he quickly found his groove: Hitting some in-rhythm jumpers, getting out in transition – poetry in motion, to be sure – and further entrusting himself to both his teammates and Woodson himself, who has a hell of a minute-distribution conundrum on his hands.
Decided to try the two-point guard thing in the second quarter, watched team go on 7-2 run, never played the lineup again. Still, strapping Earl’s hide to the pine may have been the smartest thing Woody’s done all season. A gamble, perhaps, given JR’s loose cannon pedigree. But one that absolutely needed to be risked.
Three Things We Saw
- On paper, Atlanta’s unique combination of positional construction and basketball philosophy makes for a Knick nightmare: With such a formidable frontcourt duo in Millsap and Horford, the Hawks can, in theory, force New York into terrible switches, attendant mismatches, and resulting open looks off of ball movement pretty much every time down the floor. Fortunately, the Hawks didn’t figure this out until the second half. The results were predictably nauseating: open looks on open looks on open looks, with the Knicks showing little to no interest in adjusting their lineup – or their strategy – to compensate. Anyway it was too little, too late for the Hawks, who in the end simply couldn’t keep up with the Knicks’ torrid shooting.
- Related: The Hawks turned the ball over 27 times. Many of these came by way of unforced errors, but give some credit to the Knick guards – and Prigs in particular – who often managed to recover and rotate quick enough to poke and pry the ball away right into a teammate’s waiting hands. It was by no means a harbinger of good defensive principles, but sometimes opportunism is its own reward.
- BlueCheese99 – Posting & Toasting’s resident peddler of Knicks-related statistical esoterica – pointed out something spectacular: The Hawks are the first team in NBA history to shoot over 70% from two-point range in a game and lose. Despite shooting 61% on the night, a combination of reckless ball control and equally incendiary Knick shooting at the other end made for a game equal parts revoltingly thrilling December basketball game. What a weird win.