|Carmelo Anthony, SF 39 MIN | 10-24 FG | 11-16 FT | 6 REB | 1 AST | 34 PTS | -10
Two games on the lam, and the requisite rust was there, albeit in an assasin’s sepia. Thankfully, Melo recognized the delicate injury for what it was, avoiding settling for too many jumpers and instead taking it to the tin to the tune of 14 first half free throw attempts. On defense, Anthony for the most part handled the Nugget’s mismatch inducing movement fairly well, coming up with a nifty reach-around swipe on Iggy (it’s almost like these guys practiced together over the summer or something — weird).
The second half was different animal altogether – as in, I was getting very vivid flashbacks to last January’s double overtime loss, in which Melo shot like 45 times and Gallo’s fuck-you efficiency helped propel the Nuggs to a demoralizing Garden win. Once the first few jumpers started narrowly clanging and the aggressive takes were no longer being rewarded with referee tweets, you got the sense that Melo was about to enter one of those basketball junkie spells were if I can just sink the next one, it’ll all turn around. Thankfully, the Knicks were able to regain and mushroom the lead with Anthony stapled to the pine, which made anything he contributed – and he did: a trio of jumpers (including one three) and a couple key ‘bounds and stops at the other end – a small fortune found. Who knows whether Melo will take this as a proper demon exercising, but I for one am glad he got the monkey off his back. And Koufos.
|Ronnie Brewer, SF 27 MIN | 3-6 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 9 PTS | +6
Brewer’s contributions were mostly limited to the defensive end, where some exemplar ball-hawking helped key the Knicks’ early mini runs. He also accounted for two of the more absurd plays of the night: a first half-closing heave from 80 feet that very nearly banked in, and a trapeze tip in off a J.R. hoist at the end of the third. Thankfully, the couple seconds of hot Brewer-on-Brewer action in the first half didn’t commence a universe-melting paradox.
Brewer seemed much more active defensively in the second half – a little quicker on his feet, a little fleeter of hand, and three huge steals to his credit.
|Tyson Chandler, C 37 MIN | 7-8 FG | 1-4 FT | 12 REB | 1 AST | 15 PTS | +12
One would be hard pressed to conjure a better microcosm of Chandler’s unique brand of offensive effectiveness than his first bucket: a point-blank put-back off a slightly askew Felton feed that the recipient caught below the rim and with left hand gently negotiated over the rim as he fell to the floor. You have to see it on replay to appreciate the beauty of the thing, but damnit was it sexy. The remainder of the first found Chandler making his usual workaday living at the rim, with three beautiful rim-rockers – two from his floor general, and one on a follow of a Melo miss – being the principal punctuations.
There’s been quite a bit of handwringing (particularly on our fair board, which, stop calling each other twats, please) about whether Tyson is underutilized or over-utilized, undervalued or overvalued, or maybe he just is what he is (a beautiful basketball creature, and not the punch line of a really bad Goldilocks parable) and maybe it’s OK if he only shoots eight times but makes seven of them and six of them are scream-inducing and the seventh – an absolutely poetic timeout draw-up from Woodson in which Melo received the pass, took one dribble left and handed off to Kidd who immediately flipped it up for a rolling Tyson – makes us cry.
By far Tyson’s most crucial contribution came on the defensive glass, where his presence (to say nothing of his actual numbers: 12 ‘bounds) helped stave Denver’s relentless glass-hounding keep the overall margin at a reasonable number. He did have a few rotational lapses, but Denver’s 60 paint points were by no means on him entirely — many of those came in transition, and many more happened with Chandler well out of the picture, at least as far as I could tell.
Now, the the fun part: Over his last five games, Chandler is averaging 15 points and 14.3 rebounds on 67% shooting from the floor.
|Jason Kidd, PG 34 MIN | 4-7 FG | 6-6 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 17 PTS | +9
You almost wish they’d start tracking pump fake foul bites as an actual statistic – not just because J-Kidd would be the league’s all time leader running away; but because every one is so godddam entertaining. Take tonight, for instance, when Jason got both Corey Brewer (a smart defender not typically victimized by such voodoo) and JaVale McGee (who once planked in a convenience store freezer) to bite from the exact same spot on the court in the span of a couple minutes. Now to be fair, JaVale would’ve fallen for the same move 30 seconds later, and 15 seconds after that, and 5 seconds after that. Still, the hypnotist’s guile with which Kidd pulls this shit off time and time again is truly glorious to behold.
Overall, this game revealed the bulk of Kidd’s Jedi-like repertoire – a pair of huge, run-staving threes early in the third (the second of which was followed seconds later by a kung fu deflection off Gallo’s hambone on the other end), and a bushel of impeccably timed, prescient plays in the game’s waning moments (his inbound steal and quick dish to Brewer for a two-handed flush). For my money J-Kidd was quite clearly the game’s MVP – his lack of statistical bulk moot in light of a yogi’s awareness and appreciation of basketball space and time.
|Raymond Felton, PG 27 MIN | 4-15 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 6 AST | 10 PTS | +2
I half-expected Ray to come out on roller skates, just to help him get up and down the court a little easier after three games of being options one through three on offense. To his credit, Felton held back from too many settling jumpers (nine of his 15 attempts came in the paint), but also got barbecued by fellow Tar Heel Ty Lawson a number of times in transition. Woody decided to sit ray for a pretty big chunk of fourth quarter clock, leading many to wonder Ray had somehow re-opened his paw scab. But with Felton clearly gassed and Deron Williams less than 48 hours away, it was pretty clear Woody was just playing the percentages. Ray would come back in for one last win-securing burst, so obviously he’s just fine.
|Kurt Thomas, PF 9 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -4
KURT THOMAS ANAGRAM FUN: TASK HURT OM
|Steve Novak, SF 20 MIN | 2-5 FG | 1-1 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 7 PTS | +8
A combination of playing 65 minutes the last two games (more than his norm) and matchup nightmares on defense precluded Wood from calling Novakain’s number too often. But aside from Kidd, no one was more instrumental in turning the third quarter tide than Steve, who drilled a pair of triples to virtually erase Denver’s theretofore game-high eight point lead.
|J.R. Smith, SG 34 MIN | 5-19 FG | 3-6 FT | 9 REB | 0 AST | 15 PTS | +12
The team chopper didn’t touch down on the MSG’ heliopad until four in the morning, which is basically code for “we could not find J.R. Smith in downtown Chicago until two.” And the play was about what you’d expect: Shots shorter than Ramones songs, a handful of brain lapses on D, and general shot selection shit-itude. Even ignoring the doubtless huge nine rebounds, this might be one of the strangest +12s I can remember seeing.
|Pablo Prigioni, PG 12 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 5 AST | 3 PTS | -3
A curious give-and-take kind of outing from Prigs, who displayed some admirable offensive decision making (on drives and kicks, especially) while being ground into hamburger by Andre Miller on the defensive end. Still, five assists in 12 stopgap minutes? Even if he misses every shot he takes (he’s been hitting his threes at a quickly improving clip, actually) and literally just sits down on defense, that’ll be more than enough to justify the burn.
Four Things We Saw
- If this game were an ex-girlfriend, it would be the quasi-schizo — you know, the one who has icanhazcheezburgers set as her homepage and thinks 50 Shades of Gray is “a modern literary tour de force.” We knew we were going up against a relatively fresh, speedy squad with a coach smart enough to sense weakness and demand a sixth and seventh gear in an arena where low altitude and friendly rims can often be a benefit, but the end product was less a mad dash than a bipolar battle of wills: The Nuggets would ratchet it up for a few possessions, then we – along with the 66 free throws – would slow it down for a spell. And back and forth it went, in a weird, helter-skelter flash of fouls and drives and chaos and intermittent spells of patience and beautiful plays. It was a strange thing to watch, and almost narcotic-like in its hallucinatory effects.
- Remember when Mike D’Antoni had a chance to hold on to Corey Brewer and kicked his ass to the curb instead? It might’ve made positional / personnel sense at the time, but the hype surrounding Brewer’s mid-career renaissance isn’t without merit. He was (thankfully) off a bit from distance, but his arsenal of sweeping, traffic-defying flips and banks make for a truly interesting player patina — amazing given the man’s pine needle physique.
- The Nuggets shot 56% to the Knicks 43%, scored nine thousands points in transition, and still lost. The reason? Don’t act like you don’t know. Three pointers (The Knicks were 12 of 20, the ‘Gets a mere 5-17) and turnovers (nine for the good guys, 16 for the jazz cigarette legalizers). Both of which have become season-defining trends early on. Also add to that the Knicks’ success in keeping the league-leading Nuggs off the offensive glass (they only had five on the night).
- There’s a reason Woody was visible pumped right after the final horn: As with us, he knew the situational demands posed by tonight’s tilt – our fourth in five nights, our star one accidental swipe from squirting blood all over five rows of fans – meant tallying a first home loss was eminently possible. Probable, even. But there was, once again, a defiant resolve not lately known by fans of the orange and blue. Just when Denver looked like they might ratchet up the tempo and blow the roof off the joint, we responded with a stop, a swish, a measured possession, taking just enough air out of the ball to give us a chance. Even with Nets, Round 2 a mere 48 hours away, they didn’t let themselves look ahead or rest on laurels or laws of averages. They fought, they pressed on, and they won. And so in a season with more plot twists than a game of Clue between five cops on mushrooms, the Knicks end arguably their toughest stretch to date with a 3-1 mark, expanding their division-leading lead to 3.5 games in the process. Happy Holidays, indeed.