Knicks 114, Magic 106
|Carmelo Anthony, SF 45 MIN | 14-29 FG | 8-9 FT | 6 REB | 6 AST | 40 PTS | +7
The early going found Melo looking like he’d walked the perimeter of Epcot Center (is this still a thing?) a couple dozen times — settling for mid-range jumpers and refusing to skewer Orlando’s sacrificial small forwards on dribble-drives. But his shot fell at a consistent enough clip, his extra-pass instincts (four dimes in the first half) were on point, and a late flurry of tin-takes helped keep the Knicks from drowning in their cow pie of an opening period.
Ol’ #7 stayed silent for much of the third, save for a nice pull-up three to briefly give the Knicks the lead anew. After the Magic regained an eight point lead, Melo took over, smoking Josh McRoberts like a Philly left sitting out for weeks, hitting a ridiculous shot clock-beating three to tie the game, and strapping the rest of the Bocker’s to back throughout a video game of a fourth quarter fury. Until – and that begs when over if – Amar’e returns to form, and J.R.’s surprising production aside, this is still something of a one-man scoring show. But what a show it is, why with wizardly passing and consistently locked-in perimeter defense now a steady part of the program.
|Ronnie Brewer, SF 17 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 2 PTS | -15
Hearing Ronnie wax pregame poetic on the Knicks’ seemingly re-remembered defensive identity with phrases like “being your brother’s keeper,” you can’t help but like the guy. On the court, it’s an entirely different story altogether. Because when your coach yells at you so loud – as happened to Ronnie at the tail end of Orlando’s early 14-2 blitz – that the sound travels through the television, up the stairs, into your bedroom, and wakes your dog up, you’re two fuck-ups away from being demoted to team flight attendant. I don’t know if it’s a matter of “running out of gas” or “regressing to the mean” or what, but Brewer’s sporadic uselessness is becoming a problem. Nowhere was this thrown into higher, grosser relief than on a second quarter attempted three from the corner that Moe Harkless sent into the mezzanine nacho stand.
His early guffaws were remedied somewhat by a couple of nice Myiagi-hand swipes early in the third, but Brewer was – rather mercifully, sad to say – benched down the stretch.
|Marcus Camby, C 13 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 2 PTS | -15
Personnel realities being what they are, Camby at the starting four gives the Knicks a far, far better look — on defense, on the boards, in eyeballs — than Kurt Thomas, even if minute management will likely remain a legitimate concern. The first half contributions were negligible, beyond a vintage 16-foot twine-tickling catapult…. But then the Knicks decided to run their offense through Marcus Camby to start the second half (Kubrick was writing a script based on this idea when the Illuminati took him out), a truly remarkable stretch that included no less than four pin-point entry passes from the high post. Not all were duly converted, but that kind of precision and skill from a big man – no matter his NBA odometer – is a nice thing to have on hand, for sure.
|Tyson Chandler, C 36 MIN | 6-6 FG | 2-4 FT | 12 REB | 2 AST | 14 PTS | +14
For all the rightful accolades bestowed aboard our pivot’s shoulders, a flurry of early turnovers proved trusty hands are not exactly a Tyson Chandler hallmark. Couple that with something of an early clowning by Nikola Vucevic – who two games before had broken Scott Skiles’ team record for rebounds in a game – you get not the most auspicious of starts for our stubble-bearded bulwark. Tyson rallied in the second, however, became far more active on the offensive glass, converted a deft one-handed continuation off the rim, and manned the defensive paint with aplomb.
Vulva-check or whatever his name is remained a problem the game through, but Tyson was able to capitalize on enough touches around the rim to make the match a wash.
|Jason Kidd, PG 35 MIN | 5-10 FG | 0-0 FT | 8 REB | 7 AST | 15 PTS | +12
We needed every one of Kidd’s dagger treys, timely dimes, and prescient swipes tonight. Obviously the whole “check Jameer Nelson” thing was a complete disaster, but at least Kidd is physical enough to exact something in the way of energy out of quicker, fleeter-footed opponents, which can pay dividends in a tight game like this.
Other than Melo’s junk-swinging stretch heroics, no one hit bigger shots at better times in this one than J-Kidd. His impact was so obvious and instantaneous, in fact, that after his first fourth quarter three the Central Florida Fox Sports affiliate featured a commercial with Kidd peddling a pond-front senior mobile home community.
|Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 17 MIN | 3-7 FG | 5-5 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 11 PTS | 0
Let it be noted: What STAT did in the way of a tribute to his late brother Hazell – inviting a group of 30 kids down to the Amway Center on his dime, meeting with them before and after the game, and imparting upon them life lessons learned from the man he calls “my mentor” – was beyond classy, and as true a hat-tip to local roots as you’ll ever see.
That said, there’s enough rust about Amare’s game to give a Mastadon lockjaw. The movements are more fluid, and you can definitely see STAT is making a concerted effort to survey the floor and find the open man, but he’s still snowplow slow on rotations, remains timid around the tin, and is getting his shit stuffed at far too high a clip. That said, patience being the relevant virtue, there’s been enough in the way of marginal improvement – and on-the-fly chemistry – to suggest Amar’e is nothing if not on the right track.
|Steve Novak, SF 28 MIN | 2-6 FG | 1-1 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 7 PTS | +26
A pretty vanilla outing from our bread rope-hued slinger, whose sheer ability to space the floor helped garner him a game-high +26.
|Chris Copeland, SF 4 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -3
Chris Copeland Anagaram Fun: ACID CORN HELPS
|Pablo Prigioni, PG 14 MIN | 2-6 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 5 PTS | -6
Not quite the brilliant stop-gap performance we witnessed Thursday night, but a few nice moments from our Pampas point man. Like Kidd, Prigs struggled mightily with the Magic’s aggressive dribble-drives and cuts. On the bright side, it does look like Pablo’s being a bit quicker and more confident with the three-point trigger, and it’s pretty clear he’s anxious to get something in the way of P&R chemistry going with Stat.
|J.R. Smith, SG 31 MIN | 8-18 FG | 2-3 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 18 PTS | +20
A few too many J.R. step-back marked the game’s early moments, and it looked for a while like we were destined for a barrage of Orlando nightlife tweets. But J.R. pulled it together, facilitated a number of beautiful second quarter passing chains, and scored six straight – all on drives to the rim – during the ‘Bockers’ second quarter surge.
For all his timely buckets (and there were many), by far Earl’s greatest contribution was his encouragingly consistent D. A few blunders or botched rotations might’ve flown under the radar, but it sure looked like J.R. was the most consistently engaged on that front, a trend highlighted by a heady inbounds bat-away that resulted in a 24-second violation late in the third quarter. So long as we don’t flip on our boob tubes to find J.R. donning an infected Donald Duck face tattoo come Monday, I’d say tonight only added to the growing found money legend of our resident enigma.
Four Things We Saw
- For those of you who wisely decided to go to dinner or hang out with your friends or kids or eat bricks of piss-soaked cat litter instead of watching the first quarter, congratulations: you get to live an extra week. The Magic blitzed their way to a 14-2 lead three minutes en route to a 36-point (on 62% shooting) opening stanza. After corralling the sophisticated San Antonio dribble-drive attack two days previous, the Knicks looked like glaciers on skateboards in the early going, letting the Magic’s pesky motion offense cleave out space seemingly at will and giving up open looks the court over. All’s well that ends well, obviously, but unless there’s some kind of wink-nod bet that we don’t know about – “Alright, alright, it’s January – let’s spot these *#$!&% 10 or 12 and have some fun!” – these putrid first quarter starts have to be addressed.
- Somewhat germane to the above bullet: After giving up 12 paint points in 48 minutes in Thursday’s rousing win over the Spurs, the Knicks surrendered 44 to the Magic Saturday night. Now, it should be noted that Orlando isn’t lacking in serviceable bigs – Vucevic has been on a tear of late, Nicholson seems destined for a productive career, and even Charlie Day stunt double Josh McRoberts looks like he’s no longer terrible – protecting the paint has become yet another realm of selective effort for the boys in blue.
- Thank Yaweh for the Bocker bench, who out-dueled their white-clad foes to the tune of 43-18 points on the night. Smith, STAT, and Steve (there’s a nickname here, I know there is — FIND IT) were key to this, obviously. It’s hard not to feel good about our second unit firepower going forward, particularly when Shump and his fade (it just got its own driver’s license) get back and Brewer and Camby assume more limited roles.
- We’ve long been lamenting Woodson’s switch first ask questions later defense, but tonight the Magic showed exactly how bad an idea that can be when the team you’re playing is loaded with quick, 6’4”-and-under guards, burly but fleet-footed bigs, and pretty much nothing in between: Way too many mismatches, far too regular rotational breakdowns, and a bonanza of easy buckets. There might well be a method to this madness, and quite frankly I’m way too lazy to go back at the last 12 months of game tape and compare the points per possession on switches versus non-switches. What I do know is that, when this switch thing isn’t working, it’s unbelievably frustrating to watch, and my family stops liking me for the rest of the night.
- But a win’s a win, dagnabbit. I imagine playing your fourth in five on the road is tough, but it must also risk detachment when you start sandwiching home and road games – “We just won a big game in our house and we have our biggest rivals coming into town on Monday and oh by the way we have to fly to Florida for 36 hours so go pack your bags wait J.R. why are you packing four jars of Jif peanut butter?” That sort of thing. These Knicks sure don’t make it easy on themselves a lot of the time, but they’ve proven over and over that no lead is safe, and that’s as valuable a trait as any, to which anyone who’s watched the last two finals will surely attest. After all, when it comes to basketball, bliss without blood pressure is just, well, a video game.
Beyond his work for KnickerBlogger, Jim is a contributor to the New York Times Off the Dribble NBA blog, ESPN.com, and The Classical. He is currently working on a biography of Robert Silverman, titled "Clownin' and Astoundin.'" Follow him on Twitter @JPCavan.