Rockets 109, Knicks 96
|Ronnie Brewer, SF 20 MIN | 1-3 FG | 0-2 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS | +5
An encouraging start highlighted by a pair of nice dribble-drives (one lay-up, one fruitless trip to the stripe) and able-bodied D quickly deteriorated into a mess of turnovers, bad switches, and that goddam corner three, which is beginning to display all the grace of a busted doorstop and no longer seems interested in falling. He was a little more active in the second half – particularly on defense – and somehow ended up with a team-high +5 on the night. Every one of which Shump let him borrow, I’m sure.
|Chris Copeland, SF 28 MIN | 11-19 FG | 4-4 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 29 PTS | -6
The other night the boys from New York Knicks Podcast and I were discussing, among other things, what we thought about starting Copeland in Melo’s lingering stead. Basically, I posited that Copeland mimicks Melo on a bad night – someone who will probably settle for far too many outside jumpers, may or may not connect on them, rebounds marginally well, and get smoked on defense with frightening regularity. If Cope’s hitting his shots, it’s found money, and a sound gamble to boot. If he’s not, he’s basically Melo after ten tequila shots and a fistful of Quaaludes.
So it was interesting to see how Cope would couple his first start (a solidl but largely forgettable performance Saturday against the Cavs) on a night when more firepower would doubtless be needed. The burn was much limited in the first half, owing most chiefly to some late rotations and an air that screamed “I have no idea where I am right now please call my parents over the intercom.”….
….Is this the part where we talk about Copesanity? OK, so Copesanity happened, albeit in garbage time with the team mostly down north of 20 and the Rockets doing everything but pulling up a cab and driving the Knicks to the basket for them. Still, the homeless man’s poor boyfriend’s dead dog’s flea’s Melo analog held somewhat true – Cope took what the D was giving, be it clean looks from deep or boulevards on which to cruise, and 29 points (on 19 shots) later, our onetime Belgian League Almond Biscuit Award Winner (Google that shit, I dare you) looks like he might well be a serviceable spot minute guy the rest of the way.
|Tyson Chandler, C 35 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-4 FT | 18 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | -14
Tyson looked about three Nyquil bottles deep in the early going, particularly on defense, where the Houston guards met with very little resistance beyond the feeble front line. A couple of persistent board hits woke him up a bit, though the end tally on that front (18 bounds) suggests a far more dominant performance than was actually displayed.
I debated over whether to boost or burden Chandler’s grade for that elbow-first flagrant on Lin – with whom Chandler remains close, apparently (they still like to get together and elbow each other in the throat and play Starcraft) – towards the end of the first half. As Beckley Mason pointed out immediately thereafter, Chandler has a reputation for doing this sort of thing when he knows he’s been beaten and his frustration-laden bloodlust gets the better of him. Thankfully Jeremy was okay and shook it off with a toothy grin. He also made his free throws, which, fuck that guy.
|Jason Kidd, PG 29 MIN | 2-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 5 PTS | -20
A pair of first quarter triples and a couple nice backdoor finishes managed to salve over an otherwise gangrened gash in the firs half, but asking Kidd to man up on Harden – next to LeBron, maybe the greatest pure penetrator in the game today – is akin to making your grandpa do a two minute keg stand and then telling him to drop you off at the airport. This is where having a reliable third guard like Shump can help the Knicks hide Kidd on whatever walking fleshsack the opposition has running around at any given time. All told, we’re bound to see a turd egg like this every now and again, and you can certainly make the case that it’s better to get it out of the way on a night when the Karma looked bent on blood and bone anyway.
|Raymond Felton, PG 31 MIN | 7-18 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 14 PTS | -11
On a night when the Knicks desperately needed their floor general to throw it into third gear and manage a heady brand of hero-free ball, hangups and hallucinated marquee beefs, Raymond Felton figured out a way to rev the fucker all the way to ninth, sending smoke and sparks and liquid rubber and panic fumes spewing forth like a sarin cloud and choking out the offense at every conceivable turn.
In sane person’s speak, tonight Felton was much more liability than asset – on both ends of the floor. He managed to hit a handful of mid-range jumpers, yes, but only because the Rocket guards were daring him to do so, taking away any and all lob options as long as they could and banking on what has to be, at this point, the most obvious scouting report in the entire NBA: If you’re matched up on Felton, chances are he has a grudge against you. Doesn’t really matter if it’s real or not, just GO AFTER HIM. Sadly, with D-Will heading to town for a rubber match, Ray won’t have much time for lamentations. Time to brush it off and move on, Ray. And by it, I mean, of course, that that medium sized alpine mountain range on your shoulder.
|Kurt Thomas, PF 5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-2 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS | -9
Just completely useless tonight – missed free throws, bad box-outs, flat-footed flails for rebounds like he got electrocuted by his Life Alert. Where the $%#& is Sheed?
|Steve Novak, SF 33 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 3 PTS | -9
Perhaps the return of his now and former Lin-friend found Novak in something of a wistful state, but that right wrist was a few degrees off most of the night – despite many of the looks being fairly clean. Steve was surprisingly serviceable on defense, however, even forcing James Harden to give up the ball a few times when in any other universe Harden would’ve turned Novak’s legs pencil shavings.
|Pablo Prigioni, PG 17 MIN | 5-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 14 PTS | 0
Prigs once again dutifully adhered to the caution tape surrounding the three point line (“Eye ehhhh, don’t like go eenside when Madison say no go eenside.”), hardly attempting to run any kind of rim-ward action and settling instead for a handful of straight-away threes in the first half, the last of which he mercifully connected on. He’d pad the stat line late (my reeling Marvin Barnestormers, losers of two straight head-to-heads, say thanks), but there was really nothing to take away from this one in the way of forward looking prospects for Priggy Smalls.
|James White, SG 23 MIN | 2-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -2
Let it be noted that James White is a capable NBA defender. Let it also be noted that baby James White probably dribbled right from his mouth onto his feet.
|J.R. Smith, SG 20 MIN | 7-13 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 17 PTS | +1
The last time a large group of people looked to J.R. Smith to bring some order to the joint, Dominoes delivered to the club. So it went on a night when Raymond Felton once again mistook an opposing point guard for some evil long lost brother (Jay Felton?) that never existed, J.R.’s incendiary first quarter (12 points in five scant minutes, which naturally ended when J.R. got spun by Harden and whistled for his second foul moments later and immediately had the leash yanked by Woodson) kept the ‘Bockers in it early. He would tally 16 in the first half, but it seemed like every one of his makes was coupled with either a horrendous off-balance brick or matador foul at the other end. As Jared Dubin aptly pointed out, the Knicks basically lost this game after J.R. collected that second foul – losing the only guy in any kind of coherent offensive rhythm. Thereafter the Rockets took due advantage of the subsequent Prigioni-Kidd-Felton trifecta by continuing to attack and letting Harden and Lin dictate the terms of engagement.
|Rasheed Wallace, PF DNP SORE LEFT FOOT MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | PTS |
Try the “Dull Green.” Good for pain relief.
|Carmelo Anthony, SF DNP SPRAINED LEFT ANKLE MIN | FG | FT | REB | AST | PTS |
I’ll seriously take you with one leg and no eyes over pretty much any of these other guys.
|Jeremy Lin, PG 39 MIN | 9-15 FG | 3-4 FT | 4 REB | 8 AST | 22 PTS | +18
|Toney Douglas, PG 18 MIN | 3-9 FG | 1-1 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 7 PTS | +7
“… Oh hey! Hey there… Toney…. Wow… So uh, you’ve been hittin’ some shots lately, huh? That’s, that’s, that’s cool, man. Really, it’s great to see you’re… figuring it out, you know?… Yeah… Ol’ Toney FIGURIN’ IT ALL OUT, right?… Isn’t that what we used to call you? AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA YEAH!…. So… How’s, uh… OH MAN LOOK AT THE TIME! Wow, I gotta get going…. It was great seeing you, man… Really, you look… you look great.” * walks away, waits five seconds * “Fucking kidding me?”
Five Things We Saw
- 1) I was unfortunately stuck with the NBA TV feed, and thus wasn’t able to see – or hear – the Garden’s reaction to Lin peeling off the red snap pants. Pretty much everyone confirmed that the ovation was warm, that the cheers outweighed by a pretty huge margin the cackles of fools. And rightly so. Whatever your beliefs, what transpired during that grip of weeks a year ago did more than any subsequent signing or improbably early season start to prevent a Knick-to-Net Diaspora. That said, the avalanche of boos that followed was equally appropriate, and equally awesome. After all, class without loyalty is just fashion.
Was that profound?
- I have no idea what Woodson stressed in the locker-room ahead of tonight’s tilt, but given what happened down in Houston just a fortnight or so ago, I have a hard time believing “FOR CHRIST’S SAKE GET BACK IN TRANSITION” and “SERIOUSLY IF THEY HAVE MORE THAN 40 POINTS IN THE PAINT I’M MAKING YOU RUN UNTIL YOU PUKE OUT YOUR FEET” weren’t burned into the whiteboard with a fucking blowtorch. Apparently not: The Rockets blitzed their way to 34 paint points in the first half alone (to the Knicks’ meager 16), finishing with 52 on the night — a butt load of them coming in transition off of turnovers, makes, and misses in near equal measure. Whether on a long-miss or make, Houston was always sending at least three guys dashing the other way for the outlet pass, often with effective results. You can do things like that when your legs are fresh and young you’re not worried about yelling at the waterboy to fetch the Metamucil.
- On first glance, it would seem like the three point shooting (Houston was 9-29, the Knicks 10-31) was close to a wash. But how and when those three pointers fall can sometimes be just as important, and it seemed like every one of Houston’s hits fell like a knife. The way the Knicks are constructed and function, they can’t simply match their foes from the perimeter and expect to secure victory; they have to dominate from deep, and do so by a pretty huge margin, to feel comfortable. And we needed it all the more on a night when our leading scorer laid leg-up on his living room couch.
- As Jules Caesar once said, “it’s a game of runs, god damnit. Shit.” Tonight, two blitzkriegs in particular – a 10-0 run to start the second quarter, and the crippling 13-0 third quarter fatality that called off all the dogs – proved poison for the guys in white, both punctuated by timely threes, far-too-easy buckets, and a heroine chic offense waifish and wasted.
- Barring some kind of league-wide bubonic plague outbreak resulting in a Knicks-Rockets Finals by default, this is the last we’ll be seeing of Lin, Harden and company for the next little bit. It’ll be interesting to see the what white spin smoke the ‘Bocker Vatican belches out tomorrow, on a day when Amar’e Stoudemire might well suit up for some practice burn and the gameplanning turns to the white and black of Brooklyn. Judging by his eye fur (like the moon, there’s a face there – you just have to squint a little bit), Woody wasn’t so much pissed off by tonight’ performance as he was begrudgingly resigned – whimsically so, even. A home loss was bound to happen sooner or later. We all knew that. This isn’t the ’97 Bulls, and it sure as shit ain’t the the ’86 Celtics, and no amount of carefully worded platitude-ry (If teams want a road win, they best go somewhere else, etc.) was going to prove otherwise. In the absence of Melo’s white hot touch, the Knicks remain severely limited in their ability to dial up anything beyond Raymond Felton poking and prodding his way about the perimeter, firing away at the first quasi-clean look, and only occasionally working some P&R juju with Chandler. But that’s precisely why, for as many fault lines as the Rockets managed to expose in this quick season miniseries, only half of them are really worth worrying about: the flat-footed rotations, poor transition communication, and general defensive malaise. Questions of chemistry and integration aside, this team will have more than enough firepower to keep the offense humming well into spring. What can’t continue to happen is the kind of comical defensive breakdowns that have become a concerning norm of late. If nothing else, Woodson ought to take as speech feed from this shit blizzard of a performance one singularly hardscrabble mantra: Defense wins championships. It might be cliche and it might be a lie, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth believing in.
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.