Tonight the Knicks started in a hole, climbed their way out, then fell back in. Forget Dwight Howard (30 points, 16 rebounds) and Jameer Nelson (26 points, 23 in the second half) as individual entities, the Knicks were defeated by an inability to defend the high pick and roll that those two pulled out of a bag in the fourth quarter. Apart from the 19,200 people in attendance who knew what was coming, it played like an unstoppable secret weapon. With the game teetering back and forth heading into the final quarter, New York had no answer for Nelson—scorer of 11 straight Magic points at one point—who kept taking screens from Howard and knifing his way towards the hoop. The Knicks defensive priority seemed to revolve around preventing Howard from rolling to the basket, opening up the lane on almost every trip down the court for Nelson. Whether for a mid-range jumper or lay-up at the rim.
This sounds bad but after watching the first quarter, things in this one looked like they were headed for much, much worse pastures. We’re talking epic slaughter status. With Shawne Williams starting over Ronny Turiaf for the second game in a row, Dwight Howard had an absolute field day. His first quarter stat line of 17 points on just six shots (!) and seven free-throws was truly as dominant as it sounds. The Knicks threw Williams, Turiaf, and Shelden Williams at him. They doubled down with Landry Fields and Carmelo Anthony. Nothing worked. (When your supposed solution to a basketball related problem is Shelden Williams, it’s time to hit the drawing board.) With a couple backdoor alley-oops and marksmanship from the charity stripe, Orlando’s dominant center played the entire opening 12 minutes like a wrecking ball MVP candidate, but when he came out to rest, the Knicks saw their opening and struck back.
Trailing 32-21 heading into the second quarter, Amar’e Stoudemire went to work on a Howard-less painted area, scoring eight of his 30 total points in rapid fire before Howard could get back into the game. STAT thoroughly abused the likes of Earl Clark and Ryan Anderson with a barrage of quick ball fakes and an explosive first step that at times doesn’t seem worth the effort of defending. By halftime the Knicks mounted an 11 point advantage of their own. Howard began to slow down and Chauncey Billups began to heat up. Big Shot had 16 very quiet points through the first 24 minutes, which led all Knicks. The second quarter saw New York outscore the Magic 37-15, but after watching the way Howard had his way with New York’s frontline in the first set, if fool’s gold had a scent, the Knicks second quarter performance would’ve reeked of it.
As dominant as Dwight Howard was in the first quarter, the third was Carmelo’s time to operate. With a wide array of whirling dervish face to the basket spin moves, Anthony made Magic defenders (Jason Richardson, I’m looking at you) look like they were wearing the new Nike Hyper-Cement sneakers. But Anthony finished with 25 points on 24 shots, and only recorded two assists. As the game began to seep away down the stretch, Anthony began to force his dribble into the teeth of Orlando’s defense. To sum it up, this wasn’t his night. By this point Jameer Nelson had begun his take over, and after the Knicks failed to rotate on a couple Ryan Anderson three-pointers, the game was all but over.
* With four minutes left in the second quarter, Hedo Turkoglu was given his second technical…from the bench. His emotional reaction was embarrassment. His physical reaction made his face turn a light shade of purple. SVG had to take him by the arm and lift him off the chair like a teacher would do to an unruly student. Turkoglu had 0 points.
* Combining to shoot 3-15 from the floor, Bill Walker, Anthony Carter, and Toney Douglas were dreadful. Their shots were either rushed, out of the offensive flow (a very tough thing to do in this system), or simply hideous. Douglas was the first guy off the bench of the three, and in 19 minutes of court time he registered a plus/minus of -16. Explanation should come tomorrow as to why Corey Brewer was let go from a team that might need him in this roll.
* The game featured 56 fouls, five technicals (one on Turiaf and one on Walker), and a league-wide, season high 97 free-throw attempts—the most since February 15, 2007. Not pretty.
* On the positive, Chauncey Billups and Amar’e Stoudemire ran their own share of mid pick and rolls to perfection. On one such play, Billups slipped the ball between his own legs to a streaking Stoudemire who finished with a nifty finger roll at the rim. Definitely the highlight of the night for Knick fans.
* They say if you live by the three, you die by the three. In the middle two quarters, the Knicks were living by the mid-range jumper, but by the fourth quarter it slowly killed them.
* Landry Fields grabbed 11 rebounds, but only had six shot attempts. It seems that since the big trade, he’s really struggled to fit in on the offensive end.
* Chauncey Billups banged his knee trying to fight through an Orlando screen late in the game. Not sure what his status is, but he looked fine.
UPDATE: Chauncey’s thigh is bruised.