IN CASE OF CHAUNCEY BILLUPS INJURY, INSERT TONEY DOUGLAS. Like a faulty fire extinguisher, this probably won’t work on a consistent basis, but tonight it was all powerful. Douglas started the game for Billups, who hurt his thigh last night in Orlando, and played like he never wants to give up the starter’s spot. In 32 minutes the former Seminole finished with 24 points on 10-13 shooting (4-6 from deep), five assists, and four rebounds. From the opening tip he was aggressive, blowing by Chris Paul (who, for small stretches, played like he wished he were on a different team) several times and finishing at the basket with ease. After Douglas and Stoudemire, who had 24 points of his own, were through with them, the Hornets looked about as demoralized as a professional basketball team can be. By midway through the third quarter they weren’t boxing out on free throws or closing out on wide open Knick shooters, and on the offensive end their strategy was “watch Jarrett Jack take a jump shot.” (Jack finished with a team high 21 points.)
Paul finished the game with a season low four points on 2-7 shooting. He managed his usual 10 assists, but really failed to insert himself into the game’s narrative at any point. New Orleans’ other weapons were also out of ammo: David West was 6-16 and Trevor Ariza only attempted four shots.
The whole night was a real feel good affair; the Knicks held a consistent 20 point lead throughout the second half. At one point the crowd at MSG started a Jared Jeffries (more on him later) chant, and then followed it up with a call for Roger Mason. Mason, who’s tallied four total points on 1-16 shooting this season, entered with four minutes left and the game all but decided, and proceeded to sink the two shots he took, one of them from downtown. Every Knick on the roster saw the floor, including the recently acquired Derrick Brown and the recently decomposed Shelden Williams.
Before the game Mike D’Antoni told reporters he thought that since Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups came aboard, the remaining role players were caught standing around too much on offense, watching those two great additions do their thing, “like it was an All-Star game.” The Knicks did a great job of moving the ball around tonight, and not just in transition. In particular, I’d like to point out my man Landry Fields. He instinctively sniffs out open floor space like a slot receiver weaseling his way through the zone defense on a football field. As great as he is without the ball on offense, he’s just as good with it, taking (and mostly making) uncontested three-pointers, grabbing the ball in transition and advancing it via the un-fancy but effective chest pass without hesitation. In terms of seeing a decrease in shots, no New York starter was affected more by the Carmelo trade, yet Landry still manages to put his thumbprint on almost every basketball game he plays in.
Jared Jeffries got into the game and wasted no time nestling himself into the role of pestering offensive rebounder and defensive glue guy. Best case scenario for the Knicks? He becomes a poor man’s Joakim Noah. Even with a 23 point lead late in the contest, Jeffries was still hustling for loose offensive rebounds. Then again, you, the reader, could’ve grabbed an offensive board or two at that point.
Shawne Williams is a very good three-point shooter. Probably the best on a team loaded with them. His defense is prone to create serious match-up issues, but when he’s hot Williams can NOT be left open. He went 4-6 from deep tonight and scored 16 points; New Orleans didn’t get the scouting report.
Guarding Carmelo Anthony is like trying to solve a sticky Rubik’s cube. He might not score the most points in the league, but he can attack in the greatest variation of ways. When you think of Anthony putting the ball in the hoop, you picture him out on the wing, steady, in the triple threat position, facing his defender with 47 different options on which he’s choosing his plan of action. Tonight he showed serious effectiveness in transition, making the right decision in almost every given opportunity and making the result a positive one for New York.
So what did we learn tonight? Well, for starters, we now know that the Knicks are capable of moving the ball in the half court, which is very important if they want to see success in the playoffs. Another is that heading into his match-up with Chris Paul, Toney Douglas was mad. Mad at Mike D’Antoni for giving Anthony Carter more minutes than him two games ago. Mad at himself for playing so poorly against Orlando. Mad at the crowd for giving Chris Paul a warmer ovation than their own starting point guard. But after watching the brilliant performance he staged tonight, right now you’ve got to think Toney Douglas isn’t so mad anymore. After draining what would be his last three of the night late in the fourth quarter, he landed on a Hornet defender’s foot and stumbled back into the scorer’s table. Douglas then shot the closest referee a look that asked, “Where’s the call? Nobody told you it’s my night?”