No punches were thrown. No trash talking, flying elbows, or blood splatter. But in a game between two teams who see themselves as overlooked threats once the playoffs start, this was a bitter one. The game was a back and forth battle for three quarters. New York had a two point lead at the half and watched the Hawks wrestle it from them throughout the third quarter. Shots were made and missed rhythmically by both teams as it looked like whoever had the ball last would win. Then the fourth quarter happened. New York was very aggressive on defense, forcing 19 turnovers, and offensively they were dynamite, scoring 30 points and closing the game on a 28-16 run. No sequence framed the Knicks late game dominance better than this one: With the ball in his hands at the elbow and time running down on the shot clock, Amar’e Stoudemire (game high 26 points) put his head down and drove towards the basket, into the arms of two waiting Atlanta defenders. Noticing he was stuck, Stoudemire flipped the ball over his head in ridiculously pretty fashion to a wide open Shawne Williams who patiently stood directly in front of the Hawks bench. Williams caught the pass, planted his feet, and watched his third three-pointer of the night (he finished with four) swish through the net just as the backboard’s light went on. The shot put the Knicks up by 12 and all but decided who the victorious mid-level playoff participant would be.
*It was good to see the Knicks get a win despite one of their all-stars having a rough go. After getting poked in the eye elevating on a jumper in the first quarter, Carmelo Anthony didn’t look right. He permanently removed his headband and safely settled on a steady diet of jumpers for the rest of the game. Anthony had an abnormal stat line: 14 points on just 6-18 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. Five of those dimes came in the first quarter alone. Not sure if it was the poke that affected him so much as it was just an off night from the floor, but in the third quarter it looked like the Knicks were a better team with Anthony on the bench.
*Jared Jeffries made his second straight start while Ronny Turiaf was out with a knee injury. He was his usual boring, but helpful self; like a rusty toolbox. In 26 minutes Jeffries took only 1 shot and didn’t score a point. His box line will never make your eyes pop, but he’s not a “box score” kind of player. Jeffries brought defensive intensity and with his length and versatility, allowed New York to pack the paint when he was in the game, forcing Atlanta to take a whole bunch of jumpers which more times than not didn’t fall. In his first 15 minutes on the floor, Jeffries had a plus/minus of +11; the only player on both teams to be on the plus side in double digits in the first half.
*Landry Fields had another solid outing (15 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 39 minutes) but his defense on Joe Johnson was spectacular. The Hawks leading scorer had just 14 points and was never able to find a suitable shooting rhythm.
*In all seriousness, where the hell was Al Horford? Just a few nights ago he had the best game of his career, all huffing and puffing against Chicago. Tonight? In a game high 40 minutes? 4 points and 7 rebounds. Facing an opponent with no real frontcourt presence, I expected Horford to be one of the Knicks biggest problems tonight. He definitely wasn’t.
*With Chauncey Billups out for the third straight game, the Knicks backcourt was expected to be stretched thin, but just like Toney Douglas did New Orleans, Anthony Carter did Atlanta. He was the Knicks can of Red Bull, making several huge plays to fuel New York’s late game run. The first came when Jeff Teague, who looks like he could be Carter’s son, came charging full speed and was comically stripped by the 12 year veteran, who took it the other way for a floater. Carter also coolly drained a deep three with just 3 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Tonight he was a dagger in Atlanta’s back and I’m kind of hoping D’Antoni can find him some minutes once Chauncey returns.