The Knicks won a game they shouldn’t have won, behind a man who was having one of his worst games of the season. Coming into Charlotte, the Knicks were looking to make quick work a Bobcats team, so they could rest their top guns for the second night of a back-to-back in Miami tomorrow. Instead, they met a scrapping, hungry Bobcats team looking to take down their superior opponent.
Through much of the game, the Knicks and the Bobcats wrestled back and forth in a seesaw affair. However, with six minutes left to go, the Knicks found themselves down by eight, unable to stop a feisty Bobcats team led by the uber-quick Kemba Walker and his band of rascals. For the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony had gone mysteriously cold; J.R. Smith was unable to throw a rock into the ocean; the defense looked ill-equipped to make enough stops to get back into the game.
But at that six-minute mark, like we’d seen in the win in San Antonio, the Knicks just flipped the switch. Their defense tightened, forcing the Bobcats east and west around the perimeter, unable to get a good look. The Knicks forced five turnovers in those final six minutes. On offense, with Anthony back in the locker room treating a lacerated finger, Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler ran the pick-and-roll to perfection, parting the Bobcats’ defense and getting to the rim to get easy baskets.
On the final play – after a timeout following a weird sequence where the Knicks forced a turnover and J.R. Smith pulled the ball back on a two-on-one fastbreak with just seconds remaining – the Knicks inbounded the ball to Smith. Smith darted to his left towards the baseline, did his signature step-back jumper, faded away, and swooshed the 18-footer at the buzzer to win the game. Like that, the Knicks started the getaway cars, escaping Charlotte with a 13-4 record and sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference.
Some individual report cards, starting with the man of the hour:
J.R. Smith – 31 minutes, 13 points, 6-16 FG, 1-9 3FG, 1 rebound, 4 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers
Smith came into the game trying to forget a dreadful 1-11 shooting performance against the Phoenix Suns this past Sunday. If that game’s off-target marksmanship was triggered by a night out on the town the Saturday beforehand – as Smith has suggested he’s wont to do – then his game tonight looked like he was going out during commercial breaks. Though Smith shot the ball better than 9%, and his looks were generally clean – a variety of looks off the dribble and catch-and-shoots – nothing would fall for him.
To Smith’s credit, his defense rarely waned, and his perimeter defense in that fourth quarter was noticeably stellar. Likewise, his four assists show his willingness to move the ball an off night. A crucial, basket-saving block on an open, rolling Bismack Biyombo in the fourth, and of course, a game-winning, step-back, fade-away 18-footer… well, those help heal the earlier wounds.
Final Grade: B-
Tyson Chandler – 35 minutes, 18 points, 8-10 FG, 17 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
Though Chandler’s production slowed down after a stellar first quarter in which he nearly notched a double-double, he was nonetheless vital every minute he was on the floor. Though he didn’t have much success stopping the Bobcats’ speedy, slithery guards at the basket, he generally made mincemeat of the Bobcats’ big men, allowing just 12 combined points on 6-17 shooting from Brendan Haywood, Bismack Biyombo, and Byron Mullens. Though the Knicks were out-rebounded 50-36 (!), Chandler had half of those boards and it’s doubtful New York would have ever had a possession without Tyson’s dominance. On offense, too, Chandler was crucial late in the game, sucking in the Bobcats’ defense with hard rolls to the basket and some forceful finishes, including a few alley-oops and a nice little back-to-the-basket baby hook.
After a few scary weeks where Tyson just didn’t look like his court-roaming monstrous self, he seems to be a full health and energy once again, making a living in the paint on both ends of the floor. The Knicks absolutely do not win this game without a lovely 18-17 performance from Chandler.
Final Grade: A+
Carmelo Anthony – 38 minutes, 23 points, 8-22 FG, 3-7 3FG, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 1 block
Anthony began the game firing on all cylinders, connecting on his first three three-pointers and finding success shimmying off the dribble and finishing around the basket or otherwise drawing fouls. Facing the slower-moving, 7-foot (not seven-footed) Byron Mullens, one would have expected Anthony to begin the game in attack mode, and he responded. Though his typical rebounding prowess was absent (he just didn’t seem to be around the basket much), he made up for it with some truly beautiful dishing out of double teams. When the Bobcats sent an extra defender, Anthony did a wonderful job moving the ball on a variety of kick-outs, swing, and skip passes to find open teammates.
‘Twas a tale of two halves, though, for ‘Melo. In the second half, Anthony rimmed out his other four three-pointers, and in general was only 1-11, while failing to get to the free throw line at all. As we’ve seen, the right combination of these things – along with a surging opponent – tends to make ‘Melo a little grumpy, and there was a noticeable let-up in energy and effort from him after halftime. When he finally got untracked, defending with vigor in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, and after hitting a running bank shot, he got injured. ‘Melo chased down a loose ball and dove into the Knicks bench to save it. Much to chagrin of Clyde Frazier who insists Anthony is too important for such reckless play, ‘Melo left the game with a laceration on his finger, which required six stitches. His status is up in the air for tomorrow night’s game.
Despite a less-than-lovely second half and a somewhat unnecessary injury, that wonderful first half kept the Knicks in the game to begin with.
Final Grade: B+
Raymond Felton – 36 minutes, 17 points, 7-19 FG, 9 assists, 2 rebounds, 0 TOs
Playing in front of his family and a supportive crowd in his former stomping grounds, Felton took the floor with a flipper of a left-hand bundled in protective padding. Felton refused to miss a homecoming because of the bruised bone in his hand, so he took the floor, hoping to play through the pain. In the first half, the results were not good. Raymond looked tentative off the dribble and on defense, and though he shoots righty, the left hand is needed to guide the ball going up on a shot, and Felton just couldn’t bury many of his looks. Felton resorted to dishing to his teammates with some success, but in general the early returns were lacking.
So, what did he do? Felton came out in the second half with his injured left hand unwrapped and had himself a ballgame. To open the third quarter, Felton sank two three-pointers, dished to Chandler on an alley-oop, picked up a loose ball and fed Ronnie Brewer for a fastbreak layup. Felton was borderline heroic to close the game as well, harassing Kemba Walker (who’d been torching Felton all game) and denying him the ball on a critical inbounds play. On the other end, as mentioned, Felton mastered the pick-and-roll when it mattered most, assisting on a Novak three and Chandler dunk, scoring on a floater and driving layup. All the while, his adorable three-year old son slept, missing his dad’s prideful, inspiring play.
Final Grade: B+
Steve Novak – 26 minutes, 9 points, 3-8 3FG, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
Novak continues a tear of games in which he’s shot (if I heard Mike Breen correctly) 17-31 from downtown, not including tonight’s performance. Novak missed a big, open corner three down the stretch, but had previously hit a big one off the elbow on the aforementioned kick-out from Felton. Tonight wasn’t one of those noticeable explosions from Steve, but each of those treys were important. Otherwise, he was pretty quiet, getting burned on a number of plays by the more fleet-footed Bobcats, and not taking a single attempt from inside the arc. Novak started the second half, continuing a trend of Woodson’s.
Side note: I love watching the Knicks swing the ball back and forth in a desperate attempt to get Novak open. This almost always results in him getting the ball, but not being open enough, passing it, and then getting it right back.
Final Grade: C
Ronnie Brewer – 18 minutes, 9 points, 3-8 FG, 2-5 3FG, 5 rebounds, 1 steal
Never has someone looked so precarious possessing the ball on offense as Ronnie Brewer. Wait, I just remembered Jared Jeffries. Besides Jared Jeffries, never has someone looked so precarious possessing the ball on offense as Ronnie Brewer. Yet for the fear that runs through me when Brewer tries to run a fastbreak, or when his elbow plunges out on his awkward shooting release, it’s been effective. 40% shooting from beyond the arc for Brewer (though five attempts is a bit too many). Five rebounds (second most on the team) and some handy defensive work and Brewer played himself a typical game. At times, Woodson’s penchant for playing Smith over Brewer – especially when Smith is off-target – can be maddening, but by some miracle it worked tonight.
Next time out, more smart, lovely cuts, less threes, Ronnie.
Final Grade: C+
Jason Kidd – 25 minutes, 7 points, 2-3 FG, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 3 blocks, 0 TOs
Jason Kidd returned to action after missing some games due to back spasms, and didn’t miss a beat. The game just feels so safe in Kidd’s hands. He drilled two three-pointers (though he missed his biggest attempt late in the game) and generally kept the offense moving. On defense, Kidd gets his mittens on everything, and 3 blocks (!!!) has to be league-leading among guards. Like the comfort you feel relaxing at home, Kidd just brings a much safer, confident feeling to the game
Final Grade: B
Rasheed Wallace – 13 minutes, 2 points, 1-5 FG, 3 rebounds, 1 assist
Rasheed Wallace didn’t bark at any refs tonight, he didn’t get ejected, nor did he do much of anything, really. ‘Sheed saw limited action in the second half, but his first half play didn’t warrant it except to give Chandler a breather. Wallace’s refusal to roll to the basket after picks instead of popping out to the three-point line is aggravating. The one time he did roll to the basket, he got an open layup. Believe it or not, though, 3 rebounds ties him for third most on the Knicks tonight.
Final Grade: C-
Pablo Prigioni – 12 minutes, 2 points, 1-1 FG, 2 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal, 0 TOs
Pablo hardly saw action in the second half, too, but he generally looked like his Pablo-y Priggly self in the first half. Some noticeably nice entry feeds and dishes on the pick-and-roll, and a lovely Clyde-like theft from Ramon Sessions off the dribble for Prigioni. On a second night of a back-to-back with Felton and Kidd both mending injuries, one has to expect he’ll see more minutes tomorrow night.
Final Grade: C
Final Grade for Reaction to Game-Winner : A+
Kurt Thomas – 5 minutes, 0 points, 0-0 FG, 0 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block
Kurt Thomas started and then he sat. He threw a nice pass from the elbow to a cutting ‘Melo.
That’s it for tonight. A scrappy, exhilarating win made this a happier, kinder, sillier report card. The Knicks now sit alone in first place in the Eastern Conference, and will go to Miami to face the second place Heat tomorrow night.