The Knicks got back on track tonight, snapping a two-game losing streak with a 100-83 blowout win over the San Antonio Spurs. Using a big fourth quarter, the Knicks swept the season series with the Spurs for the first time in ten years.
Mike Woodson tweaked the starting lineup, putting Marcus Camby in place of Kurt Thomas at power forward, and the returns weren’t wholly satisfying. The Knicks defended with much greater vigor and conviction than in previous matchups, but struggled to score the ball. The Spurs crowded Carmelo Anthony, forcing Jason Kidd to pull on some contested threes, while Ronnie Brewer tried to create some offense and Tyson Chandler and Camby rolled to the basket with little success.
However, defense reigned mighty in the first half. Neither team ever got on any type of roll on offense, instead only exchanging baskets periodically and battling it out with defensive schemes. Anthony could not get on track; Smith’s jumpshots didn’t fall with the same frequency as they have of late; Amar’e Stoudemire continued to struggle while shaking off the rust; the rest of the Knicks’ contributions were minimal. For the Spurs, their excellent precision and ball movement got them good, open looks from the perimeter, but the Knicks’ defense focused on stopping Tony Parker’s basket-bound ways and otherwise stuffing the paint to deny easy baskets. The Knicks led at halftime 42-40.
In the second half, it was the Knicks whose offense became untracked. Behind some masterful helmsmanship from Pablo Prigioni, Anthony, Smith, and the rest of the gang began to find success stroking it from the perimeter and taking it to the basket. The defense, meanwhile, stayed aggressive, forcing the Spurs east and west around the perimeter, protecting the basket, and cleaning the glass to the tune of a 48-35 rebounding advantage. To open the fourth quarter, the Spurs all but waved the white flag as the Knicks ran off a 15-2 explosion to boost the lead to 82-62. The Knicks cruised to the victory, smiling and dancing all the way.
How about some individual player report cards?
Carmelo Anthony – 36 minutes, 23 points, 9-20 FG, 8 rebounds, 3 assists
‘Melo’s early insistence that he was done trying to score 30 points a night to get a victory has proved false so far this season, but when he made the remarks, this type of night was probably what he imagined. The Spurs rarely granted Anthony any good looks and early on, his field goal percentage reflected it. Though he hit some open threes and had a few successful drives to the basket, there was less posting and toasting, shaking and baking from Anthony for the in this one. His 23 points on 20 shot attempts isn’t all that efficient, but despite the somewhat gaudy stat line, he seemed relatively quiet on this night. However, with his shot only luke warm, there was more focus on finding open teammates (some deliberate STAT-feeding comes to mind, as well as some perimeter ball-swinging) and helping out on the boards. His first half defense, especially sticking with shooters or on close-outs wasn’t terribly satisfying, but luckily, the half-hearted effort didn’t much affect the Knicks tonight.
Final Grade: B+
J.R. Smith – 27 minutes, 20 points, 9-17 FG, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
The above stat line is becoming a regularity for Smith. At one point, Mike Breen remarked that J.R. has previously registered three straight games with 25+ points off the bench for the first time in Knicks’ history. He then continued to say Smith had a long way to go to reach that mark as he notched his seventh points of the night. Little did Mr. Breen know that garbage time was still to come – Smith’s most comfortable habitat.
Yes, J.R. was slightly underwhelming to begin, but as he is wont to do, he blew it up in the fourth quarter when the Knicks’ lead swelled. An array of jumpers off the dribble, cuts to the baskets, and catch-and-shoot three-pointers quickly notched Smith those 20 points in the fourth quarter. Throw in an electrifying, low-lob-devastating-finish on a Prigioni alley-oop, and this had all the makings of a classic Earl Smith fourth quarter feast. Jokes aside, Smith’s effort all over the court is becoming so satisfying to see. Consistent effort on the boards, some delightful dishing in the pick-and-roll, and a chase-down block on Gary Neal, and Smith is earning the extended minutes and usage he’s been receiving in recent weeks.
Final Grade: A-
Tyson Chandler – 31 minutes, 10 points, 3-4 FG, 4-5 FT, 14 rebounds, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block
After a lackluster (and perhaps beat-up) effort against the Portland Trailblazers, Chandler also returned to his normal high-voltage self. Against a Spurs team that can struggle against dominant big men, Chandler gobbled up rebounds, turned away a few basket-attackers, and continued to his offensive efficiency, finishing easy baskets or otherwise drawing fouls at the rim. If not for ill-timed passes on the fastbreak and on attempted alley-oops, Chandler’s point totaly probably could have been higher. The Knicks allowing only 22 combined points from Tim Duncan and Tony Parker surely has something to do with Chandler’s ability to guard both individually or cause discomfort in their usual sets. Throw in four assists (a season high) and Tyson had a nice playtime tonight with his friends!
Final Grade: A-
Steve Novak – 22 minutes, 5-7 FG, 15 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals
Tonight we caught a glimpse of Steve Novak: Three-Point Specialist and Steve Novak: Three-Point Specialist With the Fastest Hands in New York City! Novak was granted a few open looks from downtown and canned them appropriately, but we also saw some quick trigger launches with fast-closing opponents that Novak still sank. The two steals (one in the passing lanes, one off the dribble) were also awkward, humorous delights. For the most part this season, Novak’s three-point prowess hasn’t lived up last season’s, but these type of efforts go a long way in boosting the Knicks’ offense and hopefully his confidence.
Final Grade: B-
Amar’e Stoudemire – 21 minutes, 10 points, 4-10 FG, 2 rebounds, 1 steal
Stoudemire was granted another rousing ovation when he got off the bench early in the first quarter to replace Marcus Camby, but once again, his play was disappointingly rusty and slightly forced. There were a number of ill-fated post-up attempts, that despite some fancy Olajuwon-esque moves, did not end up with points on the board. Stoudemire’s lack of explosion is still apparent when he’s pinned underneath the basket without any room for a running start. These are all things that will hopefully wear off as Stoudemire gets more burn.What was pleasing was Stoudemire’s clearly-increased focus on defense, actually denying some drives, providing help to guards on pick-and-rolls, and even a few snappy close-outs on jumpers.
Tonight Stoudemire got some extended minutes with the fourth quarter garbage time, we’ll see if he can hang around the 20-minute mark for the next few games and begin to find a more natural rhythm.
Final Grade: C
Pablo Prigioni – 27 minutes, 6 points, 3-9 FG, 9 assists, 3 steals. 1 TO
Prigioni got MSG’s walk-off interview tonight, and rightfully so. Somehow, Prigioni makes 9 assists off the bench seem quiet, but there were a few dazzlers in there. With his steady, crafty hands running the offense, Prigioni not only took part in the Knicks’ late-game offensive eruption, but he also allowed Jason Kidd some extended rest in the second half. The Argentine showed the full repertoire tonight, tossing some lovely ‘oops to Chandler and Smith, squeezing drop-off passes to rolling big men in the pick-and-roll, and throwing some spicy, zippy, one-handed passes to shooters and to cutters. Resting Kidd is optimal going forward, and it seems with extended playing time, Prigioni can allow it if he gets into a nice rhythm on offense. The only disappointing thing about Prigioni is wondering how good he could have been if he’d come to the NBA five to ten years earlier.
Final Grade: B
Jason Kidd – 21 minutes, 5 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals
The body of Kidd’s work came in the first half, as Prigioni manned the offense for the better part of the second half. Kidd was fairly quiet during his run on the court, but his work on the defensive end was notable. Kidd did an admirable job denying Tony Parker’s speedy attack off the dribble, and did a decent enough job closing on shooters when he was moved off the ball. The most important thing right now is to try and get Kidd as much rest as possible, because playing a 39-year old 30+ minutes isn’t optimal.
Final Grade: C+
Ronnie Brewer – 16 minutes, 6 points, 2-2 3FG, 2 rebounds
Ronnie Brewer hit two three-pointers tonight for the first time since the game against Charlotte on December 5, according to our friend Bryan Gibberman. Brewer seems to slowly, but surely be climbing out of his slump, but his offense and defense is still not up to par to what you’d expect. Keep working, Ronnie!
Final Grade: C
Chris Copeland – 18 minutes, 3 points, 1-5 FG, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
Copeland never got into much of a rhythm tonight. His lone three-pointer came early in his first half stint, and he did little else thereafter. With Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire back, and Steve Novak possibly busting out of a slump, it’s feasible that Copeland’s minutes could dwindle to exclusively garbage time.
Final Grade: C-
Marcus Camby – 15 minutes, 2 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block
Camby in the starting lineup added a nice dimension defensively, but it hurt the Knicks offensively. Though Kurt Thomas is no more an offensive threat, Camby’s presence does little else to assuage the pressure on Carmelo Anthony to carry the offense early on. What he does add, though, is extra rebounding, shot-blocking, potentially extra possessions, and some nice passing from the high post. Most of his pass attempts were broken up, but Camby was certainly looking to find cutters early on in the game from the high post, which could add an interesting dynamic to certain lineups. We’ll see if Woodson continues with Camby as the starting power forward in the future, but it’d be nice to see Camby get some more minutes as the back-up center, instead of playing Chandler for over 30 minutes.
Final Grade: C
Incompletes: James White, Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace