A win is a win, right? After nearly collapsing in miserable fashion to the short-handed Milwaukee Bucks, the New York Knicks have to look at it that way — they’re undefeated. The Bucks were already facing an uphill battle coming into the contest, but after starting point guard Brandon Knight pulled his hamstring on the opening possession of the game, all the Bucks could do in the first half was tread water. Around them, the Knicks circled, eventually diving into a blood-thirsty attack on a nearly defenseless team.
Frankly, the first half couldn’t have gone better for New York. They jumped out to a quick lead, spurred by a trap-happy, slap-happy defense that found a way to disrupt the Bucks’ offense on seemingly every possession. Down to their third-string point guard, the Bucks simply couldn’t go anywhere on offense, and the Knicks took advantage by getting a finger, a hand, anything on the ball whenever they could, forcing Milwaukee into 16 first-half turnovers. The Knicks blitzkrieged Milwaukee in return with a combination of fast-break opportunities and fluid offense that earned players open looks. New York held a 25-point lead in the first half as the Bucks registered just 31 first-half points.
In the second half, however, the Bucks had the gall to perform like an actual NBA team. They eventually figured through crisp passing and player movement, they could penetrate an otherwise stellar Knicks defense and get easier looks. And so they did. Conversely, the Knicks opened up a buffet of turnovers, simply giving the Bucks unlimited opportunities to cut the deficit. And so they did. A 20-point lead tinkered into the teens, which drained into a single-digit lead, which turned into a Milwaukee lead late in the game. Finally, after nearly 21 minutes of flailing, offering Milwaukee a sheer upset victory, the Knicks shaped back up. A few critical stops and a few crucial, arena-shaking dunks from Tyson Chandler, and the Knicks pulled away by a few baskets, until mercifully, the clock ran out.
Here’s a look at the individual performances:
Carmelo Anthony – 38 minutes, 19 points, 7-16 FG, 5-6 FT, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 3 TOs, +4
Returning to the power forward, Carmelo Anthony opened up the game looking sharp. The Bucks don’t really possess any one player of giving Anthony continuous trouble, but in this one, ‘Melo picked his spots rather than forcing his will. A variety of mid-range jumpers, face-ups, post-ups, and sheer bullying around the basket earned Anthony 19 points on OK efficiency. During the Knicks’ second-half slide, he wasn’t anywhere to be found, which was unusual. He did come up with two big, late baskets at the rim, though, which kinda, sorta saved the Knicks’ skin. A solid effort on the boards and a willingness to pass made this an overall nice showing.
Final Grade: B+
Raymond Felton – 34 minutes, 18 points, 7-12 FG, 1 rebound, 3 assists, 3 steals, 3 TOs, +11
Felton played a near-perfect game through most of his night. His dribble penetration couldn’t be stopped, his defense was serviceable as he helped heckle ball-handlers, and he commanded the offense supremely despite a low assist number. Then, on a gorgeous dash to the basket (which he made), he came up limping, re-aggravating that hamstring that kept him out of some preseason games. The Knicks said he strained it, and he returned in the fourth quarter, but didn’t look so great. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him take a considerably smaller role in Chicago tonight.
Final Grade: A-
Iman Shumpert – 33 minutes, 18 points, 5-13 FG, 1-5 3FG, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 1 TO, +4
Shumpert was perhaps the star of the first half, simply inserting his will on the Bucks, suffocating them on defense, slashing through them for dribble drives and jumpers alike on offense. He wasn’t credited for one steal, but he broke up at least six or seven passes and disturbed the handle of innumerable Bucks. That aggressiveness waned in the second half — which will likely be a trend if he continues to play so hard. Overall, Shump will please many Knicks fans this year, if tonight and preseason are any indication.
Final Grade: A-
Tyson Chandler – 32 minutes, 10 points, 5-7 FG, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 5 blocks, 5 TOs, +18
Boy, did it feel good to see the Tyson Chandler as we’ve come to know him show up in this one. Despite 5 turnovers (some of which were more on the passer than Chandler), Tyson controlled nearly every aspect of the game. Four of his field goals came on vicious, snarling put-back dunks and alley-oops (like those two previously mentioned late jams) and one came on a pretty catch-and-shoot jumper at the top of the key. Chandler’s activity around the basket didn’t show up in the rebound column, but he damn near sucked up any air-born ball that came his way, swaddling rebounds or tapping them out to teammates. And his five blocks were just cruel, mean-spirited swats on ill-prepared Bucks. No hyperbole — this form of Tyson Chandler makes the Knicks championship contenders.
Final Grade: A+
Pablo Prigioni – 37 minutes, 7 points, 3-3 FG, 1-1 3FG, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 4 TOs, +19
Games like this will help Prigioni just sneak his way into the hearts of every Knicks fan, if he isn’t there already. Though he conducted theturnover train in the fourth quarter, he also came up with two huge, momentum-changing steals in the final quarter. On offense, he was clever, efficient, and a little trigger-shy as usual. He needs to be more aggressive, for sure, but he gets a pass for all of his other excellent qualities. Continuing a trend from late last season, the Knicks are simply better when Pablo’s on the floor.
Final Grade: A
Andrea Bargnani – 17 minutes, 6 points, 3-9 FG, 0-3 3FG, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 3 TOs, -11
Hey, let’s not get too carried away, right? Bargnani is going to take some time to find his way on this team, and he’ll have to work this way through some duds like this game. But let’s not boo him right away, Knicks fans. Although there is legitimate reason to gripe. Bargs continued to pass up some open looks for tougher, contested ones, however, he still botched some easy jumpers. A little more making, a little less pump-faking, a little less rule-breaking, aka traveling off the catch. Still concerned about what value he brings on off nights.
Final Grade: D+
Tim Hardaway Jr. – 15 minutes, 5 points, 2-2 FG, 1-1 3FG, 2 assists
I like catch-and-shoot Tim Hardaway. Joonya got quite a loud ovation, and if he continues playing so confined in a role as a third or fourth scoring option on catch-and-shoots, he’ll continue getting that applause.
Final Grade: B
Metta World Peace – 18 minutes, 4 points, 2-4 FG, 4 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 TO, -4
“World,” as Clyde Frazier so affectionately calls him, went from possible starter tonight to kind of a low-impact fill-in off the bench. Metta didn’t do a whole lot of mention, but his presence still does turn up the intensity on the Knicks’ D. Interested to see his role going forward, like tonight, against a bruising Chicago team.
Final Grade: C+
Kenyon Martin – 5 minutes, 3 points, 1-1 FG, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, +6
In just his second game this season, Martin looked… like somebody that plays five minutes in a first-half blowout. He sat the second half out and likely won’t play tomorrow. Weird choice by Woodson to play a needed defensive, big body tonight rather against a team like the Bulls.
Final Grade: C
Beno Udrih – 11 minutes, 2 points, 1-4 FG, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 2 TOs, -12
After a productive preseason, Udrih was the least productive Knick in the opener. He just flat-out struggled, and on a team that thrives around the basket and the rim, Udrih has an almost arrhythmic offensive game that he uses to open up mid-range opportunities for himself. He may get some more opportunities to shake off whatever bugged him in this one if Felton stays out. Chalk it up to nerves in a home-opener.
Final Grade: C-
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