What is this feeling?! My fingers are tingling! My heart rate is up! The things around me aren’t broken! Is this what a win feels like?
The New York Knicks rang in the new year with their best win of the season, unequivocally. Heading into Texas for a three-game road trip to start 2014 seemed like an ominous, easy way for the Knicks to lose three games in a row. Of all of the games the Knicks were supposed to lose on this trip, a road game into San Antonio seemed like the most likely. Instead, to kick things off, the Knicks looked like the energized, focused team. The Knicks swung the ball and moved with aplomb on the offensive end, and the beneficiary was, in most cases, Iman Shumpert, who had his best season of the game (much more on him later). Though the Knicks apparently missed the memo on “San Antonio Spurs, re: three-pointers,” the Knicks’ own offensive attack was diverse and fluid enough to stay in the game, despite falling behind by nine points early in the second quarter.
It was a game of shifting momentum, though. Both teams looked a little rusty from long layovers over the changing of the calendar, and thus, the game at times saw both teams turnover-happy and trigger-happy. For the Spurs, Marco Belinelli’s marksmanship (which nearly undid the Knicks alone — 32 points, 12-16 on the night) and Manu Ginobili’s omnipresence gave them momentum boost after momentum boost to keep them in the games. The Knicks didn’t defend all that efficiently, but instead relied — and succeeded — by virtue of San Antonio’s untimely misses.
Still, this game came down to the nit and grit. When Tony Parker knifed through the Knicks’ defense to set Tim Duncan up with an easy layup, putting the Spurs up by two, it seemed the Knicks would crumble after such a great 46-minute effort. But New York responded. Carmelo Anthony, hell-bent on taking advantage of the Spurs’ tired legs in the pick-and-roll, bullied through the paint for a driving layup to tie the game. On the next Knicks’ possession, after a near turnover and several players hitting the deck to get the ball, J.R. Smith found Shumpert for an open three-pointer to put the Knicks up three. Belinelli tied the game on a catch-and-shoot moments later, but again, Shumpert answered by skying for a tip-in layup off of ‘Melo’s missed three-pointer. Another stop by the Knicks (Belinelli missed a good, open look from the elbow) and some clutch free throws iced the game.
Here’s a look at the individual performances:
Carmelo Anthony – 39 minutes, 27 points, 10-20 FG, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 3 TOs, +10
No, 39 minutes for Anthony on his first game back from a sprained ankle is not ideal — but it’s pretty much the norm. Anthony shed his early rust by working primarily on catch-and-shoots and post-ups for the duration of the game. He bullied Kawhi Leonard into foul trouble and took advantage of the smaller Danny Green in the post. Equally pleasing was his willingness to swing the ball when help came, and his work on the boards was a team-best, ankle-problems-be-damned. His final few shots down the stretch weren’t perfect, but ultimately, he got that game-tying layup, and iced it with some free throws.
Final Grade: A-
Andrea Bargnani – 22 minutes, 10 points, 3-8 FG, 4-4 FT, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 2 TOs, +19
Bargnani’s two quick fouls in the first quarter may have been the best thing for him and the Knicks. He started 0-2 with one turnover and over his final 15 minutes, scored 10 points on 3-6 shooting with 3 boards and one turnover. Bargnani’s defense is laughable, and I think his +/- for this game is skewed, but still, it’s obvious to everyone but Woodson that his role would be nice off the bench in limited minutes.
Final Grade: C
Tyson Chandler – 22 minutes, 4 points, 2-5 FG, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 2 TOs, +5
Chandler kind of mysteriously disappeared down the stretch. He began the game nicely, though, by knocking down two perimeter jumpers in Tim Duncan’s face and providing some stout help defense in the paint when the Spurs wiggled in there. Some people pointed out that he was moving slowly later on, and he sat nearly the entire fourth quarter until about three minutes remained.
Final Grade: B-
Tim Hardaway Jr. – 12 minutes, 3 points, 0-1 FG, 3-4 FT, 1 rebound, 1 assist, -7
Hardaway Jr. is due for a rookie game every now and then.
Final Grade: C-
Kenyon Martin – 14 minutes, 4 points, 2-6 FG, 4 PFs, -4
When Kenyon Martin puts the ball on the floor to score, it’s like he makes a giant announcement, screaming, “I’M GOING TO LOOK FOR MY SHOT NOW.” Defenses usually react accordingly. Martin was often over-matched by Tim Duncan (who isn’t?) and didn’t really produce anywhere else.
Final Grade: C-
Toure’ Murry – 15 minutes, 5 points, 2-3 FG, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals
Murry can ball. He’s not a guy that should see a lot of minutes, but he just does things on the court that the Knicks don’t have. He’s active on the boards, he makes smart decisions with the ball, and thus far, I haven’t seen him force too many bad shots. He’s also got a (prepare for a terribly exaggerated comparison) Rajon Rondo-esque knack for ball-hawking. If an opponent is handling the ball precariously, Murry is taking it.
Final Grade: B
Iman Shumpert – 31 minutes, 27 points, 10-13 FG, 6-8 3FG, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 steals, 2 TOs, +10
THE SHUMPERT GAME. Holy moly, it felt good to see Shumpert play like we all thought he would this season. After managing 26 points over his previous six games, Shump busted out for a career-high 27, each of those baskets coming in a beautiful splash of self-realization and confidence. When the Spurs defense shifted away, Shump sat there, patiently, awaiting the kick-out, the cross-court, the extra pass… and sure enough, he hit them. He only created for himself a bit, but those baskets were splendid, too: a pull-up jumper, an and-one jumper on the free-throw line where he got Tiago Splitter to bite on a pump fake, a fast break slam. Then, of course, his five straight points to keep the Knicks alive in the final moments. Cheers to a better 2014, Shump! Let’s see more of this!
Final Grade: A+
J.R. Smith – 29 minutes, 4 points, 2-5 FG, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 TOs, -5
Smith displayed his feelings of betrayal to the team by playing unselfish basketball and hitting a quietly important jumper to stifle some Spurs’ momentum in the fourth quarter. It seemed deliberate, and it’s a little annoying when Smith actively doesn’t look to shoot, but his 3 assists and insistence on ball movement was nice. His fastbreak defense, however, wasn’t.
Final Grade: B-
Amar’e Stoudemire – 24 minutes, 11 points, 4-6 FG, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 TOs, -15
Stoudemire still kills offensive rhythm by stopping or demanding the ball in certain situations, but tonight he was quietly efficient. His slamma-jamma in a pick-and-roll with ‘Melo was vintage STAT, and he hit a pretty silly deep two to beat the shot clock late in the fourth quarter. Those were all subtly big plays to keep the Knicks afloat. Woodson rolled with him late into the game, and by my eye, he played surprisingly stout defense. Will we see him tomorrow in Houston after 24 minutes tonight?
Final Grade: B-
Beno Udrih – 32 minutes, 10 points, 4-9 FG, 2 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal, 2 TOs, +7
After hardly playing early in the year, Beno is certainly running up his odometer. Udrih makes some questionable decisions on offense, but he hit some lovely jumpers in this one, and he certainly helped promote the good ball movement. He, of course, gave away a late turnover to the Spurs and almost a second one until Smith saved it in the back-court, but in a win, those things are kind of forgiven.
Final Grade: B
The Knicks play tomorrow night in Houston. Undefeated in 2014!
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The Knicks play their first home age of 2014 on January 7 against Detroit. Be sure to get your Knicks tickets here.