The first game of the Phil Jackson Era began with one of the New York Knicks’ most impressive victories of the season. The Knicks entered the contest four games out of a playoff spot, making their matchup with the East-leading Indiana Pacers a virtual must-win. With the Atlanta Hawks suddenly finding rhythm again, the Knicks couldn’t afford to lose a game and fall five back of a playoff spot with 14 games to go.
So, New York took care of business. It was hardly ever pretty, but the Knicks matched the Pacers’ grit-and-grind style and came up with the momentum plays when they needed it. It certainly helped that Paul George slugged through a 4-17 shooting performance, and that the Pacers decided to blithely toss the ball away. But the Knicks deserve credit, too. Carmelo Anthony rebounded from a rocky start to finish with 34 points on 23 shots, unfazed by whomever guarded him. Amar’e Stoudemire provided the secondary scoring punch the Knicks imagined when they paired he and ‘Melo up. Iman Shumpert, Pablo Prigioni, and Raymond Felton came up with big baskets and stops when needed. Tyson Chandler re-summoned his inner defensive beast to tidy up the Knicks’ sloppy perimeter defense.
And in the end, the Knicks continued what could materialize into a miraculous last-ditch playoff push. A look at the individual performances:
Carmelo Anthony – 43 minutes, 34 points, 12-23 FG, 10-12 FT, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, 4 TOs, +13
Mike Woodson had to turn back to Carmelo early and often in the beginning of the second and fourth quarters because the Knicks couldn’t get anything going. In the fourth, when the Pacers had slowly trimmed a double-digit lead to one, Anthony checked back in after just a 90-second rest. Nonetheless, his +13 on the game isn’t misleading. When the Pacers sent good defenders like George and Lance Stephenson at ‘Melo, he bullied them to the rim for fouls or easy baskets. When they tried to send Chris Copeland or Even Turner at him, Anthony simply squared up and splashed. And when the Pacers sent multiple defenders at him, Anthony found the open man, including two brilliant kick-outs to Prigioni and Shumpert for momentum-building threes.
Final Grade: A
Amar’e Stoudemire – 29 minutes, 21 points, 8-15 FG, 4 rebounds, +5
Stoudemire’s complementary scoring isn’t in the explosive fashion the Knicks had hoped they’d get when they teamed he and ‘Melo up. But now, he gets his points quietly and efficiently. Stoudemire took his opportunities in several forms. He casually sank several mid-range Js in the pick-and-pop when the Pacers didn’t rotate out, and he operated on the low block, spinning and facing up on bigger, slower defenders like Luis Scola. Part of the Knicks’ recent success is that STAT has filled in as that secondary scorer the Knicks got out of J.R. Smith last season.
Final Grade: A
Tyson Chandler – 39 minutes, 7 points, 2-5 FG, 14 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block, +5
Chandler and the rest of the Knicks’ big men did struggle to defend Roy Hibbert in the low post, but after a streak of several buckets in a row, Chandler came in and locked it down. In general, Chandler resembled his old self. He threw down some dunks off of lobs, regenerated some possessions for the Knicks, and if available, reinforced the paint with some shot-blocking and defensive rebounds. Nothing fancy, just regular maintenance for Chandler.
Final Grade: B+
Raymond Felton – 28 minutes, 11 points, 4-11 FG, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, +5
I imagine one of the worst feelings in the world as an opponent would be when Raymond Felton banks in a 26-foot three from the elbows as the shot clock expires after nearly losing the ball. Yet that’s what Felton did with 5:48 to play to push the Knicks’ lead back to nine. Later, with under 90 seconds to go, he sank an elbow jumper to make it an eight-point Knicks’ lead. You know, regular stuff for Felton.
Final Grade: B-
J.R. Smith – 29 minutes, 7 points, 3-9 FG, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, +7
Despite an attempt to do good things, Smith played a pretty heavy hand in the Knicks’ unraveling in the third quarter: poor shot attempts, bad passes, turnovers, defensive lapses, etc. He did hit the Knicks’ only three-pointer in the first half, though, and it never hurts to get 12 combined rebounds from your back-court.
Final Grade: C
Iman Shumpert – 29 minutes, 3 points, 1-5 FG, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, -4
Shump’s season in a nutshell: three elbows to the face, 0-4 shooting, 4 personal fouls. And then he hit a huge three-pointer early in the fourth quarter to turn the momentum back to the Knicks.
Final Grade: C-
Pablo Prigioni – 20 minutes, 5 points, 2-5 FG, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, +1
Prigioni, too, came up huge in the third quarter. As the Pacers whittled the Knicks’ lead to single-digits, Prigioni hit a three off a ‘Melo kick-out, and then leaked out at the end of the quarter and hit a layup (well, it was goal-tended) to beat the buzzer.
Final Grade: B-
Tim Hardaway Jr. – 15 minutes, 2 points, 0-7 FG, 5 rebounds, -3
Not the best game for Junior to go cold. Helped on the boards and iced the game with some late free throws, though.
Final Grade: D+
Cole Aldrich – 9 minutes, 2 points, 0-2 FG, 2 rebounds, 1 block, -2
Cole got absolutely torched on the low block by Hibbert, and he was as useless in rotating to stop the Pacers’ penetration. His only two shot attempts? Failed posterization attempts. I like where your head’s at, though, Cole.
Final Grade: C-
The Knicks will look to continue their win streak Friday by visiting the Philadelphia 76ers. Five of the Knicks’ next seven games are against non-playoff teams, and then the going gets rough. Time for this final push.
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