By John Schmeelk
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It might not have been the type of physical game that the playoffs usually bring, but the Knicks’ win against the Warriors on Wednesday night featured postseason-like intensity and a high level of play usually reserved for May. Unlike recent contests of a similar ilk, the Knicks managed to hold on and win the game by making big plays down the stretch.
Despite the fact that the Knicks allowed 105 points, I can’t sit here and scold the Knicks’ defense. Few of Stephen Curry’s shots were easy or open. He hit some ridiculous shots that no one would ever be able to defend. The Knicks finally decided to trap and run double-teams at him in the final seven minutes of the game, when he only made two field goals. The defense even forced him into a couple of mistakes late in the game that ended up winning the Knicks the game.
As great as Curry played, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler were nearly as good. Chandler was a virtual vacuum on the glass, grabbing 28 rebounds — including 10 on the offensive glass. Those boards turned into Knicks open threes late in the fourth quarter. He played with a defensive intensity that empowered the entire team. He led the way in one of the best defensive quarters in recent weeks, when the Knicks held the Warriors to just 18 points in the first quarter
Anthony only shot 10-of-26, but he played a lot better than his shooting percentage indicated. He made a number of great passes in the second half and finished with eight assists. He also got to the free-throw line 15 times and was aggressive going towards the basket. At times, Anthony did stop the ball a little bit, which stagnated the offense. He only grabbed one rebound, but if this is the Anthony that the Knicks have the rest of the year, they’ll take it.
Even with Anthony and Chandler playing well it took plays by their secondary players to win the game. Assuming Chandler and Anthony play to their All-Star level, the Knicks still need a couple of their secondary players to play well if they want to win. The first two guys on that list are Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith. The latter finished the game with 26 points and actually shot above 50 percent from the field.
The reason was simple: Most of his shots came on spot-up jump shots or attempts going at the rim. When Smith settles for step-back jumpers he gets himself into trouble. That usually happens when the Knicks put the ball in his hands and ask him to go one-on-one. Those opportunities rarely end well for Smith. According to Synergy Sports, Smith is at his least efficient in isolations and as the pick-and-roll ball handler, scoring just .81 and .77 points per possession, respectively. The Knicks can’t ask him to do too much.
Felton is another story. You look at his stat line and you think he played a bad game. He shot just 3-of-10 from the field and 2-of-5 from the line. He had just four assists and was a big part in allowing the opposing point guard to score 50-plus points. Yet the Knicks were plus-11 when Felton was on the floor and he made a number of key defensive plays at the end of the game. Everyone remembers the block, but Felton helped force a pair of turnovers and grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed free throw. Often times, Felton’s numbers look bad but his impact goes beyond the numbers many times. The ball moves quicker when he is on the floor, and the Knicks’ pace gets faster. He makes other players better.
It’s Smith and Felton that are going to decide how far the Knicks go this year. It might come down to whether or not Jason Kidd can start knocking down shots again.
It’s going to really matter if Iman Shumpert can build off of his six steals on Wednesday night and become the disruptive defender he once was. Will Amar’e Stoudemire continue to be a real option off the bench, and can Kenyon Martin provide a real defensive presence? For all the talk about Anthony, if the Knicks don’t get consistent performances out of a good percentage of their second-tier players, they aren’t going to win. It doesn’t have to be every guy every night, but they need a few to play well every night.
On Wednesday night they did, and the Knicks managed to beat a good team with a great player that played the game of his life. The stars did their job, but the secondary guys did theirs, and in the end that was really the difference. It’s a huge reason the Knicks played so well in November.
If it continues, they can have success deep into May.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports.
Did the Knicks prove something to you last night, or were they lucky to get out of the Garden with a win? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…