The New York Knicks defeated the Atlanta Hawks by a score of 95-82. The high scorer was Carmelo Anthony with 40 points, 5 Rebounds, 3 assists and 1 turnover. That was the Knicks 10th win in a row. Thought I’d come back and share some thoughts on the win last night against another quality opponent.
– Let’s first start with Carmelo’s play, which if you’ve been catching Sportscenter, you’ve seen Knick highlights a little bit higher up on the sports queue. A 50 point night, regardless of who’s on the court, will do that. Melo, since having his knee drained and talking up how healthy he’s feeling since that, has done nothing but dominate offensively. Tuesday night’s jump shot clinic against the Heat was an example of a player feeling no pressure, and showing no lack of confidence. I am almost certain that regardless of Lebron or Wade’s presence, Melo would’ve had a big night. That’s just how it is with jump shooters. Once they hit their first 7 or 8, (Melo hit his first seven jumpers on Tuesday) they get hot. Melo began the opposite, by missing three of his first four attempts, but his Tuesday performance was special because of his almost allergic reaction to anywhere near the restricted area. It was raining jumpers for Melo on tuesday and when its raining, the points were pouring in so why go anywhere that’s a ray of sunshine for Heat defenders. As all of you astute NBA observers know, the Heat like to pack the paint and attract some extra bodies in there and allow the confusion to befuddle wanna be scorers, leading to bad possessions and ugly outlet passes that ultimately will be deflected and lead to the Heat’s bread and butter, fast break opportunities. Melo never gave them that chance and kept hitting jumper after jumper in any and every Heat defender they threw at him.
Last night’s game featured all around Melo. The guy that has about a hundred moves at his disposal. In honor of Opening Week in baseball I’d make the comparison that Melo is like a pitcher with about 15 different pitches he can use at any time. His one dribble-then fadeaway-jumper was devastating tonight. His dribble penetration was excellent. His read of double teams allowed open corner threes for Steve Novak, who obliged by hitting all three of his attempts. During this recent stretch, its been important to note that Melo’s passing has gotten far too little praise. Yes, his offense is often awe inspiring but his ability to read and react to a defense, and the crisp passing that has resulted leads to wide open shots and usually makes by his mates.
– Playoff match ups are a hot topic of discussion on most blogs and last night’s opponent is a team that the Knicks may potentially face depending on the outcome of the final 8 games (4 home and 4 road). The Hawks have been getting underground praise for being competitive despite shipping off Joe Johnson (his contract), and not making any major moves. First year GM, Danny Ferry’s major task is to field a competitive team (easy when you still have a decent young pg in Jeff Teague, a vastly underrated player in Al Horford and the enigma that is Josh Smith) and also set up a much better cap situation and he did that while robbing the Bulls of a perimeter shooter in the process in Kyle Korver. Korver’s absence on the Bulls can be seen on a nightly basis when they turn to the bench and see Nate Robinson’s arm waving in the sky trying to get Tom Thibodeau’s attention so he can put him in the game to get somebody who can score the basketball. The Hawks have a decent offense but absolutely NO answer to Carmelo Anthony. You saw it yesterday. When a team doubles as often as the Hawks did with Melo, it means they have no one that they can trust one on one to guard Melo.
One small caveat about that, Melo was lights out scoring so that may have had something to do with it, but Melo wasn’t jump shooter Melo. He wasn’t one pitch Melo. He was 15 pitch-selection Melo. Using his vast array of moves to get into the restricted area, invite contact and get to the free throw line (he made 5 of 6 from the charity stripe). Melo’s passing was the difference tonight but having an extra shooter like JR Smith and guys like Steve Novak who can hit the corner three gave the Hawks problems all night. I dont care how many times I have to repeat this but the NBA playoffs are all about match ups. The Knicks would welcome with open hands a first round match up with the Atlanta Hawks.
– Not to get overly excited but an underrated aspect of the Knick offense that we haven’t really seen till now and it bugs me out is that corner three. They have made it a team wide edict that every person who has dreams of wanting to get a green light on shooting a three had better be stationed at either corner and Novak and Shumpert have done an excellent job of doing that. I dont know if its something the Knicks have talked about doing more of but its clear that its working and its gotten Shump’s 3 point field goal percentage up and has helped Novak regain a more steady touch from beyond the arc. One of his threes was such a quick twitch release that literally a milisecond after he got the ball from Shump on the baseline he threw up a corner three and it went in.
– If you had to rank the number of surprises that the Knicks have had this season, one of them would most definitely be JR Smith’s mature offensive game. Yes, his reputation is feast or famine on a nightly basis but its clear that JR has turned a corner thanks to Mike Woodson’s tough love and his new found love for using his tremendous dribbling skills not to set up the step back fadeaway jumper, but to go forward and get closer to the rim. Its been interesting to see how the conversation has changed during the broadcast itself where Mike Breen, like every talent evaluator, has talked up JR’s natural ability but plays up the knucklehead factor. Yes, he makes boneheaded decisions. When he got a technical for what seemed like a small nudge towards Ivan Johnson, to me it was more of a product of reputation more so than what he actually did. The referees hoping to avoid any escalation decided that it would be best to hit Smith with a technical, and get him away, but Smith remained calm. He walked away and came back into the game. That was a result of Smith’s reaction to the technical in Woody’s eyes. Usually coaches like to let players cool off after a technical but this wasn’t the case and it had a ton to do with how JR reacted. His maturity has been the real engine for his turnaround. Hopefully it continues.
– A small little note on the Hawks who I’ve been surprised by. If there’s one free agent I would pick to be a buyer beware candidate I can’t see how Josh Smith doesn’t top the list. No one doubts his talent. But last night’s game was the kind of head scratcher that makes you wonder if anyone can untap that huge reservoir of talent on a nightly consistent basis. There were stretches of that game where he probably had no idea about the set he was in and would loft these 22 footers that made zero sense in the scheme of things. There are those nights where it seems like he’d rather be anywhere else but a basketball court and there are those nights like the one in Milwaukee where he can score 12, grab 16 rebounds and throw 6 assists. I’m convinced that there’s literally nothing he can’t do at his height that if he put it together he wouldn’t be one of 10 most terrifying athletes in the game. But you have no idea where his head is at most times and it has to be frustrating. Im not going to guess where he ends up but if I were any GM other than Danny Ferry I would monitor how he handles it. If Ferry raises his hands and does nothing and lets Smith go, it will tell you everything you need to know about him. The organization that knows him better than anyone wants nothing to do with him. If I were Ferry, I would let Smith go. I would’ve let Smith go during the trading deadline but its possible that the deals he was receiving for him probably didn’t make him budge. But I would let him walk and use that cap space to make a run at Dwight OR keep signing players to one year deals and build around Al Horford who is clearly the most underrated player in the NBA.
– To expound on that point about Horford, there were stretches where it seemed like Teague and co, were playing keep away with the big man. I may be reading into it but there were times where I was wondering to myself why the Hawks weren’t utilizing him when the Knicks, known for over-switching, would have Pablo Prigioni guarding Horford which is a mismatch that a PG like Teague has to recognize quickly and get him the ball. I’m befuddled by Teague who’s also a hot and cold candidate on a nightly basis. You can tell that Teague still has very little handle of Larry Drew’s playbook as he’s seen carelessly throwing passes and doing the old point to a spot like the man who was supposed to catch that was supposed to be there routine. Teague, to me, has that extra burst at times that can play in an uptempo offense but Drew likes his half court sets that love to swing the ball around. The Hawks average the second most assists according to NBA.com’s database and that’s why Kyle Korver was able to get so many easy buckets. The Hawks offense really doesn’t rely on too many one on ones but on a lot of movement and cuts and screens and pick and rolls. Its like a fast break team but in a half court set. They love to move, a ton and it works for them. How Horford doesn’t get more involved is beyond me but last night’s game had to be frustrating for the big man who was yelling at times for the ball when the Knicks would over-switch.
– Is there a more scarier player than Ivan Johnson? He looks like Deshawn Stevenson’s bigger, scarier brother. And that dude is scary as hell too.
– The third quarter had to be the toughest for Mike Woodson to watch. Continuous over switching led to numerous open looks to the one guy that can hurt the Knicks from deep on the Hawks: Kyle Korver. Korver’s three point barrage led to numerous shouting sessions aimed at Shumpert and anyone who had the responsibility of guarding Korver. Korver kept getting open and Woodson kept getting more and more upset and it showed. Its clear if the Knicks want to keep this stretch going, they will have to do a better job in minimizing missed assignments and have the five guys much more in synch.
– Is there a much more professional guy than Jason Kidd who came in the game and instantly closed any passing lanes for Kyle Korver with which to get him the ball. Amazing that he’s still playing an effective brand of basketball on muscle memory and basketball IQ gained over a 19 year NBA career.