"We can get better off this. I know I've said that before and I've kind of been all over the board, but if we can keep this intensity and compete like this, they'll get more confidence."-- Mike D'Antoni
"He's got the total package right now,I think our guys did a pretty good job, because if we didn't, he would've had 70." -- Al Harrington
"They might have been the two toughest free throws I've shot in a while. We've got the game on the line, 50, you're right there and you want to get it. If I didn't say I wanted to get it, I'd be lying to you. I'm right there. But most importantly they were two big free throws." -- Carmelo Anthony
Last night, against the top tier Denver Nuggets, the Knicks proved they could play good basketball. Unfortunately, as early MVP candidate Carmelo Anthony dropped 50 on a compliant defense, the Knicks still did not show they could play good enough to beat someone of significance.
The Knicks seem to play up or down to their competition according to the conventional wisdom. During this West Coast trip ,which ended with the Nugget loss, and in the last home game against Boston, the Knicks played like a potential playoff team, but were unable to sustain that level of play against Paul Westphal's wannabe Kings in Sactown. However, each game and each team have their own rhythm and the lack of defensive pressure in Denver allowed the Knicks to develop an offensive rhythm and confidence in both their inside and outside game. Surprisingly, David Lee (23 pts 10 rebounds and 4 assists in 38 minutes) and Al Harrington (41 pts, 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks) maneuvered in the offensive interior like all-stars against the Nuggets who have allegedly committed to better defense than in the past.
Chris Duhon (12 pts and 6 assists; a good day these days) is certainly the biggest culprit of inconsistent play. Clearly very prideful, he seems to up his play with the level of competition which may explain the quick early tres in the first quarter. It is a shot that he can easily hit. However, he recently has been thinking about his shots which will always lead to inconsistency and an interruption of muscle memory developed in practice. Larry Hughes, in 34 minutes of action, seemed more like the Knicks lead point with 16 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds.
The starting unit still had the lead when Harrington came in for a rather ineffective Danilo Gallinari (4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist on 2-10 shooting). For our intents and purposes this is Gallo's rookie season and although the definitive conclusions cannot be drawn, the evidence continues to suggest that the Rooster was not the best choice the Knicks could have made last year. The Knicks have committed to developing Gallinari as a starter but his body of work supports the notion that he is useless on defense; while his youth, length and occasional hustle will lead to a nominal number of blocks and steals, he is a technical mess who is easily beaten off the dribble, is often frozen out of position in the interior, does not take a single charge and is a worse help defender than David Lee.
Offensively Gallinari, definitely a decent set shooter, was more mirage than the real thing. His technique looks like it should go in, but it is hard to remember when a great shooter looked so uncomfortable without space and time to shoot. Is he thinking too much too? Or is he just not that good? Either way, D'Antoni's staff will ruin him, as they are ruining Wilson Chandler (12 pts, 2 for 3 from tre-land, only 2 rebounds but 4 assists in 41 minutes), with an over reliance on the tre. Gallo will become a force when he learns to play with his back to the basket and consistently makes defenders work in the mid-range.
Denver was especially successful at cherry picking after Gallinari shots, as Carmelo would race down court and wait under the basket for the long outlet pass after the Knicks' errant tres. No wonder Carmelo is the only player to score at least 20 points in every game he has played this season.
The Knicks ended the first quarter with a 30-26 lead. In the second quarter Harrington mixed it up with jumpers and drives to the hoop. Gallo made up for his outside inefficiency with scores under the basket and Lee continued to play well in the mid-range. At the half, the Knicks were down by only one, with the score 61-60.
The Knicks took the lead briefly before going down by 7 and Harrington re-entered the game. Knicks ended the third quarter behind by 5 with Gallo absent much of the quarter. When Lee left the game out with 4 fouls and the Knicks down 76-72, the strong interior offensive presence disappeared. Lee is extremely quick around the basket and difficult to guard with his back to the basket.
Chauncey Billups had 24 points to support Anthony's 39 by the third quarter as Harrington played with emotional fire to keep up with Melo and the Knicks in the game. Anthony scored 13 points in the third.
The 4th quarter was a nip and tuck affair with the Knicks tucking away fluidity for ill-timed three point shots and soft defense. Yet tres by Robinson and Duhon kept the Knicks in the game, while JR Smith took over with unreal three point shooting. With under a minute to play Billups extracted a blocking call on Harrington as he went to the hoop. The result was two freebies and a 123-117 score favoring the Nuggets.
Chandler seemed at his best in crunch time although he was still unable to contain Carmelo who sealed the game with two single digit scores from the charity stripe to reach 50. After a beautiful Harrington reverse J.R. Smith ended the game by hitting one of two freebies.
Without question this was D'Antoni's best coaching performance this season. While the team was poor defensively, they rotated the ball well and rarely settled for challenged one-on-one shots. It also seemed to help that D'Antoni kept the rotation to eight.
Hesitation Dribbles. . . . Jeffries continues to earn his reputation as a bleeder. In the 4th quarter, a constantly active Jeffries suffered a cut above the eye from inadvertent contact by Mr. Inadvertent Contact himself, Kenyon Martin. Stan Lee, this may be a good idea for a new Marvel superhero with human frailties -- Jared Jeffries as Cutman. . . . A shorter rotation and an absent Curry meant that DNPs were given to Darko, Toney Douglas, Jordan Hill and Marcus Landry. . . .Eddie Curry, listed day to day, may return from a knee injury to help David Lee with Dwight "Copycat Superman" Dwight Howard. (Love his relatively new Rainn Wilson new commercial though). . . .According to Frank Isola, Gallinari is one of the most talented and professional Knicks on the team and his future is extremely bright as indicated by concerns about his back from Kobe Bryant and LeBro[n] James. In New York Daily News fashion he speculates (hence starts that WELL FOUNDED rumor) that Gallo's teammates are probably jealous: "There are points in games where Gallinari's teammates tend to ignore him. That may be the result of petty jealousy since the club is trying to make Gallinari the face of the team and many of the current players won't be back. Or a less sinister reason may be that the players simply don't trust him yet." Never-mind, that Gallo looks like he is waiting for a cab on the arc and the defenders now know not to give him much space to get his shot up. . . . Did you here the joke about the group of defenders worst than the Knicks? -- they're called the Secret Service.
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