Maybe James Dolan was onto something when he made his guarantee. In last night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, the New York Knicks came out with renewed energy (and a new starting lineup) and rode their hot start to a much-needed road win.
The Knicks moved the ball very well in the first half and they finally started knocking down perimeter shots. Newly-appointed starter J.R. Smith hit three first-quarter threes as the Knicks raced out to an early lead. They were 5-for-10 from downtown in the first quarter. Smith looked a little sloppy when he tried to attack off the dribble and he lost control of the ball a few times, but his outside shooting ability helped stretch the floor for his teammates early on.
Their hot shooting and low turnover rate (just two in the first half) helped them maintain their early lead despite some defensive issues.
Defensively, the Knicks generally managed to avoid over-switching and bad mismatches and they definitely brought a lot more energy on that end, but it was still far from a perfect night for them. They got outscored in the paint by a massive 56-28 margin over the course of the game.
When the Knicks’ hot 3-point shooting cooled off in the third and Carmelo Anthony missed on a series of isolation plays, the Hawks were able to continue to pound the ball inside to chip away at the deficit and eventually take the lead. Jeff Teague was able to penetrate at will and earned himself 14 free throw attempts, while Al Horford was able to repeatedly get easy looks by running the floor hard in transition.
The Knicks won’t be able to get away with such poor interior defense against better teams. A lineup of Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr., Metta World Peace and Kenyon Martin showed some promise though.
Fortunately for the Knicks, they rediscovered their 3-point stroke in the fourth quarter and the Hawks never really got theirs going. Atlanta bricked their first nine shots from deep and they would go on to finish just 5-for-24 for the night, while the Knicks hit 12 from long range. The Knicks ended the game with a short 3-point barrage, capped off by Andrea Bargnani hitting a ridiculous 3-point banker then looking around in disbelief.
The two standout players for the Knicks were Bargnani and Shumpert. Shumpty Shump played some very nice defense, particularly in the fourth. He made up for a poor shooting night (2-for-8 from the field) by grabbing six rebounds, dishing out nine assists and picking up four steals. The Knicks outscored the Hawks by 15 points during Shump’s 35 minutes of game time.
Bargnani showed some real hustle out there, even saving a few loose balls from bouncing out of bounds on his way to a strong 20-point, 11-rebound performance. It was his first double-digit rebound game since January 11, 2012. He still couldn’t really protect the rim on the Hawks’ many drives to the basket, but he played well enough overall to make up for it.
Ultimately, with their starting center out, this is the kind of game the Knicks are going to have to win. Just like against Atlanta, they’ll have to continue winning the turnover battle, move the ball on offense and knock down their outside shots.