Knicks-Hawks: Observations

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It had quite the peaks and valleys, but the Knicks turned James Dolan into a clairvoyant genius and won a game they really, really needed by knocking off the Atlanta Hawks, 95-91. Some thoughts:

- The day began with the news that J.R. Smith was starting over Pablo Prigioni, which didn’t seem to make too many people happy. But the game itself began well for the Knicks largely in part to J.R., who canned three 3s early to help the Knicks get off the blocks in a game that seriously needed to start well for them. This is hilariously simple and is true for every basketball team ever, but the Knicks are a much more dangerous and different team when the 3s go down. They haven’t early this season, even a lot of the open looks.

- Carmelo Anthony also started off hot in the first quarter. Prior to the game I had a short discussion on Twitter with the excellent Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, who pointed out that Anthony has consistently shot worse when he’s shared the floor with Smith throughout their careers. They both can fall into ball-stopping traps, we all know the Knicks are much more efficient when they move the ball, and Melo is much better when the floor is spaced correctly. And while it was ugly for stretches, Melo had great first and fourth quarters, mostly while sharing the floor with Smith. We’ll keep an eye out as to how this affects Melo’s shooting provided Smith remains in the starting lineup and they continue to share the floor.

- The Knicks’ second unit had a heck of a second quarter. Overall, the Knicks had nine assists on their 10 made field goals in the quarter, and a lot of that had to do with the Pablo Prigioni-led bench. Pablo had four assists in just 15 minutes of play, and Iman Shumpert, who played some of that second quarter in a tough defensive lineup with Prigioni, Tim Hardaway, Jr., Metta World Peace and Kenyon Martin, had nine assists total. Kudos to that lineup for finding ways to score, because that isn’t exactly a lineup that you’d think would be too good at the whole offense thing.

- A big reason for the bench scoring well in that second quarter was Tim Hardaway, Jr, who had 10 of his 14 points before halftime. The rookie was 5-of-8 overall and 2-of-4 from deep. I counted one really horrific, heat-of-the-moment chuck from him in the second quarter, but other than that his shot selection was by far the best we’ve seen in this young season. We still don’t know how good he’s going to be, but you have to love his aggressiveness, ability in transition and the fact that he simply looks like he belongs. I’m excited to see him develop, and you should be, too. For all we talk about Iman Shumpert (and for good reason), the Knicks look like they may have another young, athletic asset in their backcourt.

- As for Shumpert, he shook off the silly trade rumor from earlier in the day with a very complete performance. He didn’t shoot well, and hasn’t so far this season, but did bang down one big three in the fourth quarter and filled the stat sheet with four steals, five rebounds, the aforementioned nine assists. He also led the Knicks with a plus/minus of +15. His best game of the season.

- It was also the best game of the season for Andrea Bargnani (save one hilarious spurt in the second quarter that included perhaps the worst missed help defense in the history of the sport and a wild, two-handed, running hook shot that nearly broke the backboard). Bargnani shot an efficient 8-of-15 and played a big role in the Knicks’ fourth quarter surge, making a few clutch shots late. He still gets lost often on rotations and in help, and has zero rim-protection ability, but Bargnani has proven to be a decent 1-on-1 post defender; he had some very solid moments defending Al Horford down low. Oh yeah, he also had 11 boards.

- That third quarter was ugly. I’m not sure what Carmelo Anthony was trying to do for most of it, as he kept isolating and chucking up awful shots. Defensively the Knicks weren’t very good in that quarter either. Jeff Teague gave Raymond Felton fits – actually, he gave him fits all night. Thankfully the Hawks aren’t a very good offensive team, because they only took advantage of the Knicks’ malaise and fouling ways for 23 points in the third.

- Be honest: When Kyle Korver nailed that 3-pointer to put the Hawks up six with about eight and a half minutes left, your finger was hovering over the red button. Thankfully, from that point on, Melo took over, Felton started actually making some shots, and the Knicks did enough defensively to hold on.

- 75 games left. The next one is Thursday against Dwight Howard, James Harden and some other guy.

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