Don’t let the double-digit margin fool you. This game was much closer than the score indicated. For the first three quarters of this match-up against the Magic (whose roster looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland after the Dwight Howard trade, particularly with Hedo and Jameer Nelson injured), the Knicks looked like they were succumbing to a classic trap game and looking forward to a road back-to-back with the Spurs and Grizzlies that is on the slate later this week. It appeared that the Knicks took the Magic for granted and forgot that the guys in the white uniforms also get paid to, you know, like play basketball and stuff.
The Magic managed to hang around (down 4 after the first, up 4 at halftime, and down 1 going into the final quarter) mostly by just out-hustling New York for much of the game. The extremely young Magic (the only Magic player who suited up tonight over 27 was JJ Redick, while the Knicks’ entire active roster is 27 or older) were making the Knicks look extremely old on both ends of the court. In particular, rookie St. John’s product and Queens native Mo Harkless saved the best game of his burgeoning career for his hometown team (thanks a lot, dick), tallying 10 points and 7 rebounds in the first half. Nikola Vucevic appeared to be giving the ‘Bockers’ frontline fits, finishing the game with a double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds); although part of this was probably because Tyson Chandler had to shade a step closer to the Big Baby-Carmelo Anthony battle, where the LSU alum with the narrow-set eyes was using his prodigious girth to take Melo to the woodshed. Finally, the Magic’s elder statesman, the eminently loathsome JJ Redick, made Jason Kidd show his age on defense, by getting to the rim more than you’d expect (4 times has to be a career record) and notching 18 points to go along with 7 assists.
In the final stanza, the Knicks flipped the switch, locking it down on defense, forcing the Magic into a series of turnovers and forced end-of-the-shotclock jumpers, ultimately allowing only 13 points in the entire period. During a 10-minute stretch (10:34 to 1:20), New York’s defense conceded only 4 points, while causing (by my unofficial count) 6 turnovers and permitting only two shots within 17 feet of the basket (a Redick layup and a missed Andrew Nicholson jump hook). As frustrating as it was to sit through the first 36 lackluster minutes of this game, there was something beautiful (and dangerous, like dating Cat Power or something) about watching this team just flip a switch and blow by an inferior opponent. Having been on the opposite end of that equation for basically my entire 20′s, it’s a pleasant role reversal.
- As much as I’ve come to accept and love Rasheed in the Brian Scalabrine/Human Victory Cigar role….um….that’s got to be the limit of his role. Double-digit minutes, first big off the bench? Not so much. He put up an 0-fer from deep tonight and looked a lot like a guy who was retired for two years. Generally speaking, if the guy getting playing time in the opener is a gif-inducing joke, he probably shouldn’t be a key cog by game 5. Just picking nits here.
- They managed to connect on their last two, but all year the Felton-Chandler lobs seem a touch off. Often Ray leaves the ball a bit too high and it happened twice in the early-going in this game. I think they’ll figure it out over time, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
- Jason Kidd hit two huge shots to launch the Knicks on the 18-4 run that put this game out of reach. A long distance bomb put the good guys up 82-80 — a lead they would not relinquish. A few plays later, with his man shuffling backwards toward Tyson Chandler as he dove toward the rim on a pick and roll, Kidd let a teardrop floater drizzle through the hoop to extend the lead to 4 points. He read the defense perfectly, and an eerie calm set in after that second hoop. Somehow, it seemed like everyone involved knew the Knicks had this one in the bag.