NEW YORK – Welcome to the Stephon Marbury-less Era. With the controversial point guard gone, the Knicks hosted the Orlando Magic at the Garden last night. What looked as if it was going to be an easy win for the Magic, turned out to be quite the opposite. For most of the game, the Knicks lacked effort on defense, took too many careless shots and were simply overmatched by Superman Dwight Howard. However, New York kicked it into gear during the fourth quarter and turned it into a thrilling game. In the end, Orlando held on for a 114-109 victory.
While Howard finished with a terrific 24 points and 21 rebounds, Hedo Turkoglu paced Orlando with 33 points. He wasn’t well guarded last night because, of course, all the attention is paid to Howard. Nate Robinson called the Turkish forward “underrated.” Robinson himself had an impressive game as he led the team with 32 points. Coming off that spectacular 41-point performance against Indiana on Monday night, Nate was pumped to get into the game, which was stoked by the deafening ovation he received from the crowd.
Orlando guard Rafer Alston said, “He has been terrific since jumping over Dwight (Howard). He is strong, quick, powerful, you want to give him a step but then he can raise and shoot. He is a terrific ball player.”
Unfortunately, the Knicks needed more than just Robinson if they wanted to win this game. All five Orlando starters finished with double-digit points. Rashard Lewis had 17, while Alston and Courtney Lee both had 15.
One particular play that stood out was when Chris Duhon threw up a beautiful alley-oop that Wilson Chandler slammed down with 6:20 left in the third quarter. The game was far out of reach for the Knicks for the majority of the first three quarters. Orlando led by as much as 16 with 4:28 left in the third. Instead of quitting, they continued to battle. Head Coach Mike D’Antoni is responsible for that.
“We didn’t make shots. Two or three shots, the ball kind of came in and out. We were shooting about 27%, 15 points in the first quarter, that definitely hurt us,” D’Antoni said. “They’re a good team.”
Danilo Gallinari emerged as a sparkplug very late in the game. With 7:21 left in the fourth quarter, The Rooster brought down a rebound, somehow broke free from three Magic defenders, then dished it to Wilson Chandler who drained the three. With 4:23 left in regulation, Chandler nailed another three, bringing the score to 94-87 in favor of Orlando.
With 2:59 left, Rashard Lewis hit a three-pointer, giving the Magic an 100-90 lead. In what looked to be the hammer, the Knicks still continued to fight back. With 1:45 left in the fourth, Gallinari nailed a clutch three-pointer to cut the deficit to six. However, he was immediately one-upped by an alley-oop three-point play completed by Howard.
Gallinari continued to impress with his stellar late-game play. With 24.2 seconds left, he drained a three-pointer to cut Orlando’s lead to 109-107. The Garden faithful was into it. Gallinari was into it. The Knicks looked as if they could finally tie this game up. However, the Magic made enough free throws to hold them off.
One positive that should be taken from this game, Knicks fans, is that Gallinari was given the ball in a pressure-cooker spot, and not only took the shot, but hit it. In earlier games, with just 24 seconds left in the game, no one would’ve passed him the ball. He was wide open, Duhon saw him, dished it and Gallinari finished the play with that signature sweet shot. New imports Larry Hughes and Chris Wilcox will need time to work their way into the rotation, but that’s exactly the time Gallinari should keep taking his shots, impress D’Antoni and force him to keep the rookie in the rotation.
Speaking of Hughes, while he’s struggled mightily since coming over from Chicago, D’Antoni says he just needs time to adjust.
“He’s rusty. He doesn’t have a lot of legs. It’s a new system, a new building. He wants to do well,” the head coach said. “He’s pressing right now. He just has to take a deep breath and we’ll try and get him through this.”
As was mentioned in the beginning of this article, the Knicks’ defense was awful in this game. It’s understandable if Howard dominates you – the guy is a freak specimen. It’s inexcusable, however, for Turkoglu to record 33 points with relative ease.
The Garden finally saw Gallinari earn some trust late in the game. That issue might be slowly fading away. There are others that remain. Improve on defense, get Hughes and Wilcox in rhythm with this offense and take smarter shots. Lee, who barely finished with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds), needs to stop taking 20-foot jumpshots. That’s not his game. He needs to stay down-low, where he’s been a force all season long.
I’m sure all of these topics are jogging through D’Antoni’s mind right now. He’ll be sure to jot them down on the dry-erase board in the locker room come Friday when the Sixers roll into town. However, it’s ultimately up to the players to make it happen.