NEW YORK – The Knicks didn’t come alive until about five minutes left in the second quarter. Mike D’Antoni’s squad, who was hosting the Atlanta Hawks at the Garden last night, began the game very lackadaisical and sluggish. Fortunately, they were able to hold on for a 109-105 victory, snapping a three-game losing streak.
Larry Hughes, who started at shooting guard, led the team with 23 points. An equally impressive story was the performance of Danilo “The Rooster” Gallinari, who scored a career-high 17 points. Playing for 22 minutes, Gallinari without a doubt took on the injured Nate Robinson’s (sprained ankle) role as the team’s sparkplug last night.
“He played great. We know he is a great shooter and that is the biggest thing,” D’Antoni said in his post-game conference. “He also knows how to play. When he doesn’t make a good play or something bad happens it is usually because of a little lack of strength or lack of physical presence. It will come with maturity, comes when he gets completely over his back, but he was really good tonight.”
The Knicks’ performance in the first quarter was uninspiring to say the least. Taking careless shots (Chris Duhon needs to stop taking as many three-pointers), playing awful defense, and not grabbing easy rebounds is what has plagued New York the entire season. The first quarter was an absolute microcosm of the 2008-2009 Knicks season. Most of the second quarter was like that, too. However, New York flipped a switch with about five minutes left in the first half and from there on out, the Orange and Blue was a force to be reckoned with.
With 3.6 seconds left in the first half, Wilson Chandler was fouled and hit both free throws to give the Knicks a 51-49 lead going into halftime. Whatever D’Antoni said in the locker room during halftime, whatever the General told his troops, clearly worked as the Knicks came back with a bang in the third quarter. The crowd was into it for the rest of the game as the Knicks held on for a solid win.
Throughout the third quarter and for most of the fourth, New York just seemed to dominate the Hawks. It was as if a different team was on the court as opposed to the one who stunk up the first quarter. Gallinari was nailing threes left and right (finishing with 4-for-5 from behind the arc) and simply everyone was getting into the act. An impressive six Knicks scored points in double-digits, including every starter. Chandler had 18, Al Harrington had the second-highest with 20 points (and 10 boards for a double-double), Duhon netted 14, and David Lee scored 13 (to go along with his 14 rebounds for a very quiet double-double).
Hughes, who scored the game’s first basket, finally feels like he’s gelling with the team and maybe more importantly is starting to feel healthy again. “I feel pretty good now. I am putting in the extra work; I am making sure that I am in the weight room and making sure my legs are holding up.”
On the Hawks’ side, their leading scorer was Al Horford with 20 points and 13 boards for the double-double. Coincidentally, they also had six players finish in double-digit scoring. Josh Smith had 16, Marvin Wiliams had 17, Mike Bibby netted 11, Joe Johnson scored 18, and Flip Murray scored 10 points off the bench. I’m not sure what Atlanta could have done to get back into this game after it started getting out of reach, but they couldn’t keep up with the Knicks’ second half energy.
“We shut it down, that’s exactly what we did,” Atlanta Head Coach Mike Woodson said. “I thought we came out to play and the first quarter was excellent. Then in the second and third quarters once we got down, it was just too late. We just got comfortable and let them get going and [the Knicks] are a shot-making team that scores a lot of points here in the Garden. Once they got going we couldn’t stop them.”
Hopefully plenty more opposing head coaches will be uttering that last sentence in the coming weeks. Surprisingly, the defense had 12 steals. The second-half Knicks were a different team than the first-half chumps. However, D’Antoni, smartly, isn’t getting overly excited about anything yet.
“Once we see this in ten straight games, then maybe we’ve got things solved,” the Head Coach said.
His players really need to heed his advice. Don’t get cocky yet. Be confident. While the Knickerbockers are still very much in the playoff picture (with a record now of 25-35), the last thing the Garden Faithful wants to see are big heads. Put in the work and grind it out during practice, listen to the wisdom of General D’Antoni, and replicate the kind of basketball that was on display during the second half. That’s all Knicks fans can ask for.