New York – Is it possible that New York area basketball fans just might get to follow hometown teams that can approach respectability this season?
With their cross-river rival New Jersey Nets, winners of one consecutive game coming into the Garden for a 12 noon matinee today, the Knicks were facing a confident bunch. However, the home team, behind Larry Hughes, who scored 16 of his 25 points in the third quarter, showed some new-found grit during the second half as they came from behind to defeat the Nets, 106-97.
The win was the second consecutive game in which the Knicks overcame a double—digit deficit, this time a 57-44 disadvantage in the second quarter, to get a win.
Al Harrington, back in the starting lineup again, put together one of his best all-around games of the season, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and assists with 28, 14, and 5 dimes. That’s what’s commonly called filling up the boxscore. He was happy for his team’s recent good play after the game.
“We want to make the playoffs,” said Harrington. “That gives us a reason to keep fighting and keep getting better. I think we’re in a good stretch right here. I think if we come out and share the basketball and play hard from the beginning, we have a good chance of wining.”
Harrington had lots of help from David Lee, as well. Lee scored 24 to go along with nine rebounds. He shot 12 of 18 from the floor and played his brand of offense, pick and rolls and put backs, to a tee today.
Hughes didn’t start the game as Wilson Chandler began as the two guard but Chandler’s poor play in the first half led D’Antoni to start Hughes in the second half.
“Larry Hughes was really good,” said D’Antoni. “We were stuttering there for a while. I think he got to the line different times. He just got more aggressive and made plays. He did that the other night.”
The Nets controlled the play during most of the first half, racing out to a 61-53 lead as they shot a whopping 58% from the floor during the first 24 minutes. They had three double-figure scorers in the half, led by Devin Harris (17), Brook Lopez (12), and Chris Douglas-Roberts (12).
In the meantime, the Knicks, coming off recent wins over Atlanta and Phoenix, resorted back to the type of miserable defense in the first half that has marked this team throughout the season.
It was during the Knicks floundering first half that the Nate Robinson story, now going on three games without so much as a sniff of the court, picked up steam with the Garden crowd. The fan favorite was once again, a DNP-CD (Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision), something of a surprise especially during the first half and his team in need of a spark. When asked after the game about Robinson’s status, D’Antoni deflected the subject.
“I’m fine with the lineup as it is right now,” he said. “There’s no reason to change things up if things are going well,”
It’s either a matter of the Knicks fans being a jaded lot or, all of a sudden, Garden patrons have lost their sense and knowledge of the game by how they chanted for Robinson to enter the game in the fourth quarter when the Knicks were back to playing well and leading by nine points with just over four minutes to go in a game they would go on to win.
The Nets beat Charlotte on Friday for their first victory after an NBA-record 18 straight losses to begin the season and seemed headed toward a second in a row after playing their best half of the season. They have a new, positive-sounding coach in Kiki Vanderweghe who hasn’t yet been beaten down by the losing nature of this franchise and most of all, they have a core of young players that most teams in the league would like to have.
Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni is seeing the improvement in his team, too.
“We’re playing better,” he said. “In the first half, I didn’t think we had enough energy and we didn’t get into them defensively. The zone worked pretty well for us and we kind of stuck with that for a little bit. Offensively, the ball was just moving a little better. We’re taking advantage of situations and recognizing where we need to go. Things are better.”
“It probably started about seven or eight games ago,” he added. “We didn’t win but we played Boston well here. We played Denver well. The Lakers weren’t too bad. We were playing against really good teams and we just didn’t get the wins. Offensively, we’re just much smoother, a lot better, taking better shots, shooting a higher percentage. Anytime you’re shooting around 48% – 50%, you’re going to have a chance to win every night, and that’s what we want to do. Now, our defense has to get better. We’ll keep working on it and see what happens.”
But Hughes woke the Knicks with his big third quarter, and they stormed back to continue their dominance of their local rival. New York has defeated New Jersey twice this season after sweeping all three preseason meetings.
“The biggest thing I was saying to the guys was we can’t lose to the Nets,” forward Al Harrington said. “No disrespect to them, but if we want to start taking steps forward and going in the right direction, we have to win games vs. teams like the Nets.”
Chris Douglas-Roberts scored 26 points for New Jersey, which fell to 1-1 since general manager Kiki Vandeweghe took over as coach for the remainder of the season. Devin Harris and Brook Lopez each added 19.
“We lost a little bit of focus,” Vandeweghe said. “We have to remember that every team, when we lose a little bit of focus, they’re going to capitalize on it. It’s a good lesson for us.”
“They’re an extremely good team when they’re clicking on offense. They’re really hard to defend,” Douglas-Roberts said. “Coach D’Antoni has a really good system. When they’re hitting 3s and playing with passion, they’re a hard team to defend. I feel like we played fairly well but those guys had a great second half.”