NEW YORK – The New York Knicks haven’t been accustomed to starting games fast this season, even against bad teams. It’s a good thing they did this time.
If not for runs of 13-0 to begin the game, and 7-0 to start the second quarter, the Knicks (39-38) might have been in a battle with the lowly Toronto Raptors (21-56) instead of building a huge lead and ultimately cruising to a more modest 131-118 win at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
New York singed the nets in the opening half, scoring 39 points in each of the first two quarters, on 65.9 percent (27-41) shooting from the floor.
Most of that damage was done from the perimeter, as the Knicks made 12 of 16 three-point attempts to post a season high in first-half points while building a commanding 78-54 halftime lead.
The Knicks also matched their season high for total points (March 7th in a home win over Utah) while giving head coach Mike D’Antoni his 100th victory as a Knick coach.
It was New York’s second wire-to-wire win this season, with the other such victory ironically coming in a win over D’Antoni’s former team – Phoenix – on January 7th.
D’Antoni became the sixth coach in franchise history to reach triple digits in wins with the Knicks, joining Red Holzman (613), Joe Lapchick (326), Jeff Van Gundy (248), and Hubie Brown (142).
New York was led by reserve guard Toney Douglas, who scored a team-high 28 points (10-15 fg, 6-9 3-pt. fg) in 26 minutes off the bench.
Douglas noted the Knicks’ improved first-quarter focus against the Raptors, who New York swept for the first time in nine seasons, as the Knicks also notched their first 4-0 season series sweep over any team in 15 seasons.
“We should come out like that all the time,” he said. “We have to come with that type of intensity [especially] at the defensive end… if we [do that] without fouling, we’ll be fine every game.”
With Douglas leading the way, it was New York’s usual top two scoring options – star forwards Carmelo Anthony (who was earlier named the NBA Player of the Week) and Amar’e Stoudemire, who played unfamiliar complimentary roles to Douglas while scoring 23 points apiece.
Yet, Douglas humbly credited his teammates for his own success on Tuesday night, saying “I’ve got to stay aggressive, but I couldn’t do it without my teammates. They’re not going to leave Amar’e and Melo, so I just have to do my job, hit shots, and bring a lot of energy. Whatever I have to do to help the team win, I’m going to do it.”
All but four of Anthony’s points came in the opening half, as he led all scorers at halftime, thanks mostly to making five three-pointers in six attempts, including a catch-and-shoot, fast break 30-footer, after which he shrugged his shoulders as if even he couldn’t believe the great range he had in the first half.
While New York’s offense was unstoppable in that half, the Knicks, as Douglas said, were sharp defensively, early in the game.
It was 4:02 into the game before Toronto got on the board on a putback dunk by forward Amir Johnson (4 points), but once the Raptors started to get going offensively, they pulled to within 29-21 on a fast break layup by guard Demar DeRozan, who led all scorers with 36 points.
A pair of three-pointers and an assist by Douglas though, helped the Knicks to a comfortable 39-26 advantage after the first quarter.
Douglas then made two more three-pointers to key an 18-4 spurt that broke the game open, putting New York ahead, 57-30. The run was capped on a nice behind-the-back pass by Douglas, to guard Bill Walker (8 points), who waltzed down the lane for an easy bucket plus a foul, for a three-point play.
The Knicks later took the game’s largest lead, 76-47, on a pair of free throws by guard Landry Fields (10 points) 54.8 seconds before halftime.
D’Antoni began to rest Anthony and other regulars in the second half, with a showdown scheduled for Wednesday night in Philadelphia, against the 76ers (40-38), who lead the Knicks by a half-game for sixth place in the Eastern conference after losing in Boston on Tuesday night.
Building a big first-half lead was important in that respect. “We had an opportunity to get some rest with the back-to-back tomorrow,” said Douglas.
Things almost got too close for comfort in the fourth quarter however, after Toronto outscored New York 28-21 in the third quarter and started the fourth period on an 18-11 run to pull to within 110-100, with 6:53 left in the game.
That was as close as the Raptors would get though, as Douglas scored five points and made a steal that led to another Knick basket during an 11-6 New York run that pushed the Knicks’ lead back to 121-106 with 3:34 remaining, to secure the victory.
With so much uncertainty as to which tough team – Boston or Miami – might get the second or third seed in a very close race between those clubs in the East, it’s hard to say if getting the six or seven seed matters much for New York.
For now, the Knicks, winners of four straight games right after dropping nine of their ten previous games, simply want to keep winning and maintain their good momentum through the remainder of the regular season while the playoff races take care of themselves.
“We’re going into a very big game tomorrow night,” said Stoudemire of Wednesday night’s trip to Philadelphia. “We just need to play well, that’s the most important factor. Ultimately, the record doesn’t matter.”
Still, it’s nice for Knick fans to know that by reaching 39 wins on Wednesday night, New York has already won its most games in seven seasons, and that the Knicks have a good chance to complete their first winning season in ten years.
Douglas shares Stoudemire’s view however, that how the Knicks are playing heading into the playoffs matters far more than what their final regular season record will be.
“I don’t really care if we’re over .500 or who we play in the playoffs,” he said. ”[We] just try to go out there and win every game. [The game in Philadelphia is] important because it’s the next game. Every game is important, that’s how I treat it.“
And, now that D’Antoni has joined the 100 club as a Knick coach, he’s also looking forward to his team’s next game, although he too, isn’t sure that getting the six seed in the East is necessarily as critical as the Knicks simply playing well heading into the playoffs.
“[Overtaking Philadelphia for the six seed is] something we want to do,” he said. “[But], I don’t know if it’s important to do… let’s keep [playing well]… it’s not the end of the world either way.”
However, after winning in Philadelphia in mid-March last year, in a game in which the Knicks and 76ers were each simply playing out the string, D’Antoni acknowledged that “It should be a fun game to play because it does have some importance.”
Tip-off at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday night is scheduled for 7pm ET.