NEW YORK – So, who needs Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin, anyway?
Despite missing their starting power forward and point guard, the New York Knicks kept rolling along in the new era of interim head coach Mike Woodson, very easily winning their third consecutive game overall, and their second straight since injuries sidelined Stoudemire (sore lower back) and Lin (sore left knee).
After hanging on late to secure a home win over Milwaukee in their first game without both Stoudemire and Lin on Monday, the Knicks (26-25) left no doubt on Wednesday night, leading by as many as 39 points in the third quarter en route to a 108-86 thrashing of the Orlando Magic (32-19), which saw its three-game win streak come to an end before a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Getting a rare start, rookie first-round draft pick, guard Iman Shumpert, posted career highs in field goals made (ten) and attempted (21), and in points (25), to join forward Carmelo Anthony (25 points, six assists, five rebounds before he was rested in the final quarter) in leading all scorers while helping New York overcome an eight-point first-quarter deficit.
Initially, Orlando, which entered the game as the third-best team in the eastern conference, looked like anything but the team that would eventually be dominated badly over the middle two quarters, during which the Knicks outscored the Magic 65-22 before an 8-0 Orlando run closed the third quarter.
Point guard Jameer Nelson (team-high 17 points) scored Orlando’s first five points and forward Hedo Turkoglu added another five to pace the Magic to a 12-5 lead less than three minutes into the game, but New York scored nine of the next 11 points to get to tie the game at 14 apiece on a three-pointer by Shumpert just before the midway point of the opening quarter.
Nelson recorded six more points as the Magic answered with a 10-2 run to lead 24-16, but the Knicks scored the next five points and pulled to within 24-21 on a long right-wing three-pointer by reserve three-point specialist Steve Novak (16 points, four three-pointers in eight attempts off the bench), and New York stayed within four points, to trail just 29-25 after the opening quarter.
Little did anyone in the building know that what seemed like a modest 5-0 Knicks run to cut the eight-point deficit to three, would be the beginning of a tremendous 72-25 turnaround by late in the third quarter.
The level of embarrassment endured by Orlando was unexplainable by Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy, who sat on the opposite side of the court as his brother, former Knick head coach, and current analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who was calling the game for a national television audience on ESPN.
“What’s shocking to me, is that a team that’s playing over .600 basketball (.627) could get absolutely rocked as many times as we have been,” said Stan Van Gundy, referring to some puzzling losses, including a couple of recent ones in which his team failed to score 60 points. “That’s what’s mind-boggling to me.”
“We were awful,” he continued. “We were terrible… we turned it over too much, we didn’t rebound, we didn’t guard, we didn’t move the ball well, and we didn’t make shots. They did.”
A driving layup by ex-Knick point guard Chris Duhon (7 points) gave Orlando its final lead, 34-33, with 6:58 left in the first half, but Novak beat the first-half buzzer to with a straightaway three-pointer off a nice look by point guard Baron Davis (11 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two turnovers) to give New York a 57-41 lead at intermission after the Knicks closed the half on a 24-7 run.
Novak credited his team’s defense with making it easier for him and his teammates to score. “Our offense feeds off of our defense and our offense plays better. We are playing the right way right now.”
Joining Davis with seven rebounds from the backcourt was Shumpert, as the smaller Knicks, sans Stoudemire, outhustled and outrebounded the Magic 49-34, including 16-9 on the offensive glass.
“When we give up 16 offensive rebounds to a team that’s playing small, then that’s an effort problem,” said Stan Van Gundy.
Meanwhile, Shumpert acknowledged that center Tyson Chandler (nine points, 4-4 FG, team-high nine rebounds), the Knicks’ vocal defensive and rebounding leader who was acquired in the offseason from the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, keeps his teammates in check in the effort department.
“We go after rebounds every game,” said Shumpert. “If we don’t, Tyson would be all over us.”
Defensively, New York held Orlando to its season low for second-quarter points when the Knicks turned the game with a 32-12 second period.
“Our bench came in and really cracked the game open in the second quarter,” said Woodson. “They made shots and our defense just didn’t give in.”
Anthony, who has been playing through his own injury tweaks (mainly a groin issue) added, “We are really locked in and focused on what we need to focus in on, which is the defensive end. We have been tremendous on that end of the court. As far as the offense goes, tonight guys just made shots.”
Superstar center Dwight Howard was also held to just 12 points (more than nine below his season average) for the game, taking just seven shot from the floor (making four), while committing more turnover (a game-high six) than the rebounds he grabbed (five – nearly ten below his average).
Howard’s layup with 9:04 left in the third quarter cut the Knicks’ lead to 67-49, but the Magic went the next 6:20 before scoring again, as New York ballooned its lead to 88-49 by scoring the next 21 points to record the Knicks’ fourth longest consecutive points streak in a game, coming within just three points of their franchise record, when they scored 24 straight points against Indiana on November 15, 2003.
A 23-3 run spanning the third and fourth quarters brought the Orlando to within 93-74 with 7:52 left in the game, but that’s as close the Magic would get the rest of the way against the Knicks, who finished the game shooting 50.6 percent from the floor (43-for-85), including 35.3 percent (12-for-34) from three-point range, as Orlando allowed over 100 points for only the tenth time this season.
The victory moved New York over .500 for the first time since the Knicks were 6-5 on January 12th. It also moved New York 2½ games ahead of idle Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff spot in the eastern conference and to within 2½ games of both Boston and Philadelphia for first-place in the Atlantic division.
New York is now 8-1 since Woodson took over for Mike D’Antoni, who resigned as the team’s head coach following six straight losses that dropped the Knicks to 18-24.
“This season has been a rocky season for us,” said Anthony. “A lot has been going on, a lot has happened. Right now, with the coaching change, we have been playing extremely well. We have been locked in.”
Woodson, an Indiana native who played at the University of Indiana, was drafted by the Knicks as the twelfth overall pick in first round of the 1980 NBA draft. He played in New York for two years before being traded to the Kansas City Kings, where he enjoyed a successful career, moving with that franchise to Sacramento, and ultimately finishing out a ten-year career with four other NBA teams.
Coming full circle back to New York, Woodson, a defensive-minded coach, was hired as D’Antoni’s assistant in the offseason, to help an offensively-focused and defensively challenged team. He successfully improved the Knicks’ defense under D’Antoni to an extent this season, but in his short stint thus far as the team’s head coach, Woodson has taken the next step in making New York one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Prior to joining the Knicks’ staff, Woodson was the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks for six years, where he steadily improved each year, from 13 wins, to 26, to 30, to 37, to 47, to 53 before he was fired after Orlando swept Atlanta in the 2010 conference semifinals.
Speaking of the Hawks, Woodson will return to Atlanta (30-22) to face his old team on Friday, when the Knicks seek a fourth straight victory at 7:30 pm ET.
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Note: Former Knick great, NBA hall of famer Patrick Ewing, flashed a wide smile while receiving an extended standing ovation during a time out in the second quarter, just before New York broke open a close game.
Source: all quotes recorded and transcribed, and all photos taken by Jonathan Wagner while covering the Orlando Magic-New York Knicks game for New York Sports Day, at Madison Square Garden, in New York, on March 28, 2012.