NEW YORK – The blue print for victory worked so well in their season opener on Friday night, the New York Knicks copied the same formula on Sunday afternoon in an easy 100-84 win over the Philadelphia 76ers (1-1)before a capacity crowd of 19,033 at Madison Square Garden.
After beating the defending NBA champion Miami Heat by a nearly identical score (104-84), a continued emphasis on defense, team chemistry and sharing the basketball helped the Knicks defeat a fellow Eastern Conference opponent for the second straight game.
It had been an unlucky thirteen years since New York last started an NBA season 2-0, but as reserve guard Steve Novak (six points, two-for-five from three-point range) noted, the offensive approach the Knicks have taken in their young season thus far, “Makes playing so much fun. You know where the guys are going almost to a fault. We’ve [even] been over passing, bringing [the ball] all the back around. So, I think it’s a good problem to have.”
That type of unselfishness was best exemplified by the way New York followed its 19-for-36 three-point shooting against Miami. While making 11 of 27 threes against Philadelphia, the Knicks were at one point in the second quarter, seven of 15 from behind the arc with six different Knicks having made a three-pointer.
Echoing Novak’s comments, starting point guard Raymond Felton (11 points, four assists, one turnover) said, “We kind of laugh and joke, like ‘Maybe we pass a little too much.’ But, it’s good though. As long as everybody is sharing the ball, we’ll [accept some occasional] turnovers. If we’re over passing to each other and we turn the ball over, we would rather do that than take bad shots.”
Future Hall of Fame guard Jason Kidd (12 points, team-high six assists, no turnovers in 25 minutes), who in his 19th NBA season and first with the Knicks, is still playing at a high level and has helped instill the concept of getting others involved in the offense, pointed out that doing so isn’t something that simply happened overnight when the regular season began.
“I think with the experience we have in the locker room, it doesn’t take a long time to understand this game,” said Kidd. “At training camp, we had all the guys touching the ball and it becomes contagious… [if there are] multiple touches, [our opponents] can’t guard the pass. No matter what [they] do, the ball is always going to travel faster and [our] guys get wide open looks [at the basket].
Yet, as much as that remains New York’s focus offensively, the Knicks, who shot 50.6 percent (39-for-77) from the field, are paying even more attention to what they are doing defensively.
To underscore that point, written in black marker by head coach Mike Woodson, on the whiteboard in the Knicks’ locker room after the game,was a big “84,” for the number of points his team allowed. Beneath that, was a large “43%” – the percentage that Woodson’s squad held the 76ers to on 34 of 79 shooting from the floor – underlined three times.
As if his words were crafted by Woodson himself, Felton said, “Sometimes, you’re not going to have great shooting nights, but if you play defense every [game], you’re going to put yourself in a great position to win.”
Even without a pair of key starters in star forward Amar’e Stoudemire and guard Iman Shumpert, who will continue to nurse injuries for a long while, this year’s Knicks, with some added veterans on the bench like Kidd, a defensive-minded coach from the start of season (rather than Woodson becoming the team’s head coach mid-season as he did last year), and a leader in star forward Carmelo Anthony (game-high-tying 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two blocks), a very deep New York roster already seems to be gelling beyond previous expectations.
And, the team is indeed getting its cue from Anthony, who criticized as a ball hog in the past, has been more willing to sacrifice his own scoring – and even his own body, as he dove into the stands for a loose ball in the first quarter, after hustling back to block a shot – to lead by example.
“I’m just trying to do the little things, and make [the] team better,” saidAnthony. “Everybody in the world knows I can score the basketball with the best of them. For me to do something other than score the basketball, it makes us that much better.”
In terms of their missing pieces however, the Knicks received no sympathy from the 76ers, who were playing their first road game of the season and had their own injury concerns with newly acquired star center Andrew Bynum sitting out and explosive starting shooting guard Jason Richardson (no points in less than two minutes) spraining his left ankle early in the game and not returning.
Richardson left with the game tied 5-5, and New York quickly took advantage, doubling Philadelphia 14-7 over the next four minutes. The 76ers scored the next four points, but a driving layup by Felton gave the Knicks their largest lead of the opening quarter, 24-16, before they settled for a 31-25 lead as the period ended.
A three-pointer by Novak capped an 11-6 run that started the second quarter and extended the Knicks’ lead to 42-31 almost 5½ into the frame.
Although Philadelphia twice closed that gap to just five points, New Yorkended the half on a 13-5 run in which five different Knicks scored, to give New York its biggest lead of the half, 57-44, on Kidd steal and a fast break, finger roll layup by Anthony just 1.3 seconds before halftime.
The third quarter was a streaky period with some ebbs and flows that hadthe Knicks building their lead to 15 points early in the period, only toresult in the teams trading similar runs (9-2 for the 76ers, and then 10-2 for the Knicks) and arrive at a point with the home team leading 71-55 late in the quarter.
One last Philadelphia spurt in the period, of 11-4, cut the 76ers’ deficit to a manageable 75-66 heading into the final quarter, but guard J.R. Smith (20 points on eight-for-15 shooting from the floor, team-high nine rebounds in 35 minutes off the bench) started the fourth quarter with a couple of threesthat pushed New York’s lead back to a sizable 81-66 advantage and forced a 76ers timeout with 9:51 left in the game.
Guard Evan Turner (11 points on just two-of-nine shooting from the field)made a three-pointer to momentarily keep his team in the game at 90-79,but a pair of free throws by Anthony and a righty hook shot in the lane by16-year league veteran and fan favorite Rasheed Wallace (three points in four minutes) upped the Knicks’ lead to 94-79 and effectively endedPhiladelphia’s hopes.
The 76ers were led by starting point guard Jrue Holiday, who in a team-high 40 minutes, matched Anthony’s 27 points on similar (11-for-18) shooting from the floor, including a scorching five-for-six from three-point range, to go along with a game-high seven assists. Starting forward Thaddeus Young had 16 points and forward Dorrell Wright added 11 points in 33 minutes off the bench.
As good as they’ve started in the first two games, the Knicks will have little time to celebrate, as the 76ers will get an immediate shot at redemption when they host New York on Monday night, with a tipoff scheduled for 7 pm ET.