NEW YORK – After doing a Texas two-step in a backward direction, returning home to face one of the NBA’s worst teams was just what the New York Knicks needed to get back on track.
Six Knicks scored in double figures, led by forward Carmelo Anthony’s 29 points, as New York (9-3) made 17 of 33 three-pointers (51.5 percent) while getting season highs in points and free throws (28, in 31 attempts) to rout the Detroit Pistons (3-11), 121-100, before a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.
The win came after the Knicks lost consecutive regular season games for the first time under head coach Mike Woodson since he took the team over and finished last season 18-6 before getting New York off to one of the better starts in the league this year.
The back-to-back defeats came in Dallas and Houston, where the Knicks, after being one of the NBA’s best at holding opponents’ scoring down under the defensive-minded Woodson, suffered some lapses in which they allowed an average of 122.5 points in their previous two games.
Back at MSG, where New York is 17-1 (excluding the playoffs) in the Woodson era, including 5-0 this season as one of only three NBA teams (Miami and Utah) yet to lose at home this year, the Knicks jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead by outscoring the Pistons 32-22 in each of the opening two quarters.
Much of that success came from solid defense resulting in a large turnover disparity (20 for Detroit, just 11 for New York), off of which Knicks outscored the Pistons, 33-13.
Woodson said of his team’s defense, “It was a lot better than when we were on the road. I thought we were committed. Our defense held in there to give us the cushion we needed.”
Detroit scored the first four points before New York answered with the next seven, capped by a three by Anthony, who entered the game as the league’s third leading scorer (25.3 points per game) and the best in that category during the first quarter (10.5 points per game).
Anthony’s start against the Pistons was no exception. Making his first six shots from the floor, Anthony had a dozen of his team’s first 18 points and all 15 of his first-period points during the first 8½ minutes, the last of which came on a three-pointer that capped a 6-0 run and gave the Knicks a 24-18 lead.
Even without Anthony scoring, New York scored eight of the next 12 points to finish the quarter, but with Anthony resting on the bench to start the second quarter, point guard Will Bynum (nine points in 14 minutes) scored five straight points to end a 7-0 Detroit run and get the Pistons to within 32-29.
As soon as Anthony returned, he hit a jumper to ignite a 28-12 half-closing run that he also closed with a finger-roll layup down the lane.
Toward the end of the spurt, reserve forward Steve Novak (18 points), who made five of seven threes, twice gave the Knicks some separation, first on a trey that gave New York a 50-38 lead, and later, on another three-pointer that swelled New York’s lead to 60-42 with 1:40 left in the half.
Like they did to start the second period, the Pistons began the third quarter on a good run, scoring the first eight points after halftime, with the first five of those coming from rookie forward Kyle Singler (16 points).
However, the Knicks responded with a 13-6 spurt over the next five minutes, capped by an Anthony three-pointer, to lead 75-60.
A 9-2 Detroit run trimmed that margin to 77-69, but the combination of Anthony, Novak and point guard Raymond Felton (14 points, game-high ten assists, no turnovers) gave New York some breathing room again on a pair of nice sequences
First, it was Anthony pushing the ball to Felton, who found Novak on the right wing for a three-pointer. Two Knick possessions later, Felton led a fast break off of a steal and passed to Anthony, who dished to Novak for a right-corner three that put New York up 83-71, before a technical free throw and a short jumper by Anthony gave the Knicks an 86-72 lead after three quarters.
Novak’s ability to consistently knock down the three was a welcome sight for New York after the league’s most accurate three-point shooter last season had struggled to shoot close to that level in recent games this year.
The timely threes from Novak inspired the return of his “championship belt” gesture as he ran up court after making some key shots. The signal, in which Novak simulates a boxing or wrestling-style championship belt around his waist with his hands, is a well-known one borrowed from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Novak, having played his college ball in Wisconsin, at Marquette, is a big Packers fan.
Happy to see Novak back in a good shooting groove, Anthony smiled and said, “It’s good to see the belt back again.”
An early fourth-quarter jumper by point guard Brandon Knight (team-high 21 points, five assists) pulled the Pistons to within 86-76, but the Knicks’ lead only increased from that point, to as much as 118-94, with 3:12 remaining.
Matching last year’s team-high in points, New York displayed some unselfish play. The Knicks totaled 24 assists on 38 field goals, while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor, and key reserve guard J.R. Smith (15 points), who has gone from an earlier shoot-first scorer to more of a team-oriented player this season, shot just eight times from the field, making three, while recording team highs in rebounds (ten) and assists (five).
Going back on the road on Monday night, New York will stay in the same city for a highly anticipated matchup with the Brooklyn Nets (8-4), who trail the Knicks by one game for first place in the Atlantic Division during the Nets’ inaugural year in their brand new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The Nets were supposed to open the arena against the Knicks on November 2nd, until Hurricane Sandy postponed the game.
A Brooklyn native who later grew up in Baltimore, Anthony is excited to play in the game. “If we don’t get up for this game, I don’t know what games we will get up for,” he said. “It is an in-city game… New York versus Brooklyn. For me, going back home, going back to that borough, playing my first game over there is a very special moment for [me].
But, that doesn’t mean a rivalry is brewing just yet, as much as the New York media, fans, and Nets’ Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov would have many already believe.
Knicks center Tyson Chandler (13 points, seven rebounds) put that best, saying “A rivalry comes through [the] playoffs and hard-fought games. It just doesn’t come from a team moving and two teams being good in one year. I had to go through a history… I honestly don’t buy all that much into the whole situation. I don’t consider it a rivalry [yet]. There hasn’t been enough. I honestly have more animosity towards the [Miami] Heat and [Boston] Celtics than the Nets.”
Still, if an NBA New York rivalry is to develop over time, Monday night’s game figures to be a special moment for the two franchises and the league, and would be the first step toward what could become an interesting and electric series of battles in the future.
For now though, the Knicks were simply happy to just get back to what they were doing so well before, regardless of who was next on the schedule.