Karpin: Knicks Have an Afternoon “D”-Light

There have been times during the early part of the season that the Knicks took some well deserved “heat” for the way they played defense.

Not today.

The Knicks (6-7) put together their best defensive effort of the season as they knocked off the Southeast Division leading Atlanta Hawks 104-94 in an afternoon matinee at the Garden. The Knicks have won four in a row and are now 5-2 at home.

Carmelo Anthony scored 31 points but he led a Knicks team that displayed the kind of defense that playoff contenders play.

“We knew it was an early game”, Anthony told MSG-TV. “We wanted to bring some energy early from the jump, kind of be physical from the jump and you know that carried over throughout the whole game”.

The Hawks (9-4) came into the game as the second best team in the league in field goal percentage (just under 48%) but the Knicks hustling and energetic defense kept them down to 40% for the game.

Anthony wasn’t the only “star” giving a max defensive effort. Atlanta’s Dennis Schroeder was a 45% shooter coming into the game but Derrick Rose held the Hawks guard to a brutal 0 for 8 from the field.

Joakim Noah was ill and missed the game so Kyle O’Quinn got his first start of the season at center and he made the most of it. O’Quinn had 6 points and 7 rebounds in the first quarter as the Knicks set an early tone and took a 20-17 lead.

Despite being down a player, head coach Jeff Hornacek did a nice job with the lineups and his use of the bench. “There’s gonna be times during the year when guys are sick or hurt or whatever and you gotta step up”, the head coach said after the game.

Justin Holiday hit a couple of big three point shots in the second half to keep the Hawks at bay, while Hornacek used Brandon Jennings and Rose as a back court tandem that proved to be a dynamic combo. “We picked the pace up, the way that we played”, Anthony said. “How aggressive we play when they’re both out there”.

Rookie big man Willy Hernangomez had his best game of his young career. The 6’11” center from Spain played a career high 29 minutes, grabbed 8 rebounds and gave Hawks center Dwight Howard all he could handle. Midway through the third quarter, Howard had an easy shot in the lane but Hernangomez pressured him and forced the Atlanta big man to come up short on what should’ve been a “gimme” two points.

Howard had 18 points and 18 rebounds but nothing came easy as the Knicks tried to frustrate him by using different big men on him. Anthony said, “We wanted to throw different bodies (including Marshall Plumlee who was summoned from the Westchester D League team in White Plains to fill Noah’s spot) at him, we know Dwight is playing extremely well”.

The Hawks cut into a five point halftime lead and trailed 53-51 when the Knicks took control of the game. A 12-0 run that was capped off by a Hernangomez conventional three-point play, gave the Knicks a 65-51 advantage.

Courtney Lee was solid once again with 14 points including a big three-pointer that gave the Knicks an 80-71 lead in the third quarter. The Knicks shot 1 of 12 from three in the first half but they were 9 for 14 in the third and fourth quarters. Hawks were 6 of 21 from downtown.

Kristaps Porzingis (19 points, 11 rebounds) was in foul trouble in the third quarter but Hornacek got more than enough from the bench to fill the void.

Atlanta had 15 more free throw attempts (29-14) yet, lost by ten. Knicks will continue their three-game home stand Tuesday night as they host the Portland Trailblazers who have won four in a row in New York.

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