WHAT IT MEANS: Amar'e Stoudemire wasn't looking at the Celtics matchup on Saturday night as a rivalry. On Friday after practice, he said, "It's only a preseason game." Well, it felt like anything but with arguably the top two Atlantic Division teams going at it at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. Players diving on the floor, flagrant fouls, two technical fouls, words exchanged and, of course, a last-second, decisive play -- the game had it all. And, more importantly for the Knicks, they won, 98-95 in OT. The game ball goes to Chris Copeland for his offense and final defensive stop to preserve the victory.
POSITIVE POINTS: 1. Tyson Chandler as a high pick-and-roller. Tonight, he clicked at different times with Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni, and he was able to finish alley-oops and open up other scoring lanes. The Knicks finished with 44 points in the paint, while the Celtics had 34.
Stoudemire should only benefit the offense when he returns, by adding more layers of scoring. He can be a second pick-and-roller, and if Chandler runs it, he (or Carmelo Anthony) can be ready for the pass to shoot the baseline jumper -- something Kurt Thomas has been getting as the replacement starting power forward. STAT will also be posting up, giving the team a second close-range scorer and free-throw threat beyond Melo.
2. Close-out defense. The Knicks got a little lazy making stops in the second half (see below), but they turned it up in the fourth quarter -- and there were no first-stringers on the court. Kidd and Prigioni led the team with two steals each, and Copeland transformed into Melo, becoming the team's leading scorer during the hot stretch. He finished with 21 points in 19 minutes, and he blocked a Celtics' shot at the end to prevent them from taking the lead. During training camp, coaches look to develop a comfort level with their bench rotation, so Woody should be feeling pretty good about tonight.
TO THE FILM SESSION: 1. Transition D. While the Knicks had two fast-break points, the Celtics had 12 -- and could've had a bunch more. Rajon Rondo presents the biggest challenge to any transition defense, so this is not to harp on the Knicks, but they need to do a better job of hustling back on D.
2. More moving without the ball. The Knicks got very stagnant during stretches, when four players on the perimeter (not named Anthony) would stand around too much. That's on Melo to facilitate and Woodson to get the others into the right positions. Overall, it will be interesting to see how the offense plays throughout the season when Melo has the ball in his hands. It has a major trickle-down effect, sometimes negative.
THE HOPEFULS: Copeland basically played his way into a guaranteed roster spot. After not seeing the court in the first half, Copeland quickly scored seven points in seven minutes, mostly in the fourth quarter, helping the Knicks tie the game at 72. He was physical down low, even attempting 13 free-throw attempts (he made nine). The Knicks could use a young inside presence off the bench -- with the age of Thomas and Marcus Camby -- and Copeland has the best potential to fill that hole.
INJURY REPORT: Stoudemire (bruised left knee), Camby (left calf strain), J.R. Smith (sore left ankle), Rasheed Wallace (conditioning), and Iman Shumpert, Ronnie Brewer and Chris Smith (all knee-related). James White started in place of Smith tonight, finishing with four points (1-for-7 shooting) and seven rebounds.
WHAT'S NEXT: The Knicks go north of the border next Friday to take on the Raptors at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
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