Mike D'Antoni received most of the pregame buzz with his first return to the Garden since his Knicks resignation in March. But Carmelo Anthony quickly stole the show. He had a memorable first quarter, scoring 22 points and leading the Knicks to a 41-27 advantage. His only miss wasn't even a miss. It was an attempt that was blocked by Metta World Peace.
Here are several observations at the half:
1. Anthony's quick release: It's simply the best in the game right now, and that's what makes him so tough to guard, among many other reasons, of course. Even with one of the NBA's best one-on-one defenders, World Peace, on him, he got his shot off with little space and connected all over the court -- in isolation, off down screens and in transition with his 3-point shooting.
Speaking of transition 3-pointers, D'Antoni pointed them out as being one of his main concerns defending the Knicks. Entering Thursday night, the Knicks were shooting 40.9 percent from downtown -- third best in the league. Anthony had two 3s in the fast break early in the first quarter.
Melo also had strong blow-by drives down the court when the Knicks picked up the pace, including one past World Peace for a two-handed dunk. Anthony had another one -- a one-handed jam -- in transition late in the second period, as did Ronnie Brewer.
The Knicks defended the interior fabulously in the first quarter, allowing only four points in the paint (in comparison, the Knicks had 16). And from there, the blue and orange quickly pushed the ball. They controlled the tempo early on, passed the ball well and looked confident with every attempt. As for the Lakers? Not at all. They are sorely missing Steve Nash.
2. Raymond Felton's heads-up playmaking: He read the Lakers' weak point guard situation to a tee. No Nash and no Steve Blake. Only Chris Duhon, a weak defender, was on the court. So attack, attack, attack was Felton's mentality early on, and it worked.
Felton had 10 points in the first quarter alone, and eight of them were off drives. Dwight Howard was hardly present.
3. The Knicks' bench steps up big: Carrying over that momentum from Melo with his 3-point shooting, Steve Novak and Rasheed Wallace got it going in the second quarter. Each had two long balls, and they forced D'Antoni to call two quick back-to-back timeouts midway through the period. The Knicks were up about 20 points at that point.
4. The Knicks set solid screens: From Tyson Chandler on the perimeter in the pick-and-roll to Brewer further down low setting cross screens, the Knicks' less prominent scorers got the more prominent ones -- Anthony, Felton and J.R. Smith -- open for jump shots. And they didn't miss. The Knicks shot 61.4 percent in the half. The Lakers were at only 38.6 percent.
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