When the Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony on Dec. 6 against the Heat, they rained 18 3-pointers en route to their 20-point victory. Tonight, a similar storyline started to unfold in the first half. The Knicks had seven long balls, helping them get out to a 48-45 lead. But the Knicks had plenty of misses, too, from Raymond Felton (4-for-11) and J.R. Smith (3-for-12).
Here are several observations at the half, starting with Chris Copeland's first career NBA start in place of Anthony:
1. Copeland's big first quarter. The rookie was asked before the Cavaliers game if he could do what Melo did on Thursday night, scoring 22 points in the first 12 minutes. He laughed and said, "I'm not going to comment on that." But Copeland did have a quarter to remember. He had eight points on all jump shots (one 3-pointer) and one free throw. When Copeland has been asked to describe his game, he's said, "I'm a scorer" with not much mention of defense. That's because it's his biggest weakness. In the first period, Tristan Thompson and the Cavaliers' point guards in the pick and roll blew easily by him in the first period. Copeland said Mike Woodson has been pushing him a lot on the defensive end, and he's been learning a lot.
2. Steve Novak changed the tune. Besides Anthony, there's probably only one other player on the Knicks who riles up the fans right before he catches and shoots the ball. That would be Novak, who has the 3-point prowess to quickly change the pace of a game, and help the Knicks go on a run and take the lead. That's what he did from the end of the first quarter to the start of the second. His first 3-pointer closed the Knicks within one, 28-27, to finish the first period, and then his second 3-pointer put the Knicks up 30-28 with 10:47 to play. He also hit another long ball midway through the second period to put the Knicks up 41-37, and a final one to give them the 48-45 halftime lead. The Knicks entered Thursday night taking 66.2 percent of their 3-pointers in catch-and-shoot situations, making 42.2 percent of them. That's because of a big dose of Novakaine!
3. Knicks' pick-and-roll defense needs some work. And that's mostly been exposed by top point guards, from Deron Williams on Dec. 11 and Kyrie Irving on Thursday night. Felton isn't one of the strongest defenders off pick-and-rolls and when his help defender is not there, that causes problems. That happened with other players during the Cavaliers game, like during one play in the first quarter.
When the Knicks guard couldn't fight through the screen, Novak wasn't there to help. He showed too late and came up too high, therefore allowing Alonzo Gee easy access to the paint and only Tyson Chandler as the last line of defense. That's because the Knicks' interior is already smaller, especially with Anthony out. Gee scored the and-one around Chandler, which aggravated him. He shared some words with Novak and then discussed what he saw with Woodson before he took a seat on the bench with two fouls.
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