After Jeremy Lin received his applause during the pregame introductions, there was a game to play. Lin and James Harden shifted into high gear, but Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith kept things close in the first quarter with their hot shooting. But the Knicks fell apart in the second, and only scored 42 points in the first half -- their second-lowest output all season.
Here are several observations at the half:
1. Jeremy Lin vs. Raymond Felton: Both starting point guards got it done in different ways. Lin did it mostly on the fastbreak early on, which has been a main offensive strategy by the Rockets this season. Entering Monday night, they were averaging a fifth-best 16.8 fastbreak points per game. In the first quarter, Lin pushed the ball basically every time he received the pass after a defensive rebound. He finished with a layup and delivered two passes to Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik.
On the flip side, Felton was great off the pick-and-roll, which wasn't a surprise considering his two-man partner is one of the best roll guys in the NBA, Tyson Chandler. Felton had 10 points in the first period off jumpshots and a few drives in the lane. In addition, J.R. Smith was money in the first period. He had 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting (two 3-pointers).
2. Knicks need to defend the Rockets' pick-and-roll A LOT better: While Lin and Harden picked up the pace well, finishing with 11 fastbreak points in the first quarter (the Knicks only had two), they also excelled in the pick-and-roll -- and with ease. Mike Woodson mentioned before the game how the team's defense has downgraded lately because of lack of practice time, and the opening period proved that.
Lin and and Harden penetrated the paint way too many times. Some credit goes to Asik, yes, for his screens, but the Knicks were a step slow way too often. Also, Chandler didn't appear to put up the same effort into contesting shots. He looked dazed and confused, not extending his presence and getting his hands up. The Knicks are going to need a whole lot more of Chandler in the second half.
3. Where did the ball movement go? The Knicks had six assists in the first quarter. But in the second? None. The Rockets' guards are very fast -- they are, after all, the youngest team in the NBA -- so they're utilizing that well to react quickly to the Knicks' ball rotations. But that's not always the case. In fact, the Rockets are worst in the league in defense (104.0 points per game allowed). The blue and orange, outside of Felton and Smith, need to pick things up in the second half.
Oh, yes, did I mention that Carmelo Anthony is sidelined for the second straight game? That would help just a tad.
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