Entering Friday night, the Knicks had allowed the past four opposing starting point guards to have field days: Rajon Rondo (23 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds), Jrue Holiday (35 points), Jeff Teague (27 points) and Jameer Nelson (21 points).
But in the Knicks' 96-86 win over the Bucks, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis combined for 12-for-38 from the field -- a big credit to Iman Shumpert's defense and Raymond Felton's offense down the stretch.
As it turns out, Mike Woodson challenged his starting backcourt earlier in the week, saying they had to "figure it out together as a one and two combo," and tonight they stepped up.
Initially in the first quarter, Felton and Shumpert were not in the right position to make stops. They and the team were slow getting back on defense and getting into an active stance, which allowed Jennings to get in the lane and make plays.
Felton was not showing hard enough on pick and rolls orchestrated by Jennings, and Shumpert was not quick enough rotating out to shooters. The Bucks hit four 3-pointers in the opening period to take the 28-25 lead -- just another time the Knicks have trailed after 12 minutes.
The Knicks picked up their perimeter defense in the second period, only allowing two 3-pointers. But after three quarters, the Bucks were still right in the game, only down 74-73.
Then, the final period came and Felton and Shumpert showed Knicks Nation how tough and resilient they are.
Near the end of the third quarter, Felton hurt his right pinky -- the same one he fractured on Christmas Day -- and was subbed out. But after some treatment, he checked back in with eight minutes left in the game.
"He's a warrior," Tyson Chandler said afterward. "He didn't miss too many games in his career. He's very durable."
As for Shumpert, Woodson yanked him out just 1:01 into the third quarter after he got beat on a slip move by Ellis. The coach thought he was lacking energy and needed to think about his mistake on the bench.
"He just keeps pushing me, pushing me to be aggressive," Shumpert said. "His way of teaching me if I'm not aggressive is to take me out."
But down the stretch, both Felton and Shumpert made big plays on both ends of the floor. Shumpert started things off playing solid full-court defense on Jennings, and then making hard drives for easy 2s.
"I was able to switch on to Brandon, so I was able to get into better rhythm guarding somebody the whole time up the court -- doing some of the things I did last year," he said.
As for Felton, he helped execute quick half-court traps on Jennings and Ellis, and then pushed the ball well off defensive rebounds to get the Knicks' fastbreak attack going.
"Anytime you've got to guard a guy like Jennings, who could've easily been on the All-Star team this year, you've got to play both ends," Jason Kidd said. "I thought he did a great job."
Looking ahead, Felton and Shumpert need to take what they did in the fourth quarter and apply it to the start of the game. How about winning an opening period for once?
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