There have been three common themes in the Knicks' past five games, during which they've gone 4-1: they're getting off to slow first quarters, keeping their opponent in the game at halftime and then dominating down the stretch.
In beating the Magic on Wednesday night, the Knicks won the final period 34-24, and then on Friday night in a win over the Bucks, they led 22-13. In fact, the Knicks lead the NBA in average fourth-quarter scoring margin (plus-3.4).
After each of those games, the Knicks all provided the same reason for the turnaround: "We were more aggressive."
Against the Bucks, that was clearly evident. In the first quarter -- which they lost 28-25 -- and then into the second, they were slow getting back on defense and getting into active stance, allowing Brandon Jennings to quickly penetrate below the arc and make plays. In addition, the Knicks switched way too often -- sometimes leaving the defensively vulnerable Amar'e Stoudemire on Jennings or another wing scorer.
But things changed in the second half, as they have been recently with the Knicks. They started half-court trapping Jennings and sticking to who they were guarding better on the outside. After the Bucks shot 4-for-6 from 3-point range in the first quarter, they went 4-for-14 the rest of the game.
So are the Knicks focusing on pacing, with their advanced age, to save themselves for the second half? One veteran NBA scout doesn't think that's such a bad idea.
"Smart," the scout said. "They're pacing themselves. Everyone that is significant is playing. They're a great team."
"I think being fresh, we're deep, we're getting healthy and having guys not have to log a lot of minutes definitely helps," he said.
Said Tyson Chandler, "I think it's really our personnel and it all comes together in the end."
Shumpert said his guys are able to make the proper changes during a game.
"This league is unpredictable. You've got guys that can really score the ball and really cause a lot of trouble for your defense and offense," he said. "I think we do a really good job of coming here, locking in and guys communicate with each other."
Of course, having a finisher like Carmelo Anthony helps a team build momentum on both ends.
Perhaps the Knicks are also saving themselves for strong first quarters heading into the playoffs? The Knicks are smart enough to know that setting the tempo early on is an important quality to have against top teams. When the Heat won the championship last year, they only dropped the opening period once against the Thunder.
What was behind the Heat's early dominance? Their aggressiveness on defense. When it matters most this season, a late start could mean all the difference in the world for the Knicks.
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