There wasn't much to write home about after the first quarter, as the Knicks and Raptors shot 31.8 and 21.1 percent, respectively. But most importantly, the Knicks led 18-14 by cutting off the Raptors' looks inside -- they only had two points in the paint in the opening period -- and then converting in transition or quick halfcourt setups. From there, the Knicks continued to build their lead with drives (Raymond Felton had nine points) and 3-pointers (Steve Novak had three in the second quarter).
Here are three other observations at the half:
1. Iman Shumpert's strong start. On Tuesday, the Knicks had one of their best, most physical practices, and Shumpert took some of that toughness to the game tonight. He bodied up Rudy Gay well on his drives, forcing him into some contested fallaway shots down low.
That defense carried over to Shumpert being aggressive in the open court. The first Knicks' score of the game came from a Shumpert pass to Carmelo Anthony in transition. Then, Shumpert drove on another fast break, drew the foul and made both free throws. Later, he made his impact in the halfcourt, driving by Gay for an uncontested layup.
2. The benefit of the big-man pairing. There was one play in the first quarter when Anthony dribbled down the court, Tyson Chandler set a screen for him, Melo attacked the middle of the lane and then dished to Raymond Felton. Then, when the starting point guard had the ball on the opposite wing, Amar'e Stoudemire came to set a screen. Felton went off it quickly and then found Stoudemire for the inside feed. While the power forward clanked his first attempt, he was so close to the basket that he tipped in his own miss.
Offensively, this kind of formation proves that Chandler and Stoudemire can help balance out the offense, which has been too focused on one side of the court lately. In addition to both bigs setting opposite-side screens, there are times when Stoudemire could be in the low post, and Chandler could then flash through the lane for the pass. And when Chandler facilitates the main pick-and-roll, Stoudemire could be on the weak side ready for the pass to go up for a dunk. These are just a few examples of their positive presence on the court together.
3. The need for a backup center. At the start of the second quarter, Stoudemire and Novak subbed in for Chandler and Anthony to anchor the froncourt. But five out of the Raptors' first six makes of the period were in the paint, and they climbed back in the contest. After the last bucket, Woodson brought back Chandler for Stoudemire. The moral of the story here is that the Knicks need Rasheed Wallace and/or Marcus Camby back to hold down the middle when Chandler takes a seat. There is a gaping hole in the second unit right now.
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