Shock was the vibe in the Knicks' locker room before their game on Saturday night, hearing the news of Amar'e Stoudemire's latest setback, but they still had a game to play against the Jazz. And the Knicks came out with their heads up high, demonstrating defensive intensity, as well as smart playmaking and shot selection. They were 56.8 percent from the field, while finishing with 13 assists and only two turnovers.
Here are three other main observations from the first half:
1. J.R. Smith's pick-and-roll facilitating. There was a stretch from late December to early January, when Raymond Felton was sidelined with a broken right pinkie, when Smith averaged more points per play off pick-and-rolls than All-Star Chris Paul. Smith's playmaking off screens is one of his most underrated assets because his volume shooting gets most of the attention. Tonight, however, he got into the paint well tonight and had three assists. He also had six points and five rebounds.
Speaking of passing, Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby are heads-up players when they catch the ball off pick and rolls. On one play, Martin received a pass in the middle of the lane and dished to Chandler for a dunk. Later, Camby executed a similar play, finding this time Martin on the receiving end.
2. Steve Novak's creativity and 3-point shooting. To start things off, for his first bucket, Novak caught the ball at the top of the key and took two dribbles to the right for the pull-up jump shot. Where has that been all season?
Then, in two plays in the second quarter, Novak set a back screen for Felton and popped out for a long ball, and later worked through a cross screen and back pedaled to get open at the top of the key. The Knicks are going to need Novak to get craftier on the court, instead of playing stationary ball. Novak shot 3-for-4 from beyond the arc in the first half.
3. Defensive intensity. Speaking with ESPNNewYork.com on Friday, Smith suggested that the team raises their level of defensive play when Anthony is out. They showed that tonight. Of course, that needs to happen all the time -- whether Melo is in or out of the lineup -- but here's what the sixth man had to say:
"Our intensity when he's out really picks up because we know everybody has to bring their 'A' game, from a standpoint of we don't have that 30-point scorer. So there's more of an emphasis as far as to go out there and not only as individuals, but play more as a team as well."
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