Worse for the Magic, Carmelo Anthony was back from a right hamstring injury. His seven points on 3-for-6 shooting helped the Knicks get off to a 26-15 first-quarter start. From there, the Knicks took control of the first half.
Here are three main observations at the half:
1. Melo's strong start. Anthony scored in the flow of the offense, instead of as a constant isolation threat with his teammates standing around. The ball moved, and so did Melo in half-court sets. He scored in several different ways in first half: off a 3-pointer, an alley-oop dunk from Marcus Camby, a quick blow-by drive and a pull-up jumper. He also set a great screen on Jameer Nelson, freeing up Pablo Prigioni for an open 3-pointer.
Through that offensive flow, the Knicks had seven assists in the opening period alone, and they shot 8-for-16 from downtown in the first half. And as keyed in as they were moving the ball, they took that same focus to the defensive end. Anthony was aggressive down low, finishing with a block and steal each, and four defensive rebounds.
2. Bench needs a boost defensively. At the start of the second quarter, the Magic scored seven straight points to get back in the game, 26-22. Several times, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland were out of rotation and left lanes open. One time, Novak floated far down to cut off a baseline drive, but there were already two defenders there. That left DeQuan Jones with a wide-open lane to the basket for the easy two.
3. Smith's threat in the open court. When the Knicks make defensive stops and J.R. Smith is on the court, that's a big advantage. Smith is explosive in the open court and his crafty ball-handling enables him to beat defenders to the paint, where he can utilize his athleticism to score and draw fouls. He's also a good passer and is always looking for Jason Kidd, Novak and others for 3-pointers on the run. The Knicks finished the first half with 10 fast-break points -- the Magic had none -- thanks in large part to Smith's playmaking in transition. Smith had eight points, two rebounds and an assist.
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