In the Knicks' 110-84 win over the Raptors -- their fourth in a row -- they did something they've rarely done all season.
The Knicks finished with 17 fast-break points -- their second-highest in a game this season -- which was fueled by their season-high 14 steals. Iman Shumpert, arguably the team's best perimeter defender, led the way with four of them.
"We're just trying to be as aggressive as possible," he said afterward, "and when we get stops on the defensive end and get out in the open court, that's where we're best."
In the first quarter alone, four Knicks had a steal. Shumpert stripped DeMar DeRozan and converted a breakaway layup; Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton, who finished with three steals, set a hard trap on Kyle Lowry, and the Argentine stole the ball; Carmelo Anthony intercepted Alan Anderson's pass and took it in himself for an and-one layup; and Jason Kidd stripped Anderson, which resulted in a Kenyon Martin putback layup.
After the game, Anthony credited Shumpert and Martin, who collected two blocks and one steal, for setting the tempo defensively.
"We feed off those guys; Shump on the perimeter, K-Mart is in the paint," he said.
Shumpert said he's made it a point recently to pick up his intensity level.
"I was getting kind of mad at myself because I hadn't been getting my hands on as many deflections as I wanted to," he said. "I'm just trying to pick up my aggressiveness, pick up just the excitement of getting my hands on some loose balls and getting out in the open floor."
Beyond Shumpert and Martin, Felton said the team has keyed in more defensively.
"Our team defense has been tremendous and I think guys are starting to take pride in just trying to keep their guy in front of them," he said.
Looking ahead, Tyson Chandler, who missed his sixth straight game Saturday with a neck strain, will return to the first unit. Will Prigioni continue to start at point guard?
Before the game, coach Mike Woodson said he'd like to keep Melo at the four and likely use Martin as the backup center. That could mean he's favoring Prigioni, which his sidekick, Felton, would be all about.
"You've ever had like a gnat at a barbecue that just annoys you? Pablo is annoying on defense," he said. "He's been a guy that's really been kicking things off for us defensively in that first quarter."
What's most important is that the Knicks are locked in defensively, and it's translated to easier offense. In fact, Anthony only had to play 30 minutes Saturday, and he still scored 28 points. Meanwhile, the Knicks shot 51.9 percent from the field -- their third consecutive game at 50 percent or higher, which they haven't done since Jan. 2010.
While the schedule will only get harder for the Knicks -- they have just four games left against teams under .500 -- they're in the right state of mind.
"Guys seem like they're starting to find their groove right now, individually and as a team," Anthony said. "Right now we're winning games, we're playing extremely well, we're playing very confident, we're having fun out there on the court. I think that's something that we've been looking forward to."
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