In their past five games, all wins, the Knicks had an easier road against three teams under .500 (the Jazz, Magic and Raptors) and the Celtics without Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. But on Wednesday night, the Grizzlies, the fifth seed in the Western Conference, were at full strength, and the Knicks still put them away in the first half.
The Knicks were led by three scorers in double figures: J.R. Smith (23 points), Iman Shumpert (16) and Carmelo Anthony (12). In addition, they sizzled from beyond the arc, finishing 11-for-21 (52.4 percent). The Grizzlies, on the other hand, were only 1-for-7.
Here are four main observations at halftime:
1. Shumpert's hot start. Make that a perfect shooting first half, as he was 6-for-6 from the field and 4-for-4 from downtown. Entering Wednesday night, he was shooting an impressive 18-for-41 (43.9 percent) from 3-point range.
Shumpert was especially aggressive in the open court off defensive rebounds, as he scored most of his points in transition. His explosiveness has looked better and better in warmups with his windmill dunks, and he's carried that jump over to the game. In the first quarter on one possession, he quickly dribbled down the floor and then took off for an acrobatic layup, which included a fake pass right before he scored.
2. Kenyon Martin's post defense. Grizzlies All-Star power forward Zach Randolph only scored one point in the first quarter. His assignment, Martin, D'ed him up very aggressively. On one possession, Martin poked a pass away coming to Randolph, which led to Smith taking the ball up the court and getting fouled. Martin also came over to help as well when Anthony covered him at times. Melo also did a nice job on Randolph with his size and strength.
3. Pablo Prigioni's resilience. In the first quarter, the point guard hurt his left wrist on a non-contact play and left the game to get inspected by the team's training staff. He was available to return, and did at the start of the second quarter. And on the very first play, he dished to Smith in the baseline corner for a 3-pointer. The Argentine made a name for himself overseas for his toughness and he's shown that this season with his fight through minor injuries, as well as his ball-hawking defense.
4. More heads-up defense from Smith. Smith accomplished what he's supposed to do: score. He also had five rebounds and two assists. Excellent. But the sixth man's defense needs to be on just as much as his offense. Two times in the first half, Tony Allen made Smith look foolish, beating him backdoor for a dunk and blowing by him easily for a layup. More defensive consistency from Smith is key, as he will be asked to take on tough matchups in every game.
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