Ronny Turiaf energized the Knicks going into tonight's game in Paris against the Timberwolves. In front of a nearly sellout crowd at the Bercy Arena, the Frenchman Turiaf, who was born in Martinique, made his way to halfcourt with a mic in his hand. He was excited to address his hometown fans before tip-off. "Good evening, thank you for having me here" said Turiaf, who reserved 30 tickets for family and friends. "This is a dream come true, especially coming from (my school) Insep. I am proud to represent the NBA and the New York Knicks." When the Knicks finally stepped on the court, Turiaf and his fellow four starters made the local crowd and those watching back home in the states proud to be Knicks fans. The Knicks jumped to a 17-7 lead, thanks to Turiaf's all-around contribution with two points, three assists, two rebounds and one block shot. Wilson Chandler also was a catalyst, scoring four straight baskets en route to nine points early. Overall, the Knicks looked proactive and punctual in the first quarter, controlling the tempo and making no unnecessary moves.
But by halftime, the Timberwolves were only down by one point, 48-47, and by the final buzzer they had won, 106-100. So why the turnaround? The Knicks started playing reactive ball, forcing up three-pointers rather than slashing and being a step slower on transitional defensive assignments. The Knicks shot 9 for 31 from downtown (29%) and committed 34 fouls, resulting in 46 trips to the free throw line for the Timberwolves (compared to only 25 for the Knicks). The Knicks also got out-rebounded by nearly double, 62 to 35. The immensity of the trip, going from one country to the next, could have caught up with them. But don't forget the Timberwolves were coming off a win against the Lakers in London. Therefore, traveling and being in foreign territory canceled each other out as factors.
What will be a telling factor for how well the Knicks do this season is how they respond to defensive transitions off of offensive possessions. At this point, the players seem to be favoring their scoring approach. In fact, at halftime Anthony Randolph said, "The ball is constantly in motion. If it’s not, we’re doing something wrong." Mike D'Antoni plans to go nine or 10 deep this year to support his 48-minute, run-and-gun offense, but if he can't get all of those guys to hustle back on defense, that's where they can really go wrong and end up missing the playoffs.
Last season, the Knicks were the worst team in the league in opponents field goal percentage. Tonight, they held the Timberwolves to 40%, one bright spot for the team, which shows that they have the potential to play solid defense in halfcourt sets.
Stoudemire picked off right where he left off in the first preseason game, scoring the first basket again, which helped the Knicks jump to that 17-7 lead. Against Milano, the Knicks held a 16-9 advantage in the first quarter. If Stoudemire can get going early, he will transfer momentum to his fellow teammates. But, again, the Knicks need to maintain a defensive presence.
Walt Frazier thinks Chandler can put up five more points per night and become a 20 ppg scorer. While Chandler didn't have a full offseason to work on his game, because he was rehabbing from an ankle injury and sports hernia surgery, he showed in tonight's game that he can score in a variety of ways with his shot, by slashing and on the fastbreak.
Chandler's back-up for now, Roger Mason (before Kelenna Azubuike returns), couldn't buy a bucket from downtown and No. 2 point guard Toney Douglas was able to knock down two threes off the bench. If Raymond Felton is playing the one, D'Antoni could put Douglas at the two for his ability to open up the offense and shoot the ball.
Hopefully Timofey Mozgov took some pointers from Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love about how to command the paint area. Love showed remarkable persistence on both ends of the court, finishing with 17 points and 14 rebounds. On the other hand, Mozgov was again plagued with foul trouble, and this time he had to sit with six. But he did prove his ability to take his man off the dribble. During one play, he even used his left hand to go by his defender and then sunk a lefty floater.
While Turiaf has good passing skills for a big man, he looks off-balanced on offense and gets outrebounded routinely.
If Randolph, Turiaf's competition to start at center, ends up playing this season off the bench, he is a lock to be a favorite for Sixth Man of the Year. His points-to-minutes-played ratio is ridiculous. Tonight in only 22 minutes, he scored 14 points.
It's a good thing the Knicks won't be playing in Milan again this season because the city cast a spell on hometown son Danilo Gallinari. Tonight, he was 3 for 13 with seven points, and even put up an airball.
Timberwolves center Darko Milicic, who started for the Knicks at the beginning of last season, finished with nine points and five rebounds.
Even though Stoudemire's first trip to Paris came during a terror alert, it didn't stop him from exploring the city and stopping for a photo opportunity at the Eiffel Tower with his teammates. "We’re having a great time as a team, really building," Stoudemire said. "The NBA does a great job of giving teams an opportunity to go outside the country, so it’s really fun." At an NBA Cares event, Stoudemire was having such a good time signing autographs for the local children, his teammates had to yell at him to stop because he almost missed the bus.
Stoudemire isn't the only Knick who has valued the bonding. Felton, Chandler, Randolph and Bill Walker all acknowledge that their European trip has helped them develop chemistry on and off the court. Felton: "Just the atmosphere on the team is beautiful." Chandler: "That’s been the biggest thing, going out to eat, looking at different things together. That carries over to the court. Everybody wants to play together." Randolph: "It’s bringing us together a lot better, rather than us staying in the states and playing over there." Walker: "On the bus everybody is talking. We’re all just focused on trying to win and we want to be closer."
MSG Network duo Frazier and Mike Breen had a funny exchange related to an unusual delicacy in Paris: pigeon. After Breen said, "They serve pigeon here," Frazier responded with, "They’ve got to come to New York. They’ll get it free. We’ll give them all the pigeons they want."
In case you didn't know, this season will introduce new fines for technical fouls (NBA.com). Players and coaches will now be docked $2,000 for each of their first five technicals. The costs rise to $3,000 for the next five, followed by $4,000 for Nos. 11 to 15. Starting at 16, players are suspended one game for every two technicals, along with $5,000 for each.
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