Reporters asked Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni what his goals were for his bench after they posted just three points against Charlotte on Monday night.
“Tonight we’re going for five,” he laughed.
Josh Harrellson checked into the game with 4:48 left in the first quarter, and it took him all of 45 seconds to bring truth to D’Antoni’s prediction and make the coach’s sarcasm even more comical. Harrellson first nailed an open jumper and then sank a 3-pointer when Philadelphia collapsed on Carmelo Anthony in the paint. The rookie forward finished with 13 points, making 3 of 5 from 3-point range and sparking the Knicks’ bench.
“They just kept telling me shoot if you’re open, shoot if you’re open” the rookie said. “I’m always open with Carmelo and Amare (Stoudemire) getting double-teamed and Tyson getting a lot of attention when he rolls, so I’m always open in the corner. They just found me tonight and I was knocking it down.”
The Knicks have needed bench help since fellow rookie Iman Shumpert was inserted into the starting lineup and Toney Douglas and Bill Walker struggling from the field. They also needed another big body as Jared Jeffries missed his ninth game with a sore calf.
Harrellson’s shooting touch quickly earned him a place in the rotation, coupled with the fact that he's 6-10, 275 pounds and capable of moving opposing teams’ big men off the block. Harellson had previously scored 16 points over the last five games and that includes an 11-point outing in the Knicks' road win over Detroit.
“Josh plays well,” D’Antoni said. “He’s played well a lot. It’s one of those things you don’t see. He’s just very strong, he’s very smart defensively. They kind of bounce off of him in the post. I just think he’s going to keep getting better and if he consistently makes that outside shot, it just opens the floor up and obviously when you have Amare and Melo, and different guys on the floor, he’s going to be open. All he has to do is make shots.”
Anthony had stayed in Harrellson’s ear, telling him to be ready to shoot when the defense sags in. His back-to-back jumpers started an 11-0 run that gave the Knicks a 28-15 lead and set the tone for the New York in the first half.
“It gives me a lot of confidence coming from Carmelo,” Harrellson said. “He’s one of the best players on the team and a knock-down shooter. For him to give me the confidence to go out there and knock down shots just makes me a better player in the long run.”
Much of the focus before the game went to Philadelphia’s bench, which featured Lou Williams, who came into the game as the 76ers leading scorer at 16.4 points per game. The Knicks held Williams to two points, and held Philadelphia’s bench to 30. They came into the game averaging 45. Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner both played 30-plus minutes but shot a combined 12 for 30.
“That’s our focus this year is defense,” said Bill Walker. “We know that we can score the ball. We know we’re going to be able to score with this offense. We just have to buckle down on D.”
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