J.R. Smith played extra time with many of the starters sitting out the fourth quarter. Credit: Getty Images
The Knicks avenged an earlier blowout loss to the Celtics, by earning their own easy conquest, 114-88.
The last time these two teams met, on Dec. 8, New York (18-27) suffered a 41-point blowout, so with revenge on their minds they exacted some retribution on a Celtics (15-32) squad reeling as of late by entering the game losers in eight of their last 10 games.
Carmelo Anthony once again led the way for New York as he notched 24 points on an efficient 8-of-15 from the floor. The Knicks opened up such a wide margin that Anthony, who came into the game averaging a league-high 39 minutes, was able to rest for the final quarter. He played just 29 minutes of action, adding nine rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Head coach Mike Woodson appreciated Anthony’s abbreviated work, joking that it was nice to finally bench his star.
“I’m not going to repeat what he said,” Woodson said when asked to divulge their conversation when Anthony was finally sat down. “But he sat and enjoyed the rest of the game, like he should have.”
Other starters who put in work for the Knicks – and then were able to enjoy early rest — were center Tyson Chandler (12 points and 13 rebounds) and point guard Raymond Felton (game-high eight assists).
Overall, New York had at least five players notch double-digit scoring for the second straight game.
“I just think guys are more committed now,” Woodson said. “We don’t have a lot of room for error in terms of our division and the playoff hunt, so there’s a sense of urgency – not that there wasn’t any before. ... We’re just playing better basketball.”
J.R. Smith, who added 17 points off the bench on 6-of-14 from the field (three 3-pointers), noted how well his team looks when the offense isn’t so dependent on Anthony.
“We got everyone involved at first and that just opens things up for everyone to get going,” said Smith. “We know we’re a better team when everyone is scoring. We all know Melo can score anytime he wants, but whenever the ball moves we’re such a better team. It feels good to come out here on our home court and get a win. We needed it.”
Once the starters were summoned to the bench, the Knicks’ reserves took over. Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. continued his recent ascension by adding 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Jeremy Tyler, almost an afterthought until both Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin went down with injuries, as is also riding a hot streak. The journeyman big man tallied a career-high 17 points and two blocks.
Tyler and fellow well-traveled big man Cole Aldrich were the ones to benefit the most in Martin’s absence. Martin (six points and a block) rolled his already gimpy right ankle after just nine minutes of action and never returned. And while he reasoned afterward he “could’ve gone back into the game if they needed me,” Woodson was happy to rest his veteran big man and see what the young guys could do.
“Kenyon could’ve played if we needed him, but we elected to sit him because we thought Jeremy and Cole were fantastic again,” Woodson said, particularly praising Tyler. “He’s developed and given us some positive energy. Offensively he’s been making plays. When you don’t get much of an opportunity to play in this league at a young age, you don’t know what to expect, but his hard work has started to pay off.”
The outcome was never in doubt, as the Knicks dominated from the opening tip, leading 31-15 after one quarter. They never looked back at the wounded Celtics and essentially put the game on cruise control without ever compromising execution. New York had one its best shooting nights, torching the nets at a 61.5 percent clip in the first half, and nestling into a still torrid pace of 54 percent to end the game.
“Our defense is triggering a lot of it [offense], because we’re getting stops,” said Woodson. “But I think our pace has really picked up, especially by going small-ball again [the 6-foot-7 Anthony starting at power forward]. We’re shooting [3-pointers] well and guys are feeling good about themselves, which is good to see.”
The Celtics, conversely, looked ragged from the start as they shot 31.8 percent in the first half en route to 39 percent from the floor for the game, including 27.3 (6-of-22) on 3-pointers. Starting point guard Rajon Rondo is still recovering from a torn ACL and he certainly showed his rust in shooting 3-of-14 from the field with four turnovers.
“He runs their ball club,” said Woodson. “He’s obviously not all the way back yet because of the ACL, but he’s still pretty good at what he does. His speed has caused problems in the past, so our transition ‘D’ and getting back to everyone guarding a man was important.”
Knicks notes ...
» All wasn’t rosy for the Knicks as the endured a few bumps and ailments. Besides Martin’s ankle, Iman Shumpert also hurt his shoulder and didn’t return. Woodson said he’ll know more in the morning.
“Iman sprained his shoulder,” said Woodson. “How long he’ll be out, I don’t know. Beno [Udrih] left with flu-like symptoms and had to go home.”
» Anthony joked he had some words for Woodson for pulling him, but acknowledged it “no doubt felt good” to get that extra rest. And just as important to Anthony was the joy he felt to see the margin as big as it was considering the last time Boston invaded the Garden.
“That [41-point loss] was definitely in the back of our minds, so we wanted to redeem ourselves … That game left a bitter taste in everybody’s mouth,” said Anthony. “It was unacceptable, that game. We definitely remembered that. It felt good, tonight. It was a different story for us.”
» Aldrich was just as effective as Tyler in his 14 minutes of action as he contributed six rebounds and a block.
» Felton has been abused as of late by quicker and more skilled point guards, but he bested Rondo head-to-head. Felton didn’t dazzle in the box score, as he only scored four points, but he was great in setting the early tempo, not committing costly giveaways (an Achilles’ heel as of late) and setting up his teammates for easy-look buckets. Felton finished with a game-high eight assists despite sitting for most of the fourth quarter.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter@TBone8.