The Knicks had been looking forward to avenging a loss to the Grizzlies earlier in the season, and did so in a big way with a 108-101 win Wednesday night.
The margin of victory didn’t explain the entire story as the Knicks (44-26) dominated throughout the game, leading nearly wire-to-wire. New York had been throttled by Memphis (47-24) on Nov. 16, and following the beating they took, the collective mantra was “wait until we get them at our house.” They backed up that bravado as the Garden proved to be a house of horrors for the visitors in the Knicks' sixth straight win.
New York raced out to a 30-point lead in the third quarter and, except for a furious late Grizzlies run to cut it to four points, they managed to keep Memphis at bay. New York was led by J.R. Smith’s game-high 35 points, including 23 points in the first half.
Head coach Mike Woodson noted after the game he’s been just as impressed with the way Smith has responded with his growing maturity and doing the little things, as much as the shooting guard’s scoring prowess.
“He’s been playing well the last two weeks. He’s starting to figure out some things. And by doing that, he’s helping us win some games,” said Woodson. “He’s not only shooting jump shots. He’s rebounding, getting to the free-throw line and making a conscious effort to defend. Right now, his game is pretty well-rounded.”
Smith, who became the first Knicks reserve to score 30-plus points in consecutive games since Al Harrington in 2010, has been as efficient as ever this season and sounded as if he’s finally understanding when to be aggressive and when to let the game come to him.
“I’m starting to attack with both the jump shot and also by trying to get to the free-throw line,” Smith said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we just had to get stops when we needed them most. When we started slowing the ball too much it took away some of our momentum.”
Smith’s offensive momentum was in high gear all night, but he wasn’t alone. He was joined in the assault by Iman Shumpert, who looked as comfortable shooting the jumper as he had all season on his surgically repaired ACL, scoring 16 points — all in the first half. Shumpert scored 13 of the Knicks’ first 15 points in the first quarter, as he’s starting to look more comfortable behind the arc (he’s 12-of-25 on 3-pointers during this winning streak.)
Such was the dominance that Carmelo Anthony played the willing role of sidekick for the second consecutive game. The All-Star forward tallied 22 points. Anthony wasn’t needed for most of the game, as Smith and Shumpert carried the load. And when they weren’t dominating the scoring, Raymond Felton (two 3-pointers), Steve Novak (three 3-pointers) and Jason Kidd (an and-1 3-pointer) were more than capable of knocking down shots. The Knicks shot 42 percent from behind the arc, including 11-of-21 in the first half to demoralize the Grizzlies defense.
New York’s winning streak is tied for their longest stretch this season. It’s all the more impressive since it’s following what was arguably the team’s lowest point of the season — a 1-4 record on their horrendous West Coast trip two weeks ago.
Woodson thinks by suffering through such a rough stretch, it actually awakened his once-coasting team.
“There’s a sense of urgency in terms of we’re heading down the stretch run and every game is important. And that’s how we should be playing,” Woodson said. “We’re trying to stay ahead in our division and maintain that No. 2 seed. Our guys are making a conscious effort of that when they step on the floor. … Even when losing a lead like tonight. It happens. Give them credit because they didn’t quit. But after a back-to-back game, I think we played really solid and were able to keep them away. Overall, I was pleased with the way we played.”
The Knicks shot an amazing 72 percent from the field in the first quarter — a season high — and notched a season-high 69 points in the first half.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.