The Knicks were able to accomplish a multitude of missions last night in their 99-82 pummeling of the undermanned Hawks.
Not only was head coach Mike D’Antoni able to tinker with different lineups on the floor, but the Knicks were also able to rest key players in preparation for tonight’s critical matchup in Miami.
The Knicks (17-17) were never really threatened, as they used a 16-0 first-quarter run to stymie a Hawks (19-14) squad that was without all-star swingman Joe Johnson. Every Knicks player who checked in got into the scoring column, as D’Antoni was able to go deep into his bench.
Five players reached double-figure scoring, led by Jeremy Lin’s team-high tying 17 points. Lin also added nine assists and two steals.
The Knicks came out the gate so dominant defensively — a phrase rarely uttered during D’Antoni’s tenure — that the Hawks shot only 35 percent from the field, including zero percent from 3 (0-for-9). For the game, Atlanta shot 40 percent from the field, including just 27 percent from 3.
“I thought our defense was good. We got sloppy at the end and you can see guys out of synch,” D’Antoni said. “But we’re trying to scratch out these wins and get to those extra practices [after the All-Star break].”
The Knicks didn’t give the Hawks much of a break in a game that was a nice way to bounce back from Monday night’s debacle against the Nets. The bench was particularly effective as it totaled 37 points.
Carmelo Anthony was very impressed with the bench’s performance and praised how many waves the team can throw at opponents.
“We have a deep squad and now you’re seeing how good our team can be. The bench picked up where the starters left off,” said Anthony, adding the team as a whole deserved kudos. “Both ends of the court we played real tight as a unit.”
Atlanta got very little from its bench — or anyone else for that matter — but managed to go on a 19-2 run during the third quarter to get within 14. But the Knicks showed their superiority by going on a 17-2 run of their own in the fourth quarter to put it out of reach. The bench spearheaded the fourth-quarter charge, as Baron Davis, J.R. Smith and Steve Novak were the leaders. Davis looked much more comfortable in his second appearance in a Knicks uniform, finishing with six assists.
The veteran, once thought to be the savior at point guard before the Linsanity began, is slowly assimilating himself back into form. He said this is all a new process for him — re-learning how to play on the fly.
“This is more a part of my rehab as my integration continues [because] I haven’t played five-on-five in a long time,” Davis said. “I’m still trying to see where my body is as I’m playing. But it was great playing in front of this crowd and feel that energy.”
Davis then added he’s not worried about starting. At his advanced age, all he wants is a chance at a title.
“I don’t mind coming off the bench at all. It’s kind of fun for me. I did it in Cleveland and I even did it for the Clippers,” Davis said. “Whatever I can do to help this team win I’ll do. This is my 13th year in the league. Whatever I’m fighting for is working towards trying to win a championship.”
The former All-Star point guard may be trying to work his way into game shape during actual games, but his bench mates are already starting to look in mid-season form. Smith added 12 points, five rebounds and five steals, while Novak tallied a team-high tying 17 points, 15 of which came off 3-pointers.
They’re just another added weapon at Lin’s disposal.
“We have a lot of scorers so it’s up to me to get the scorers the ball where they can score and make sure everyone is getting their shots,” Lin said. “To me, that’s the job of the point guard. I don’t need to shoot as much with these guys coming back.”
Tyson Chandler added he’s been impressed with the way guys are accepting their roles. But warned they haven’t even scratched the surface yet because the cohesion has been happening without practices.
“Our defense quickly turned into offense and because of that we were able to get some easy baskets,” said Chandler. “We’re starting to come together and get better and better, even without practice. But when we come back from All-Star break we should get even better.”
» Amar’e Stoudemire has been almost an afterthought as of late. He’s yet to return to his explosive ways, but did have a quietly-efficient game with seven points and 10 rebounds.
» D’Antoni said as time goes by the reserve backcourt of Davis and Smith could be as effective as most starting units: “[Davis] hasn’t played for a year, but [rustiness] is to be expected. But he’s going to be good and a nice little tandem coming off the bench [with J.R. Smith]. It’s not normal having two guys [on the bench] who can be starters.”
» There was a lot of concern about how Anthony would acclimate himself to the offense, but there was another guy who was also a concern heading into the season — Landry Fields. D’Antoni said he’s been impressed with how well the second-year guard has refocused: “Landry is finding a way to be effective. He’s our best plus-minus guy. He’s a taller two [shooting guard], which allows us to guard the point guards with a taller guy if need be and then move Jeremy to guard the two.”
» Tyson Chandler added he’s also seen a change in Fields, who had 16 points, seven rebounds and a steal: “Landry comes off the ball screen hard and has been really aggressive lately. He’s been playing really well.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.