The Knicks seem to have found an identity, and it has nothing to do with their star power, as they hammered the Magic into submission on the strength of a gritty defensive effort in a 108-86 win.
Despite missing two starters and a vital role player, the Knicks (26-25) used multiple scoring runs to erase an early nine-point deficit. Point guard Jeremy Lin (knee), power forward Amar’e Stoudemire (back) and reserve forward Jared Jeffries (knee) all missed action. But they weren’t needed, as the Knicks used a 15-2 run to end the first half and then a team season-high 21-0 run in the third quarter to close out a lifeless Magic squad.
Carmelo Anthony once again filled in for Stoudemire at power forward and dominated inside and outside, tallying 25 points. Anthony, who has unselfishly played out of position as Stoudemire recovers from a bulging disk, also added five rebounds and six assists.
Head coach Mike Woodson said he was proud of the way every player stepped up and admitted this new-look lineup could be a regular occurrence.
“We’ll stay with that for a while because now teams have to match up with us,” Woodson said of keeping Anthony at the power forward position. “The last two outings our opponents had [power forwards] who matched up well with Melo because they weren’t typical [power forwards]. Not many teams down the stretch have big [power forwards], but if we do face them we’ll put Josh [Harrellson] in, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
One unheralded Knick who also successfully filled in at power forward was Steve Novak, who added 16 points in just 23 minutes off the bench. Novak wasn’t to be outdone with stellar bench play, as J.R. Smith added 12 points and stellar perimeter defense (two steals). Lin’s replacement, Baron Davis, was efficient in his second start in a Knicks uniform as he contributed 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Davis was also very judicious with turnovers as he only had two -- a far cry from Monday night’s performance when he had nine.
Iman Shumpert got the start at shooting guard, as Landry Fields slid over to small forward when Anthony went to power forward. Shumpert didn’t disappoint. He netted 25 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The rookie swingman also knocked down a team-high tying four 3-pointers.
Woodson readily praised the first-year player for having a terrific two-way game.
“He was phenomenal on both ends of the floor. He changes the game from a defensive standpoint,” Woodson said. “But it also didn’t hurt him today that he had his jumpshot working and was scoring the ball inside and out.”
Shumpert, who usually comes off the bench, was happy to see his “Mob Deep” benchmates make a serious contribution in the win. And perhaps the best of the bunch during this stretch has been Novak. The sharp-shooting forward said the bench takes it upon themselves to extend leads when on the floor.
“Guys have stepped up and for us to get to the playoffs we’ll need more of that,” Novak said. “It’s good to see guys coming in and having an impact.”
Woodson agreed and said he’s challenged the bench to raise the bar even higher every time they step on the court.
“Our bench came in and cracked the game open in the second quarter,” Woodson said. “Our defense just doesn’t give. We got stops and rebounded the ball and we’ve been in that mode the last eight, nine games. We just have to continue to do that.”
The lack of healthy bodies for the Knicks never deterred them from stifling Orlando on the offensive end. The Magic (32-19) shot 44 percent from the field, but only 38 percent when the game was still in doubt. They successfully added garbage points when the outcome was already decided. Orlando also only shot 34 percent from 3. The Magic’s plethora of scorers came in leading the league in made (10) and attempted (27) 3-pointers, but never really threatened the Knicks’ suddenly-vaunted defense. Not even an Orlando 19-3 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth could help the Magic get back in the game, as it only slightly cut into New York’s 31-point lead.
Center Tyson Chandler has been the constant anchor on defense and said Wednesday night’s effort should be lauded as a total team win. Chandler added that it won’t be just one guy coming to the rescue of their fallen stars.
“It’s not going to be an individual player,” Chandler said. “It’s not just going to be the guy who takes Amar’e Stoudemire’s spot or the guy who takes Jeremy Lin’s spot. It’s going to be a collective effort. Everybody has to step up and fill the void.”
The Knicks backed up Chandler on the defensive end by hammering the larger Magic on the boards, 49-34, including a 16-9 advantage on the offensive glass. It’ll be a collective effort in rebounding, especially with Anthony manning the power forward spot. Woodson used the term “gang rebounding” when discussing how the Knicks stifled Howard, who leads the league in rebounding. The coach noted that while Chandler held Howard to just five rebounds, it’s imperative that others match Chandler’s intensity.
“We just can’t rely on Tyson to get all the rebounds because we’re kind of light across the board, especially with Amar’e out,” said Woodson. “It’s important we get five guys sticking their noses in there.”
New York won its sixth-straight home game and improved to 8-1 under Woodson, including 7-1 overall without Stoudemire in the lineup. This was also the first time since they started the season 6-5 that they’ve crept over the .500 mark. Up next will be an undoubtedly emotional game as Woodson returns to Atlanta to face the Hawks Friday night.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.