The Knicks continued their resurgence with a convincing 106-87 win over the struggling Raptors.
The Knicks (22-24), in much the same manner in which they’ve won their previous three games, used a stifling defense, renewed energy and unselfish play to knock off the Raptors (15-31). Leading the way for New York was Jeremy Lin, as he tallied 18 points and 10 assists, while committing only three turnovers.
Lin wasn’t alone, as Amar’e Stoudemire experienced a bit of a revival. Stoudemire, who’s battled both physical and emotional stress this season, was as lively and engaged as he’s been at any time this season. He finished with game highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds, including a double-double by the time the fourth quarter began.
“It’s a beautiful feeling. We’re playing great. The feeling is ecstatic and we’re just having fun and enjoying ourselves. We love playing basketball, so we’re trying to cherish every moment,” Stoudemire said, adding Woodson’s schemes also helps. “We’ve been very aggressive. Coach Woodson gives us a strategy to execute and we’re doing that. [On] both ends of the floor, we have great energy.”
New York’s other star, Carmelo Anthony, also seemed as spry as he’s ever looked all season, as he tallied 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists and even three steals. Anthony didn’t shoot well (5-of-15), but played solid defense on reasonable offensive threats like Linas Kleiza (six points) and James Johnson (eight points).
Since interim head coach Mike Woodson took over, the Knicks have found a newfound desire to play defense. During their current four-game winning streak, the Knicks have held their opponents to 89 points per game and 39 percent field-goal shooting (31 percent from 3-point range). The Knicks are also averaging 10.7 steals and forcing 20 turnovers per game, with an average margin of victory at 23.7 points. Tuesday night’s performance mirrored their recent successful success.
Stoudemire said Woodson has emphasized fast and aggressive starts to almost shock the opponent right out of the gate. That’s a far cry from the D’Antoni era when the Knicks often started out slow.
“That’s something we’ve been talking about the past two weeks — dominating on the boards and setting the tone defensively,” Stoudemire said. “We came out with great intensity on the defensive end and played great on both ends of the court. Our defense is what sparked us, which allowed us to get started offensively.”
New York broke out to a fast start as they shot 62 percent in first quarter. Anthony had seven points and two steals, while Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler added six points apiece.
The hot shooting was great, but what allowed them to pull away was suppressing Toronto’s two star players, Andrea Bargnani (15 points) and DeMar DeRozan (17 points). The Knicks made sure the Raptors couldn’t get out on fastbreaks, which Woodson credited to being able to bang the boards and slow down the tempo.
“That’s been a big problem for us all season, putting bodies on [opponent’s] big bodies and securing the rebound,” said Woodson of a Knicks team that held a 46-30 advantage on the glass. “I stress that every day, before every game, that all five guys have to block out before we go back on offense. And we’ve been doing a better job at that.”
The Raptors fell behind by as many as 16 points midway through the third quarter, but cut the deficit to five midway through the fourth stanza. But the Knicks tightened the screws and upped the lead back to double digits minutes later, on the strength of a 15-3 run, preserving their fourth-straight win.
Woodson said that’s what he expects of this budding team, to knock out opponents when they’re on the proverbial ropes.
“Make no mistake, it’s the defense that gets us the spurts that we need,” Woodson said. “But that’s what good teams are supposed to do. We just need to ball up and continue to do it.”
By the time the Knicks emptied their bench, they were up 23 points with just 2:52 remaining and were able to rest their starters — an important spoil for the victors, as they have a pivotal matchup with the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers on Wednesday.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.