The Knicks could’ve used the absences of Amar’e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin as reasons to fold in Monday night’s pivotal game, but they instead showed their grit in an 89-80 win over the hard-charging Bucks.
Heading into the game, the No. 8 seeded Knicks (25-25) were only 1 1/2 games ahead of the No. 9 Bucks (22-27).
The Knicks started hot, hit a second-quarter slump and then showed some mettle in overcoming the Bucks in the second half.
Head coach Mike Woodson was definitely proud of the result, as the Knicks played his brand of “Woody Ball” in which they hunkered down and played a defensive-laden game – specifically in the second half.
“The second half was tremendous defensively,” Woodson said of a Knicks squad that yielded just 28 points in the second half. “It was an ugly game, but we kept grinding and getting defensive stops. We had one stretch where it was back and forth where neither team could hit a shot. … But we got over the hump.”
Carmelo Anthony led the way with 28 points and a team-high 12 rebounds, while Baron Davis added 13 points and seven assists. Stoudemire, who could be out for an extended period of time with a bulging disc, didn’t even dress. Neither did do-everything forward Jared Jeffries (knee). Lin, who’s battling a sore knee, dressed but never saw any action. As the Knicks lacked any other inside presence, it was solely upon the shoulders of center Tyson Chandler. He was up to the task as he came through with 13 points and nine rebounds, including five offensive.
Milwaukee was led by Mike Dunleavy Jr. and his team-high 26 off the bench, but he only tallied two points in the second half.
Woodson credited a raised defensive intensity and coaching tweaks that slowed down Dunleavy.
“I was livid. He had it going big time,” Woodson said. “But a lot of that was because we didn’t communicate on the switches in time and we got matched up wrong in transition, and that shouldn’t be. But we corrected that [after halftime] and were able to secure the win.”
Dunleavy was slowed down considerably in the second half, but the swingman’s performance was still very impressive, considering the Bucks’ speedy and newly-minted backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis added little offensive support. Jennings finished with 15 points, while Ellis only had four. They combined to shoot a paltry 8-of-36 from the field.
The Bucks looked as if they were going to run away with the game, as they used a 12-0 run midway through the second quarter to go up by as many as nine points, but that was as good as it got. New York slowly chipped away and regained the lead for good midway through the third quarter and never looked back. It helped that the Knicks used an 18-0 free-throw attempts advantage at the foul line in the third quarter and also had nine of their 13 total offensive rebounds, showing that they were the aggressor.
Chandler, who has been the anchor of the defense since arriving, said he took it upon himself to lead by example. He noted that with his sidekick out indefinitely, there will be a slew of guys playing out of position at the power forward position – including Anthony, who started at power forward. Chandler said the onus on getting all to jell will be on him.
“It’s very important that it starts with myself and to be able to communicate with guys that may be playing out of position,” Chandler said. “I have to make those guys feel comfortable on defense.”
The Knicks made life for the Bucks uncomfortable in this all-important game, as they managed to pick up a game in the standings and hold onto the eighth and final playoff spot by a thread.
»Anthony had his best scoring game in over two months, as he found ways to slice through the rugged Bucks defense. Anthony started aggressive and stayed that way throughout as he went to the line 12 times, knocking them all down. A microcosm of the game is that Anthony’s 12 makes equaled the Bucks’ attempts as a team.
» Woodson said all wasn’t perfect, specifically on the offensive end. He noted the exorbitant amount of turnovers and said that will have to stop: “I didn’t think [shot selection] was too bad because we missed some good looks. But my biggest concern is turning the ball over. That’s 23 opportunities that we didn’t have to score the ball. We need to cut that down to at least 12 or so.”
» Iman Shumpert showed wisdom beyond his rookie status when evaluating the Knicks’ penchant for turnovers: “I think we try to make the homerun plays too much sometimes, but that’s because we know each other’s strengths and we try to exploit that all the time. But sometimes we do that a little too much. As long as we’re playing good defense I think we can allow ourselves to take chances, but we still have to tighten some things up.”
»Chandler had a game-high five offensive rebounds and controlled the interior practically by himself. The veteran just shrugged at that notion, but joked he had a lot of opportunities to clean up the mess, as the Knicks shot just 35 percent from the field: “We were missing a lot of shots so there were definitely some opportunities. I just wanted to be aggressive and give my team a second opportunity when I could.”
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.