The mecca of basketball was brimming with energy, but it wasn't just Carmelo Anthony who looked excited to be performing on one of the game's most hallowed stages.
While Anthony's 27 points, 10 boards, and clutch hoops in the last two minutes will understandably get the headlines (ours included), he got plenty of support from fellow debutante Chauncey Billups (21 points on 12 shots, 8 ast, 6 rebs) and the hot-shooting Toney Douglas (23 points on 10/12 shooting) as the Knicks repelled a plucky Bucks team at Madison Square Garden.
Another respectable but ultimately unsatisfying road effort from the Bucks, as hot shooting from the perimeter (11/23 from three) and another good performance from John Salmons (27 points on 14 shots, 7 ast) couldn't offset a surprisingly disjointed defensive effort that saw the Knicks driving and dunking with impunity for much of the night. Playing catchup, the Bucks' marksmanship and penchant for taking charges prevented the game from getting out of hand, but they simply couldn't stop Anthony, Billups, Douglas and Amare Stoudemire when it mattered most.
Though he made just 10/25 from the field, Anthony scored 10 points in the final period, including two big buckets in the closing two minutes. Melo's baseline drive past Carlos Delfino for an uncontested dunk made it 106-100 with 1:17 left, and his tough leaner past Andrew Bogut with 26 seconds left restored New York's lead to six to seal it. The beginning of a new era in Knicks basketball? Stay tuned.
After playing just 22 minutes last night, Bogut was an early focal point and found good position against the Knicks' undersized frontline for most of the night, but he again struggled with his finishing (so what else is new?). Bogut did collect his second double-double in the past nine games (14 points on 12 shots, 12 rebs), but he was unreliable on the block and was often drawn too far from the hoop to help defensively.
Despite a couple early fouls and an MIA jumper, Melo stayed active around the bucket and managed a game-high 14 points and five boards at the half, as the Knicks time and again found gaping, Ronny Turiaf-sized holes in the Buck defense. And when they weren't dunking, they had Douglas ripping jump shots from all over the court. But the Bucks were aggressive and counterpunched well, using a flurry of threes and 20 first half FTAs to battle back from a 37-26 deficit early in the second to narrow the lead to 59-57 at the break. The backcourt combo of Brandon Jennings and Keyon Dooling were a big part of it, hitting a combined four threes and 14 total points in the final six minutes of the first half.
The Bucks' solid finish carried over into the early stages of the third, as Bogut's hook capped a 5-0 burst that gave the Bucks a 62-59 edge. But they then began settling for jumpers and made a couple lazy passes that turned into transition opportunities, with layups by Billups and Anthony sparking an 8-0 run. And that was that--the Bucks never led again. Instead, the rest of the game was a frustrating cycle of the Bucks going down seven to nine points only to make a three and/or draw a charge, eventually whittling the lead back down to a single possession but never getting over the hump.
New York looked ready to clinch it a number of times down the stretch, but the Bucks (to their credit) actually did make some shots--they don't always hibernate in the fourth quarter--keeping the Garden crowd engaged and slightly nervous. Example: Jennings missed a layup at one end and 10 seconds later was nowhere to be found when Douglas buried yet another three to restore the Knicks' lead to 99-93 with three minutes remaining. When Bogut traveled on the ensuing possession it seemed like curtains, but a Jennings layup and six straight from Salmons kept the pressure on the Knicks, who needed Anthony's heroics to send the long-suffering Knicks home happy.
With just over a minute left, Anthony drove for a baseline dunk past Delfino, who misread the angle but also got zero help from teammates. After two Salmons free throws, Douglas of all people came flying in to steal an offensive rebound from Bogut, who could then only put his hands up as Melo hit a tough leaner to make it 108-102 with 26 ticks left. Welcome home, Melo.
John Salmons. Salmons ran out of gas in the late-going of his 33 point effort against the Nuggets last week, but to his credit he finished strong tonight, scoring nine of his 27 points in the final four minutes. He again showed the full arsenal tonight, hitting a pair of threes in the second half, looking fairly comfortable on those mid-range leaners he shoots too often, and also driving for a number of buckets and 11/13 free throws.
Andrew Bogut. Another mixed bag from Bogut, but that's typically enough to crack the not-so-exclusive ranks of the Three Bucks. I'd have to rewatch the tape to see if Bogut's late defensive rotations were worth complaining about--in fairness, he was often left checking Amare Stoudemire and his now-lethal mid-range jumper. Besides, the league's leading shot-blocker probably deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to defensive rotations, right? Offensively, Bogut looked a bit rushed at times in the post, but (bright side!) he made 4/6 from the stripe, the first time in seven games he made better than 50% of his shots from the line.
Keyon Dooling. Dooling spent about half his 27 minutes playing alongside Jennings in the backcourt, drawing the task of defending Billups for much of that time and coming up with some timely buckets (13 points on 10 shots) as the Bucks hung tough.
11/23. The Bucks tied their season high with eleven triples--the third time in the past six games they've managed that. Hopefully a sign that just maybe they're beginning to rediscover the stroke that's eluded them for more or less the entire season.
29. Melo's big (if inefficient) scoring night will understandably get the headlines, but it fell short of the highest-scoring debut in a Knicks uniform. Which all-time Knick great holds the record? The one and only Keith Van Horn.
13. Salmons matched Melo's 27 with 11 fewer shots, hitting a season-high 11/13 from the stripe en route to his third very good game in four attempts.
Flying Fish. Four games don't constitute a large sample size, but the last week suggests Salmons might yet be capable of duplicating his tremendous late season run of a year ago. Salmons bounced back from a mediocre night against Minnesota by scoring big inside and out--including a rather uncharacteristic drive and two hand throw-down late in the fourth--in addition to seven assists. That comes on the heels of his 33 point night against Denver and 15 point, 12 assist night vs. Toronto last week. Hey John: keep doing what you're doing.
Bombs Away. What's behind the Bucks' sudden surge in threes? Well, having Delfino and Jennings back is part of it, as is Maggette's recent penchant for hucking triples. The Bucks have now averaged 8.7 made threes on 25.2 (34.4%) attempts over the past six games, compared to 5.7 and 17.0 for the season (33.2%), so it's more a matter of increased volume rather than much better accuracy.
Help! Just too many easy buckets tonight for the Knicks, who outscored the Bucks 54-34 in the paint. The Bucks generally do a very good job collapsing and clogging the middle in order to force opponents into jumpers, but the Knicks were able to spread the Bucks out defensively and generally found little resistance if/when their ballhandlers beat their man off the dribble.
Maggette vs. Delfino. Carlitos was torn apart by Anthony a week ago in Milwaukee, and while he put on a more respectable face tonight it was far from his best effort on both ends. Meanwhile, Maggette kept the Bucks in the game late in third/early fourth with nine straight points, but he totaled just 12 minutes in spite of tallying 13 points on nine shots. I didn't see any defensive dropoff against Anthony with Maggette on the court, either, begging the question why Delfino played over three times as many minutes.
Treading Water. Given everything we've seen so far this season, beating the Wolves was expected, and so was losing in New York. And that's really the trap--if the Bucks just keep doing what's expected they'll be going nowhere. The Bucks have now lost six straight on the road, with all six coming against beatable opponents and only two over .500 (the barely-so Knicks and Grizz).