Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Knicks Night #1: New York Does Not Fear the Deer

Key contributor: Tyson Chandler in motion, finishing his clutch alley-oop slam.
New York opened their 2013-14 season Wednesday night, hosting an undermanned Milwaukee Bucks outfit before a lively Madison Square Garden crowd. As noted earlier today, Mike Woodson opted to go small with his starters - matching the Bucks' game plan - placing Pablo Prigioni in the backcourt and Iman Shumpert on the wing, to go with Felton, Anthony, and Chandler. The revamped Bucks squad, who were without reserve point guard Luke Ridnour, looked to run the floor with an undersized setup consisting of offseason acquisitions Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Khris Middleton and Caron Butler, to go with defensive force Larry Sanders up front. Knicks' coach Mike Woodson faced the intriguing proposition of going head-to-head with his former understudy, and the man who replaced him in Atlanta, Larry Drew (whom the Bucks hired over the summer).

The signs were not good early for Milwaukee, as Brandon Knight staggered and stumbled near mid-court on his way to straining his left hamstring and ending his night early. New York unforgivingly exploited the downed man, leaking out on the fast break and easily establishing an uncontested slam for Tyson Chandler. The impending exit of Knight did not make the task altogether easier for the Bucks, either, as he was replaced by fresh-faced rookie Nate Wolters, who earned his maiden NBA minutes. Iman Shumpert inspired the Knicks' defensive effort, smothering the frazzled Milwaukee lineup, swatting the veteran Butler in-close, and displaying stereotypical hustle. Carmelo Anthony did his best to contain Butler, yet his busy hands resulted in him registering two quick, unnecessary fouls, and opened the door for Metta World Peace's MSG debut.

Mike Woodson referred to his depth early in the period, calling on the range of Andrea Bargnani and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr., both of whom were received warmly (at least to begin with, in the case of the Italian) by the home crowd. The bright lights appeared to shine a little too brightly for Milwaukee's motley crew, as the attacking, unrelenting attitude of Beno Udrih and the glass-eating services of Kenyon Martin helped the Knicks to blister the Bucks defensive setup, and create a comfortable 24 to 18 advantage at the end of one.

Andrea Bargnani searched for his offense early and often in the second quarter, to no avail. He sprinkled a handful of clanked jumpers through New York's repertoire, was hastily rejected in a packed paint, and called for a traveling violation - all as part of a zero of four start that drew that frustration of Knicks' onlookers. Nevertheless, Milwaukee continued to put forth a stagnant, stale, overwhelmingly fruitless offense, failing to adequately space the floor and/or find teammates in the painted area. The Bucks' array of offensive issues were confounded by the pressing Pablo Prigioni, whose prodding and pestering of the opposition ballcarriers created a number of chances on the break for New York. The Knicks also exerted a marked advantage at the centre position, where Chandler out-tussled Larry Sanders and allowed him to pick up three fouls early in the piece. Moreover, Chandler's handy work was not limited to the defensive side of the ball, as (much to the surprise of those in attendance) he showed flashes of his summer workouts, deftly netting an 18 foot jumpshot to pad his team's buffer.

Prigioni was seemingly everywhere (eloquently described by announcer Clyde Frazier as the "ubiquitous Prigioni creating havoc"), and all looked lost for Milwaukee when Caron Butler's hard, preventative contact on Iman Shumpert was adjudged to be a flagrant (level one) offence. A potpourri of a prevalent Prigioni, the solidarity of Shumpert, the fast-paced Felton, and the stale, woefully disorganised Milwaukee offense afforded the Knicks a roomy 56-31 lead at halftime.

The plight of the recently-extended Larry Sanders did not dissipate with the change in ends, as he endured a spell highlighted by a missed teardrop and an overly-eager offensive rebounding endeavour, which ended in his recording of a 5th foul in a meagre 12 minutes of court time. The misery was not to be shared, though, as Sanders' squad renewed their focus, established some semblance of an offense, and punished New York's ill-advised shot selection and sloppy ball management in the third period. Neat ball movement and sharp, heads-up passing found a wide-open Caron Butler in the corner, who drilled 3 of his 14pts for the game. Zaza Pachulia, ever the physical force, made his presence known with a heavy foul on Carmelo Anthony, whose verbalised displeasure earned him a technical foul from the officials. Emblematic of the Knicks' underwhelming third quarter, the team grappled with shooting concerns, yet it was Bargnani who was able to net from the elbow, and table his first points as a Knickerbocker. Milwaukee persistently chipped away at the scoreboard discrepancy, slicing the comfortable margin to a much narrower 10pt lead, on the back of a 33 point quarter.

The Bucks continued their emergent, unexpected rampage to begin the fourth, gladly reaping the rewards of errant, misguided passing by Mike Woodson's men, and sweetly transforming it to scoreboard damage - such as Gary Neal's (16pts off the bench) trademark splash from downtown. The sound steadfastness of Milwaukee deemed the unbalanced halftime ledger to be a distant memory, amidst an ugly phase where New York committed more turnovers (9) than they converted field goals (7). Prigioni (7pts, 5 assists, and 3 steals), so positively influential in the opening stanza, had been a primary culprit for the Knicks' blasé ball control, although he eventually fought to make amends by pick pocketing an inbounds pass and assisting Iman Shumpert in getting to the free throw line.

The MSG crowd exclaimed a collective groan in the fourth when the enforcer, Pachulia, eviscerated and annihilated an unsuspecting Felton on a (legal) blindside screen. It took the activity and timely tip-jams of Tyson Chandler - with a line of 10pts, six rebounds, five blocks, and three steals to boot - to spark the Knicks' effort and elicit the energy of the home fans. Chandler's agitation on defense limited the charge of the Deer, and cleared the path for Carmelo Anthony to softly tip home his first points of the period, and solidify his team's edge. Perhaps the possession most synonymous with the constitution of this game arose in the closing moments, when Milwaukee's rookie point guard Wolters looked like a deer in the headlights (pun intended) and had his scoop layup attempt emphatically dispatched by the powerful presence of Chandler.

Blessed by the fortunes of steady play of Felton, Shumpert and Chandler, the Knicks' escaped embarrassment and captured a win on opening night, 90-83. Carmelo Anthony concluded with 19pts and 10 rebounds, not able to discover his usual volume of scoring output, and Zaza Pachulia compensated for the foul-induced absence of Larry Sanders by contributing a valuable 13pts and 11 rebounds off the bench for the visitors. This will not go down on the list of timeless classics, but with both teams holding distinct playoff aspirations it will, at season's end, contribute to the final standings.

New York travels to Chicago for a clash with the Bulls tomorrow night, as the Bucks continue their road trip and venture to Boston for their next outing.

FINAL - New York 90-83 Milwaukee

New York 1-0, Milwaukee 0-1

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