For the second straight game, the Knicks controlled the tempo right from the start, building a 31-25 first-quarter lead. That's something Mike Woodson mentioned pregame, discussing how important that is to do at the Garden.
"We've got to protect home court," he said. "It's important when you step out on the floor at home that you set the stage, you dictate tempo, and I thought we did that the other night."
Here are four other key observations from the first half:
1. Defense. Before the game, Woodson said, "If our defense can stay consistent and we rebound the ball with most teams, we'll give ourselves an opportunity to win." In the first half, while the Knicks shot 53.3 percent, the Sixers were only at 42.2 percent. The Knicks had much better rim protection, after allowing the Heat to score several easy points in the paint off simple missed reads and getting beat backdoor.
Carmelo Anthony's D on Thaddeus Young down low was especially good, as well as Tyson Chandler's help D on the Sixers' versatile power forward. Scouts say that when Anthony is challenged defensively, he steps up. Melo, in fact, had two blocks in the first half, and after swatting one of them, he even went after the ball into the stands trying to save the play.
The Garden gave him a huge applause for his hustle, which was apparent in every Knick. And by D-ing up, the Knicks were able to keep the Sixers away from the offensive glass, enabling them to grab defensive rebounds and then push the ball. They were able to finish a few fast-break plays with ease off their defense, something Woodson preaches.
2. Unselfish play and ball movement. Once again, the Knicks capitalized off the pick-and-roll thanks to their two point-guard lineup of Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. They both got into the lane and initiated quick ball rotation, which found the open shooter. In the first quarter alone, the Knicks had five 3-pointers, each one from a different Knick. That's a true definition of team basketball.
3. Melo is Melo. Not only did he have a strong first half defensively, he was also a killer on offense with his 3-point shooting, midrange shooting and attacking. The Sixers could not check him, and he finished the first half with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting. The great thing about the Knicks' offense is that Woodson didn't first run its halfcourt sets through Anthony in isolation, which was a tendency last season. The Knicks started with the pick-and-roll and went from there, which enabled Melo to find more open shots. After Saturday's practice, he was talking about how Felton, Kidd and Pablo Prigioni have made his game easier.
4. Steve Novak's IQ. Before Sunday's game, Woodson was saying how Novak has added some new one- to two-dribble moves to his repertoire. But Novak appears to have gotten smarter at understanding where he should be positioned on the court before a pass is even made. There was one sequence in the first quarter when Kurt Thomas snatched an offensive board, and Novak quickly side-pedaled to the opposite wing corner to set up for the open 3. Thomas found him and, boom, swish.
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