Even with Tyson Chandler coming off two weak performances, Mike Woodson wasn't concerned about his starting center entering the game against the Nets on Monday night.
"He's that type of competitor, so I'm not too worried about Tyson," the Knicks coach said before the game.
Right away, Chandler's competitive spirit was evident, as he scored eight points in the first quarter -- his best start of the season. And he finished with a career-high 28 points on 12-for-13 shooting in the Knicks' 96-89 overtime loss. He also tacked on 10 rebounds.
Early in the game, Chandler recognized Carmelo Anthony was getting double-teamed, so he attacked the open lanes and finished strong at the rim off of passes inside and putbacks. The slower-footed Brook Lopez was a step behind the more agile Chandler, who celebrated thunderously after every dunk. Chandler drew emotion from the personal challenge, and the meaning of the game in the overall playoff race.
"It's always exciting and fun to play against (Lopez), one of the top centers in the league," Chandler said. "He's a big body down there and he's a good matchup. Hopefully the fans enjoyed it. It was a big game for us in our division and I wanted to get the win."
Chandler's presence down low defensively paid dividends for the Knicks in the first half as well. His ability to alter shots inside limited the Nets' points in the paint to only 18. On the other hand, fueled by Chandler, the Knicks had 26. In the second half, little things -- like drawing a charge on Lopez, and going after a loose ball to then deliver a pass to Anthony for a made 3-pointer -- helped the Knicks stick around in the fourth quarter and force overtime.
"It was awesome," Rasheed Wallace said of Chandler's performance. "T.Y. was out there going hard, making layups. He didn't go to the line too much when he should've. Same thing with Melo. There were a lot of fouls that weren't called."
But then fatigue set in heading into overtime -- something Chandler and Woodson admitted after the game. Chandler didn't have enough interior support Monday night, which has been the case most of the season thus far. While Wallace grabbed eight rebounds, the Knicks were outscored by eight points when he was on the floor. And Marcus Camby (five minutes) and Kurt Thomas (eight minutes) hardly played.
"Tyson was fantastic," Woodson said. "He was huge. I mean, we needed about three more Tysons tonight."
While Chandler is averaging fewer minutes this season than last (28 versus 33), he played 45 Monday night. And those high amounts could continue, because Woodson realizes he needs scoring on the court. He's using smaller lineups to achieve that goal, but that's putting more strain on Chandler. True, it's early in the season, but Woodson needs to continue to find the right balance of effective offensive and defensive lineups.
That's where Amar'e Stoudemire hopefully will help -- by alleviating some of the pressure on Chandler to not always be involved on every play, from setting screens constantly on offense to having to cover more ground to protect the basket on defense.
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