WHAT IT MEANS: Just when the Knicks had almost completed their best come-from-behind victory of the season -- after being down 27 points in the second quarter -- James Johnson put an end to that with his game-winning 3-pointer.
The loss dropped the Knicks to 1-2 on their road trip and 21-9 on the season. They learned a big lesson on Friday night in Sacramento: Don't take defense lightly in the first half!
KNICKS' GAME BALL GOES TO ... J.R. Smith. The eight-year veteran had never scored 25 or more points in three consecutive games -- until tonight. Smith came out firing in the first half for 13 points, but where he made his biggest difference was picking up the Knicks' pace after halftime. The Kings had controlled the tempo early on, and the Knicks simply lacked effort. So when Smith checked back in about midway through the third period, with the Knicks down 79-57, he made sure to take control in transition. In addition to his seven fast-break points -- three off free throws -- he hit jumpshot after jumpshot, including one after a nasty reverse, through-the-legs crossover. He finished with a game-high 28 points.
TURNING POINTS: In the first half, the Knicks couldn't do three main things on defense: protect the basket, take away 3s and cut off easy transition buckets. The Kings had 22 points in the paint, shot 10-for-15 (66.7 percent) from 3-point range and had 13 fast-break points.
Then in the third quarter, while the Knicks scored 31 points, the Kings only had 16. The Knicks did everything the Kings did well earlier in the game. Pablo Prigioni got the pick-and-roll going (more on this below) with Tyson Chandler (21 points and 18 rebounds) and Marcus Camby to score in the paint, the team hit three 3s and had seven fast-break points, after only have two in the entire first half.
Then, in the final period, the Knicks overtook the lead by doing what they had been doing all season at a record pace -- shooting and making 3-pointers. Jason Kidd (16 points) had two, and Steve Novak hit another in about a one-minute span, putting the Knicks on top, 97-95, with 5:58 remaining.
From then on, the Knicks controlled most of the game and had it locked up -- until Johnson's buzzer-beater.
PRIGIONI PICKS IT UP: In the first quarter, the rookie had two turnovers. But for the rest of the game, he didn’t have another. What he did have was a season-high nine assists. In addition, Kidd improved his efficiency for most of the game -- after a two-turnover first quarter -- but his two fumbles in about the last two minutes of the final period hurt the Knicks' chances to close out.
COPE-ACABANA: In four out of the last five games he's played in, Chris Copeland scored in double figures, including a season-high 29 points on Dec. 17 against the Rockets. With the Knicks' interior and Anthony hurting, Mike Woodson has turned to the rookie for points -- and he keeps looking more and more comfortable on the court. On Friday night, he scored 23 points -- his second-highest amount this season.
WHAT'S NEXT: The Knicks' highly anticipated New Year's Day home game against the Trail Blazers, in which Stoudemire could make his season debut. Also, Anthony, who's listed as day to day with a hyperextended left knee, could be back as well.
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