Playing in his fourth game back from left knee surgery in late October, the New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire played his most minutes of the season against the Boston Celtics on Monday night.
Afterward, Stoudemire said, "I felt pretty good, so we'll see how I feel tomorrow."
Before the game, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he hadn't talked to doctors about any minute restrictions for Stoudemire. He said the forward could have played more than 20 minutes on Saturday against the Orlando Magic.
In 28 minutes on Monday, Stoudemire scored 13 points to go along with 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block. Stoudemire has actually increased his points total in each game he has played -- from 6 to 10 and then 11.
Not only did Stoudemire check into the game a little earlier Monday -- with 7:16 to go in the first quarter -- he appeared to move his feet better on offense and defense. Offensively in the opening period, he ran the court well on a fast-break opportunity and nearly finished a one-handed flush. He got fouled and made both free throws, which the team has been needed throughout the season. The Knicks are near the bottom of the NBA in that department, and Stoudemire's improved post presence should enable them to pick it up.
In a following half-court possession in the first quarter, when Jason Kidd dribbled to the right, taking the defense with him, Stoudemire -- in one of his favorite off-the-ball moves -- floated from the left baseline to the corner for a jump shot. In the second half, he had a strong post-up move in which he cut hard, spun and put up a short jump hook shot with his left hand, which was credited after goaltending.
Later on, he had an explosive drive-by move on Kevin Garnett, soaring in for the one-handed dunk. Considering how intense the game was, the fact that Stoudemire looked good going up against aggressive matchups was a positive sign.
"Every time you play Boston, it's going to be a physical game," Stoudemire said. "Every single time, it's been like that, my whole career. Garnett brings that intensity, even when he was in Minnesota. He brought the same intensity. It's to be expected."
Defensively, STAT started off strong in the first quarter, allowing only two points, which were off free throws, from the two players he was assigned to: Jared Sullinger and then Brandon Bass. Where he has to continue to improve, especially, is with his timing, quickness and court awareness guarding against pick-and-rolls. In one costly possession, he completely left Paul Pierce alone in a switch situation, and his jump shot at the top of the key put the Celtics up 94-91 with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Perhaps most important, Stoudemire looked fresh throughout the entire fourth quarter. He wasn't subbed out until there were 36 seconds remaining. With the game getting more intense as both teams fought hard in the final minutes, Stoudemire's body didn't appear to back down from the challenge. He battled inside to help the Knicks get some stops, and he scored five points.
While the Celtics pulled away at the end for the victory, Stoudemire's ability to close out Monday was key, because it means the Knicks will have another scoring threat who can get to the line down the stretch.
Now, let's see how he feels Tuesday.
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