Iman Shumpert made his season debut on Thursday in London, playing 10 minutes in the first half and scoring three points. His defensive intensity helped set the tone for the Knicks early on, as they built a 29-17 first-quarter lead, which they haven't had lately.
Here are four observations from the first half:
1. Shumpert's play. In the Pistons' first offensive possession, the guard was all over Tayshaun Prince and moved his hands constantly to distract the Pistons forward's vision. That continued later in the second quarter, when Shumpert swiped the ball out of Prince's hands.
On one possession, Shumpert jumped well into Prince's jumpshot, and his contesting forced a brick. That presented Jason Kidd with an easy outlet pass and an open-court opportunity to push the ball and find Carmelo Anthony for a transition 3-pointer. Melo, with an NBA-high 9.1 points average in first quarters, had 11 today. He received "M-V-P" chants towards the end of the first half, finishing with 18 total points.
2. Good defense leads to good offense. That's Mike Woodson's motto, and the Knicks followed that to a tee -- with help from Shumpert. Through most of the first quarter, the Pistons only had three field goals, and that suffocating Knicks' defense allowed them to control the ball. Their defense and rebounding -- Tyson Chandler, in fact, had seven boards in the opening period -- enabled them to convert on several transition 3-pointers. Overall, they had five long balls in the first 12 minutes, including one from Shumpert -- his only points of the first half. He nearly threw down a nasty one-handed dunk in traffic.
Because Kidd hasn't been able to get deep-drive penetration, the Knicks have needed more defense early on to jump out on the scoreboard -- and that happened today. Without Raymond Felton, their pick-and-roll game has taken a backseat and ball movement has suffered.
3. J.R. Smith's all-around game. Stealing the ball, passing off pick-and-rolls, finishing on the fastbreak and hitting outside shots -- those were just some of the things that defined the sixth man's first half. Smith, who had 10 points, four rebounds and two steals, is continuing to build his All-Star reserve campaign. In addition, Amar'e Stoudemire also played well off the bench. He had 12 points in the first half.
4. The Knicks need more interior support. When Chandler sits, they lack rim protection. That was noticeable against big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. The Knicks are sorely missing Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace, as Stoudemire needs help in the second unit. This could be the biggest area of concern looking ahead for the Knicks. If Wallace's health is really a long-term problem, they may have to seriously consider adding frontcourt help.
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