For only the third time this month, the Knicks won the first-quarter scoring margin. Sunday night, they led 27-25 after one, thanks to Raymond Felton's hot start -- nine points in 11 minutes. He only had eight points all game on Saturday night.
Later in the second quarter, Carmelo Anthony (16 points) erupted for three straight 3-pointers in about a minute to close out the half, keeping the Knicks on top. Hawks forward Josh Smith had done a nice job defending Melo in the post, but the Knicks' star got hot in transition after the team made stops. The Hawks were able to keep it close with their inside game, finishing with 30 points in the paint in the first half (the Knicks only had 10).
Here are three other observations at the half:
1. The Knicks' switching. They're doing a lot of it guarding pick-and-rolls, occasionally putting Tyson Chandler in a one-on-one defensive situation. That allowed Hawks point guard Jeff Teague to have a big first quarter (10 points), and his teammates to get open more down low. The Knicks need to show more resolve with their pick-and-roll defense to allow Chandler to protect the basket better. Remember, they have no true backup center. The Knicks need to also improve their transition defense in the second half. DeShawn Stevenson (12 points) got it going off the bench.
2. Pablo Prigioni's playmaking. The backup point guard appears to be doing a better job of adjusting to the speed of the NBA game. He's quicker off screens and with his penetration. Even his setup to shoot and release is not as delayed. Two times, he ran off pick-and-rolls like an athletic point guard and pulled up quickly, connecting on both. He was also tenacious with his drives and clever with his passing. One time he drove in the lane and made a turnaround skip pass to Melo on the wing for the jumpshot. In a following possession, he delivered a sharp bounce pass in traffic to Chandler for the layup. He finished the first half with six points, four assists and only one turnover.
Defensively, Prigioni was also effective. As he usually does, he applied pressure to the opposing point guard on the opposite end and didn't lay off him when he dribbled up the court. Prigioni is a better defender than Felton. When Prigioni was on the bench, Teague went off. But when he was in the game, Teague and Harris were more contained, and the Knicks went on a 16-0 run from the end of the first quarter to the middle of the second.
3. J.R. Smith picks it up. He finished the first half with seven points and a steal. He found his groove by letting the game come to him; not forcing too many shots. He had a nice step-back jumper, was aggressive attacking and was heads-up on defense, intercepting a Hawks pass and getting fouled on the fastbreak. He made both free throws.
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