Before the season started, there was grumbling over what Raymond Felton would contribute to the New York Knicks. Some said, "He's not Jeremy Lin." Others said, "He'll be out of shape," something that had plagued him in previous seasons.
But Felton attacked the season like he attacks the paint, establishing himself as the team's consistent third-best scorer. While a fractured right pinky on Christmas Day set him back a bit, he has turned it up a notch down the stretch this season, especially in the playoffs.
In Game 2 on Tuesday night, Felton found creases to rip through the Boston Celtics' defense to score and find his teammates, showing that J.R. Smith isn't the only Knick who has recently been aggressive driving to the cup. Felton has also been on beast mode.
That was the case in the third quarter, when the Knicks outscored the Celtics, 32 to 11. Felton blew by three different Celtics -- Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford -- in pick-and-rolls. On one hard drive, he turned around mid-air to pass the ball back to Carmelo Anthony, who sunk a jump shot. Felton applied his low-to-the-ground maneuvering like a burly running back to the open court as well.
"[Felton] changed the game in the third quarter, and we're going to need him to do that," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "When we get stops, whoever gets the rebound, we've got a number of guys that can push the ball. I thought in the third quarter we were as good as we've been all year in terms of ball movement and pushing and making shots."
Then in the fourth quarter, Felton made an impact with his aggressive paint play in a different way. He used all of his 205 pounds to get under bigger opponents, such as Brandon Bass, and grab several key defensive rebounds. Felton, in fact, finished the game with seven boards, second-most on the team. Felton also had an alley-oop pass to Smith for a fast-break dunk, and he continued to score off of several screens.
Felton's playmaking was a big reason the Knicks' offense turned around in the second half. In the first, when the Celtics built a six-point lead, the Knicks relied a bit too much on Anthony and Smith in isolation, and their half-court sets stalled a bit. But after halftime, Felton became more involved and he went from finding to finishing.
"As a point guard, you've got to really try to get everybody else involved," he said. "I'm not trying to come out and score 30 points each and every game. I get guys shots, and then when there's an opportunity to be aggressive, that's what I do."
After scoring 13 points on pick-and-rolls in the first half, the Knicks put up 26 points on those kinds of plays in the second. The Knicks averaged 1.18 points per play on pick-and-rolls in the game, but averaged only 0.68 points per play on isolations. Felton was instrumental in leading the Knicks' different offensive approach.
"Ray is our engine," Pablo Prigioni said. "Because when he runs, when he drives to the basket, he creates so many advantages for the other teammates."
Felton is finally experiencing what playoff basketball is like in New York. He never had the chance when he was traded to Denver in February 2011 in the Anthony blockbuster deal. Felton recently said he was "heartbroken" about the trade, but his mood is much better now with his Knicks up 2-0 in the first-round series.
"New York is probably one of the best places to play basketball, seeing the intensity, just the fans, how much they care about the game," he said. "I was definitely sad and upset a little bit that I left the first time, but things happen. I'm back and it's been great, and I'm loving every moment of it."
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