They're the words Knicks fans want to hear: "We won it on the defensive end."
That was Carmelo Anthony, addressing reporters in the locker room after the Knicks' 91-87 win Monday night at the Garden, avenging their 118-110 loss to the Bobcats last Wednesday. Melo wasn't talking about his individual fourth-quarter offensive heroics. He wasn't talking about the team scoring. He was talking about the collective defensive effort.
"Eighty-seven points, you can't ask for nothing better than that," he said. "We did our job defensively."
With offensive-minded coach Mike D'Antoni running the team, there is a constant question mark over his head: Can he orchestrate a defense? But tonight, while the Knicks only shot 38 percent from the field and 1-for-10 from downtown, they clawed back from an early 10-0 deficit to build a 50-45 halftime lead.
From there, they kept a tight leash on the Bobcats en route to the victory. They did it with better communication, quicker rotations, going after the ball-handler, getting hands in shooters' faces, and swarming and swiping at the Bobcats by the basket. All of these things were non-existent last Wednesday, which made the turnaround all the more satisfying for Tyson Chandler.
"I'm very proud of our defense and where we've grown the last couple of games," he said. "To be able to grind out a win like this, on a night when our offense is struggling, we were still able to pull out a win.
"Our defense was huge tonight. Our communication. We had guys really step up. I thought Landry [Fields] did an excellent job, Billy Walker when he came off the bench. [Iman] Shumpert has been incredible, even Toney [Douglas]. Just really getting guys coming in, being vocal -- it really helps. If we continue that, we'll be a good defensive team."
D'Antoni called Chandler's work "incredible." The center anchored the defense down low with 13 rebounds (nine defensive), and he had three blocks and three steals. In addition, Amare Stoudemire, who is doing a better job talking more with Chandler down low to make sure they pick up reads, had 12 rebounds.
Anthony said he's especially noticed a major difference on the backside, where the nimble Chandler comes in with his 7-1 frame to protect the paint. He's able to quickly get into position to surprise the penetrator and make him pass out or adjust his midair move to a more difficult one. The Bobcats finished with 34 points in the paint, whereas the Knicks had 44.
The Knicks also added 11 steals on the night. Three more steals came from Shumpert, whose motto is "if you play hard, good things happen." Since the rookie has started -- he made his second one Monday night -- he's been a defensive upgrade over Douglas.
Shumpert comes across like a veteran on the court. It starts when he's about to guard the primary ball-handler. He looks back at his teammates intensely and claps to get them energized on defense. In the halfcourt, he is zoned in on his man and attacks passing lanes well. Shumpert wants to make sure the defensive intensity is always up, which it was tonight.
"I'm just hoping that I can be contagious, keep playing hard," he said. "When you make the effort plays, guys around you want to do that. Nobody wants to leave somebody doing something by themselves. If I can go out there and dive on the floor or get some extra steals, anything helps."
Douglas, who's still struggling to find his new role with Shumpert starting, knows the impact defense will have on the Knicks' success -- and how far it can take them.
"We can be a top defensive team in this league," he said.
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