Memphis Grizzlies vs. New York Knicks: Postgame Grades and Analysis for NYK
Although the Knicks (44-26) entered the contest just one win shy of matching a season-best six-game winning streak, it was the Grizzlies (47-24) that appeared to have momentum on their side.
Memphis big man Marc Gasol had aggravated an abdominal tear on Friday night and was reportedly out indefinitely (via ESPN.com). That indefinite period was quickly defined as just two games, though, when he returned to the team's starting lineup for this game.
But any momentum spurred by his unexpected appearance was quickly dashed by a Knicks team that established itself as the aggressor early in the game. New York worked its prolific offensive attack from the inside out as J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony relentlessly drove to the basket.
By the time the Grizzlies adjusted defensively, New York's perimeter shooters had kicked it into high gear. The Knicks hit nine of their first 13 three-point attempts while stretching a 12-point first-quarter edge into a 28-point lead by halftime.
The Knicks set a season high for first-half points with 69, just 21 fewer than Grizzlies opponents have averaged per game on the year.
But the Grizzlies started showing signs of life in the third quarter.
In a three-minute stretch early in the period, Memphis worked its way into 11 free-throw attempts, connecting on nine of them. The Grizzlies also picked up their intensity on the defensive end and trimmed the Knicks' lead to 16 by the end of the quarter.
Memphis cut the lead to just four with 33 seconds left in regulation, but New York made just enough plays down the stretch to salvage a win.
PG: Pablo Prigioni
Pablo Prigioni's night began on a scary note when he hurt his wrist and left the floor at the 8:06 mark of the first quarter.
He returned in the second quarter and showed no ill effects.
He was a willing passer throughout the night, probably too willing for coach Mike Woodson's liking. His hesitance to hoist shots within the offense left his teammates struggling to find some magic late in the shot clock.
Defensively, he was pesky in the passing lanes but bears at least some of the responsibility for Mike Conley's big night (26 points, six assists).
SG: Raymond Felton
Raymond Felton was a non-factor early on, as highly touted Grizzlies defender Tony Allen drew his number. But when Prigioni left the floor, Felton found himself matched up with the more manageable Mike Conley.
He was a willing passer in New York's dizzying ball-movement display, but he showed his biggest value when the Knicks shooters cooled off. He drove past Conley for an easy layup late in the first quarter, beat him again on the next trip for a point-blank Smith slam and then raced by him once more to set up Anthony for a wide-open three, but 'Melo couldn't convert the look.
He carried his aggressiveness over into the third quarter. He scored New York's first seven points of the third quarter, none bigger than a timely corner three that stopped an 11-0 Memphis run near the midpoint of the period. Felton then flashed this intensity again, chasing down his missed free throw in the game's final 30 seconds.
He finished the night with 13 points (5-of-6 from the field), four assists and two turnovers in 32-plus minutes.
The defensive end was not as kind to Felton. He struggled to keep the defensive-minded Allen off the scoreboard (18 points, 7-of-10) and had problems with Conley when those two matched up.
SF: Iman Shumpert
In one of the more interesting matchups this game produced, Iman Shumpert was forced to deal with the bruising Zach Randolph on the offensive end. It was a matchup Knicks coach Mike Woodson looked to exploit early.
Less than six minutes into the game, Shumpert had already made this game his second-most productive effort of the season. He hit all five of his field-goal attempts for 13 points during that time. Another shot wouldn't come his way until the last seconds of the first half, a corner three which Shumpert buried.
But it was a tale of two halves for him.
He forgot his shooting stroke in the locker room at halftime, missing all four of his field-goal attempts in the second half.
Shumpert was forced to the sideline after picking up his fourth foul at the 7:09 mark of the third quarter.
His physical defense afforded him some timely stops, but also contributed to his becoming a non-factor after the break.
PF: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony's point totals don't always tell the true story of his effectiveness.
His 22 points in this game gave him 51 for his last two games, but he's hit just 18-of-50 (36.0 percent) from the field over that stretch.
He was plagued by the same inconsistencies that bothered his teammates. During some stretches, he was virtually unguardable, punishing defenders with his dribble or knocking down jumpers when given too much space.
But whether a byproduct of the Knicks' desire to keep the ball moving or the Grizzlies' increasing defensive effort, he disappeared for stretches. He had a tough matchup with the lanky Tayshaun Prince standing opposite of him, but not one daunting enough to brush aside his 8-of-20 shooting night.
When he put the ball on the floor, his quick first step often led him past Prince. When Darrell Arthur drew the unenviable task of guarding Anthony, 'Melo exploited his sizable talent deficiencies.
But he didn't show the killer instinct that his team needed from him. Only six of those 22 points came in the final quarter.
Still, he gave New York a badly needed presence on the glass (team-high-tying seven boards) and helped hold Zach Randolph to a woeful three-point night.
C: Kenyon Martin
With Marc Gasol back on the floor, Kenyon Martin faced a massive size disadvantage in the post.
And that mismatch was notable from the opening tip.
New York's perimeter-driven offense left Martin largely a spectator on that end. Defensively, he struggled to effectively match up with the Grizzlies' frontcourt without fouling.
With Tyson Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire and Rasheed Wallace all out of action, Martin carries a tremendous responsibility on the interior. It leads to such one-sided showings as this.
Martin took just three shots on the night (converting both of his dunks for four points) and managed only three rebounds in his 26-plus minutes.
Gasol wasn't perfect in the game (13 points, five rebounds in nearly 36 minutes), but looked far more limited by his injury than anything the Knicks defenders were doing to him.
Sixth Man: J.R. Smith
Fresh off a 32-point outing against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, J.R. Smith continued his torrid shooting in this game. He scored 23 points in the first half alone, shooting 8-of-14 from the field and 3-of-6 from three.
This was the Smith that New York fans have learned to love. Even with his three-point shot falling, he refused to settle for bad shots. He worked his way closer to the basket, either halting his drives for pull-up jumpers or continuing them for close finishes and trips to the line.
His Knicks teammates left him on an offensive island in the fourth quarter, but Smith's refusal to settle likely saved this win. He scored New York's first eight points of the period, all of which came either around the basket or at the free-throw line. He poured in a game-high 35 points, bolstered by his 12-of-13 showing at the charity stripe.
Defensively, he wasn't nearly as engaged. He did too much ball-watching, leaving his man free for shots or slips to the bucket.
But what he lacked in focus, he matched in energy. He channeled his elite-level athleticism into chasing down some loose balls and long rebounds that few players in the league could have collected.
Rest of Knicks Bench
Jason Kidd's impact won't show up in the box score (three points, three assists). But his veteran presence was clearly felt.
He roamed defensively, providing timely help on drives and still leaving himself within range to contest shooters. He showed his savvy by severely cutting down the distance when matched up with the streaky Jerryd Bayless (24 points, 4-of-7 from three).
Offensively, he spent most of his night making the extra pass. He didn't take his first shot until the final three minutes of the game, drilling a three to give the Knicks an eight-point lead with 1:16 left in regulation.
His no-look, behind-the-back feed from the baseline to an open Steve Novak in the corner was nothing short of incredible and certainly would have been the perfect assist. Unfortunately, Novak couldn't convert the three and probably cost Kidd a highlight appearance in the process.
Novak joined New York's early perimeter party, burying his first two shots from deep. But he hit just one of his final six shots of the night and didn't make an impact in any other facet of the game.
Marcus Camby's night was cut short after a double-technical foul sent him to the locker room at the 8:12 mark of the third quarter. He played less than eight minutes, racking up four personal fouls along the way.
Camby's exit opened the door for spot duty in the form of an active six-minute showing from Chris Copeland. His energy level was where Woodson wanted it, but it was hardly what one would call a refined run.