Well, well, well...it looks like Knicks fans won't have to worry about James Dolan trading a pair of first-round picks for Nazr Mohammed (for tonight, anyway).
In their first full game without star center Tyson Chandler, the Knicks rallied for a stirring 101-91 victory. The Knicks showed off a little bit of everything in this game: something old (their three-point shooting), something new (an excellent performance from maligned big Andrea Bargnani), something borrowed (Chandler apparently lent his shot-blocking prowess to Bargnani) and something blue (their uniforms).
"The Bargnani Game"
If Andrea Bargnani truly turns a corner this season and becomes a valuable member of the New York frontcourt, the basketball world will likely point to this game as the turning point.
Bargnani can never replace what Tyson Chandler give the Knicks from the center position, but on this night he gave the Knicks everything he had on both ends of the court. He put up a stat line that belies everything he has shown this season: 25 points on 11-for-25 shooting (3-for-9 from three), eight rebounds, three assists, one turnover and five blocks.
How incredible is that line coming from Bargnani? Consider:
- He scored 25 points tonight in his first game at center for New York. In 132 games at center for the Knicks, Chandler scored 25 points twice.
- Coming into tonight's game, Bargnani had only four games of at least five blocked shots in his eight-year NBA career.
-Knicks legend (and tonight's head coach for Charlotte) Patrick Ewing had 89 games of at least 25 points and five blocks in his New York career. In that time, the only one other Knicks center to have such a game is—you guessed it—Andrea Bargnani. (h/t Bluecheese999)
The best way to describe Bargnani's game tonight would be "fearless." Gone was the player who looked so hesitant on every shot and drive to the rim in New York's first four games. Bargnani didn't shoot a high percentage, but he didn't hesitate to use his height to shoot over defenders or whip passes into traffic.
And when he put the ball on the floor, magic happened.
After the game, Bargnani spoke to the media about his change in mindset.
Per the Associated Press:
"Don't be hesitant and just play my game and go out there and do what I've always done all these years," Bargnani said. "I got to be more aggressive on the offense."
Welcome Back, Last Year's Knicks
The 2012-13 Knicks were known for two things: three-point shooting and two-PG lineups. They set an NBA record last season for both three-point attempts and three-point field goals. They relied on a starting backcourt of Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd to start the season and a Felton/Pablo Prigioni backcourt to end the season.
This year, though, the Knicks went away from both of those strengths at the start of the season. New York came into this game ranked 16th in the league in three-point attempts and 21st in three-point field goals. Nearly 20 percent of their attempts from behind the arc came from rookie Tim Hardaway Jr., who was shooting a ghastly 3-for-18 from three.
Tonight, the Knicks not only took more threes, but took smarter threes. They spread the wealth—seven players made at least one three—en route to a 12-for-26 team-wide performance from downtown.
Three of those three-pointers came from Prigioni, who was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time since the Knicks' opening night win against Milwaukee. Coincidence or not, that one Prigioni start was also the one and only win of the season for New York.
Last year, the Knicks won 15 of their 16 regular games with both Felton and Prigioni in the starting lineup. Though Prigioni will never fill up a stat sheet, he helps the Knicks in a number of ways: unselfish playmaking, quality three-point shooting and excellent help defense.
Before the game, Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal pointed out that inserting Prigioni into the lineup could actually help improve the Knicks' defense with Bargnani at center.
Can the Knicks Keep This Up?
Not only did the Knicks win tonight, but they officially played their last game without the services of J.R. Smith, who will return from his five-game suspension on Sunday against San Antonio.
But while Smith will give New York another weapon on offense, do they have the strength up front to deal with teams like San Antonio?
New York did play well last season without Chandler, but they did get a bit lucky in their scheduling, according to Herring.
If anything, New York would do well to follow the lessons from tonight's win. It wasn't a big team coming into the year, and it's even less big now. It's a team of shooters, and it plays its best basketball when it spreads the floor and shoots the three. If the Knicks stay true to that formula, they just might survive Chandler's absence.