By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
The Knicks’ sixth straight win was all about matchups.
The first move came about an hour before tip-off: Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins told the media that center Marc Gasol, who had previously been "out indefinitely" with an abdominal tear, would start. Just minutes earlier, Mike Woodson had answered questions about the Knicks’ lineup and how his approach might be different because it was assumed that Memphis would be without their injured center.
The Knicks would have to adjust -- with Gasol and Zach Randolph on the floor together, the Grizzlies have arguably the most lethal high-low post combination in the NBA. But it's also a very traditional alignment. Teams tend to be moving towards smaller, more dynamic lineups, and that's just not the Grizzlies' cup of tea with their base personnel.
As I wrote about in my scouting report, Melo vs. Z-Bo would be a fascinating old school/new age clash of styles. Randolph would be a load for Melo on the block, no doubt. But the Knicks could always combat that size disadvantage the way you do with any problematic big man -- bring help to make them pass the ball.
And that's what they did.
“When they got the ball we tried to double," said Melo. "We wanted to get the ball out of their hands, double team when we had to, and we stuck to our script and we did that."
Randolph took three shots. He scored three points. A complete team approach to interior defense paid off for the the Knicks.
Anthony fared much better, scoring 22 points -- including a couple of big buckets down the stretch -- to go with seven rebounds. But as the Grizzlies adjusted their approach in hopes of slowing Melo, his teammates punished them.
With Gasol back in the lineup to guard Kenyon Martin, Memphis elected to use wing defenders Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen on Anthony while "hiding" 6-foot-9, 260-pound Randolph on shooting guard Iman Shumpert. But he wouldn't remain hidden for long, and what Shumpert did for the Knicks in that matchup would ultimately be the difference in the game.
"Early on, we just recognized that they put a big man on me. I took it as disrespect," he said at his locker. "So I just came out aggressive. I guess once everyone saw me feeling good, the bucket got big for everybody."
Presented with a healthy cushion by the lumbering Randolph, it took only two minutes for his teammates to recognize Shump's mismatch. Then, in a span of just three minutes and 10 seconds , it went: made 18-footer, 3 from the left wing, corner 3 (Prigioni assist), driving layup, and another corner 3 off of a pass from J.R. Smith.
13 straight points on 5-for-5 shooting, 3-for-3 from 3.
He would add another 3 from his sweet spot in the left corner later in the 2nd quarter -- he's now shooting over 40 percent from 3 for the season -- as the Knicks built a 30-point lead. He finished with 16 points, but by halftime, he had already fulfilled his duties to the offensive effort.
Anthony credited him with turning on the engine: "Shumpert started the game off in a great rhythm kind of took advantage of the mismatches out there, and it opened the game up for us."
Shumpert showed poise and burst as he attacked the space he was given, and his teammates fed off of his energy. Smith continued to flourish, with 35 points and seven boards, and the ball zipped around the court all night. They had tapped into a their money formula, in which ball movement + penetration = open looks and trips to the free throw line.
So when things got close down the stretch, they just stuck with it. Melo hits a pair of jumpers, Jason Kidd nails a 3 from the corner, you knock down a few free throws and you have yourself a sixth straight win.