With their 108-91 dismantling of the Brooklyn Nets Friday, the New York Knicks left no doubt about who runs the Big Apple.
If the first month of the season wasn’t evidence enough, coach Derek Fisher’s squad is much further along in the rebuilding process and has a lot more to be excited about. After getting swept by the Nets in the season series last year, the Bockers splashed their way to a statement win at the Garden.
Fueling this symbolic victory was mainstay megastar Carmelo Anthony and his two new sidekicks: Latvian rookie darling Kristaps Porzingis and rock-solid scoring wing Arron Afflalo.
The trio combined for 65 points on 23-of-42 (55 percent) shooting from the field and 9-of-14 (64 percent) from three-land, taking turns decimating Brooklyn’s bewildered defense. Melo led the scoring attack with 28 points, but Porzingis impressively uncorked his 10th double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Afflalo was a model of efficiency with 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
It was clear early on that they were the three most dangerous players on either team, and a landslide win was inevitable since they were all clicking. They took turns as the focal point of the offense, feeding off each other and attacking with fresh legs in a balanced attack. It also helps to have a seasoned distributor like Jose Calderon (10 assists) who can find them in their sweet spots.
During the first few sequences of the game, Afflalo was the primary target.
Fisher got the veteran 2-guard the rock coming off screens in rhythm several times in the first quarter. Here he darted around two screens on a simple baseline inbounds play:
A few plays later, Afflalo curled around a double pin-down screen on the weak side, and Melo did a nice job of connecting with him from the elbow. This was a prime example of the Knicks stretching an opposing defense with lethal jump-shooters on both sides of the court:
Afflalo's footwork on offense is pretty incredible sometimes. Part of why he fits what the Knicks do in the triangle so well.
— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 5, 2015
From then on, Anthony and Porzingis traded buckets and feasted off Calderon’s table-setting.
While the Knicks have stuck with the Triangle offense for much of the season, there have been some signs of loosening it. It makes sense in certain situations to sprinkle in pick-and-rolls, thereby freeing up space for the most athletic and talented weapons on the team.
One such instrument is Porzingis, who’s surprised nearly everyone with his versatility. Fresh off winning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors for November, he rained buckets on the Nets from all angles Friday.
Here he displayed terrific coordination on a delayed roll feed from Calderon:
In the second half, he showcased great awareness and chemistry with Melo on what was perhaps the play of the game. The veteran’s vision and consistent effort to set up the rookie has been one of the most encouraging subplots of this season.
As for the three-point barrage, it was an unrelenting deluge from Porzingis and Anthony throughout the game.
Both stars were afforded a steady diet of in-rhythm attempts, thanks in part to the Knicks’ ball movement and Brooklyn’s lousy defensive rotations. Neither player hesitated to take advantage of the opportunities, helping spur the Knicks to a huge night from behind the arc.
Thanks to Kristaps’s 3-of-4 night from downtown and Melo’s 5-of-8 onslaught, New York earned a 27-point advantage from beyond the arc against Brooklyn. New York sank a dozen triples, well above their season average of 7.4 per 48 minutes. In comparison, the Nets made just three triples, which is below their already-anemic average of 4.6 per 48 minutes:
The Knicks made more 3’s (12) than the Nets attempted (11). On a related note, Nets lose 108-91
— devin kharpertian (@uuords) December 5, 2015
There’s zero hesitation from Porzingis on plays like these. He knows opponents like Thaddeus Young can’t close out and block shots at his altitude, and the release is fluid and effortless:
Although New York didn’t upend a top-tier team, it easily dispatched an inferior crosstown foe and had the look of a squad that’s infinitely more dynamic than last year’s cellar-dwelling unit.
With 11 different players in the scoring column and eight different dime-droppers combining for 25 assists, Fisher was pleased with offense during his postgame presser (via ESPN.com):
I thought the guys were very intent on playing together and really sharing the basketball and sending the message that they’re capable of doing that.
For the first time since the Knicks started rebuilding a couple of years ago, Melo finally has a couple of efficient offensive weapons to work with. Consequently, New York is a .500 club (10-10) that’s poised to at least compete for a playoff spot in the East.
Anthony, Porzingis and Afflalo aren’t exactly an elite trio who will challenge the upper crust of the league season. But it’s a superb core of studs to build with moving forward, and Friday’s bonanza was another glimpse of how deadly the attack can be.