Rooster vs. Cardinal; it seemed like an obvious matchup for the Knicks to exploit from the start in Wednesday's game against the Mavericks. With Caron Butler out and Rick Carlisle looking to keep his rotation and bench in the same rhythm, he chose to start journeyman Brian Cardinal at small forward against Danilo Gallinari.
But it took the Knicks seven possessions until they finally went to him. By then the Knicks were already down 17-8. Then Gallinari drove in for a dunk. He then finished a three-point play and after a Stoudemire hook, Gallinari again drove for a fast break dunk. Just like that, the Knicks were within 2 at 19-17. By the end of the quarter, Gallinari had 11 points and the Knicks were up 34-27.
"I didn't touch the ball probably at the beginning, but STAT was hitting a lot of shots and everybody was hitting shots," Gallinari said. "We were playing our offense. None of us care if we touch the ball or not. We know that the way we play, everybody's got to be ready at every moment of the game."
[Bloghost note: If you don't understand who Gallinari is referring to when he says 'STAT' then you are clearly reading the wrong blog]
OK, so Gallinari looked ready in that first quarter and seemed to have the hot hand. But in the second quarter, after he came back into the game following his usual rest, Gallinari barely saw the ball. He had one field goal attempt, went to the line for a pair of free throws (drew a foul on Dirk Nowitzki and gave the Knicks a 41-39 lead), recorded an assist (to Stoudemire for a layup to make it 43-41) and had his dribble picked by Jason Kidd. That's four possessions that he factored in during eight minutes of playing time in the quarter.
Stoudemire, meanwhile, followed up a 10-point first quarter with 11 points in the second for 21 in the half on 10-for-15 shooting. After Stoudemire's eight field goal attempts, the second-most shots in the quarter by a Knick came from Landry Fields, who had four, all misses. It was a frustrating night for Fields, who finished 2-for-11 with several maddening rim-outs.
In the third, it was more of the same for Gallinari. The first eight minutes of the quarter he was virtually invisible. Then, coming out of the second timeout Mike D'Antoni had to call during Dallas' game-changing 26-6 run to open the second half, Gallinari drove for a dunk. That sparked a 13-0 run in which he had eight points. It helped bring the Knicks, who were down by 24, to within 11. There was life again in the Garden and in the Knicks. But it was fleeting.
Gallinari still finished with a team-high 27 points and shot 7-for-14 from the field (though 1-for-5 from downtown) and was 12-for-12 from the line. But why did it seem like he basically had two bursts in the game and was otherwise an afterthought?
"I can't shoot the ball for him," Raymond Felton said. "That's one thing I can't do. I just have to try to make sure I get him in a rhythm, try to get him easy shots early. That's what I did in the half, try to get the ball to him because I saw Cardinal was on him. I didn't think Cardinal could stay in front of him and he kind of got it going.
"In the second half, nobody could hit nothing," Felton continued. "Nobody could hit anything and they were hitting everything. So that's how it goes sometimes."
But the idea that Gallinari goes through stretches of a game without getting a shot or consistent looks should suggest it's up to the point guard to find him on more of a consistent basis, especially when he has it going.
"It's really not finding him," Felton said. "In our offense, you may not touch the ball for five or six minutes. It happens that way. You never know who is going to get the ball, that's why you always have to be ready. In our offense the ball is steady moving, steady moving, but you may not have the best shot. You may go five or six minutes without shooting the ball. It happens that way sometimes."
But why does it happen the way it happened late in the loss at Oklahoma City, when Gallinari had it going that night yet never had a chance to take any of the clutch shots in the final minute? Felton took them instead and, while playing with an injury to guide hand since December, missed all but one as the Knicks scored just two points in the final three minutes.
And why just as the Knicks made a run to get back into the game late in that third quarter against Dallas, mostly on Gallinari's shooting, did Felton decide to take a three before the final buzzer, when he had Gallinari and his hot hand standing a few feet from him?
Mike D'Antoni, who after the OKC loss acknowledged a need to keep Gallinari involved in the offense throughout the game, didn't seem to want to go there after the loss to Dallas. After all, Gallinari still had 27 points and took 14 shots and 12 free throws. He had plenty of looks.
"He's the second-highest guy," D'Antoni said of field goals attempted. "At the of the game, if you're going to miss a shot you go to him but it doesn't go that way. You just play the game and the ball finds energy. He had 29 [points] the other night and 27 tonight. I think he's playing well. He's not one of those guys right now today who you clear it out and give him the ball. He has to find the flow and sometimes it finds him and sometimes it gets to other guys. But I expect him to continue what he's doing. I think he's playing great."
With four 20-point efforts in his last six games, he's absolutely playing well on the offensive end and proving to be a player who can get to the rim and draw fouls. But there's no question the Knicks need to figure out how to get a better flow between he and Stoudemire so both are involved in the offense equally. If anything, you might need to figure that out when that guy Carmelo arrives after Feb. 24.
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* - Mark Cuban is always one of the best quotes in the NBA. He was asked about the Knicks revival and what he has noticed: "People don't scream at me 'Buy the Knicks!' anymore," he said. "They scream, 'We're gonna kick your ---!'"
* - Jason Kidd is one of several star players that Carmelo Anthony has confided in about his future. Many have encouraged him to follow what he feels is best for him, his career and his family and not worry about how others will react, which, as we've told you here, does weigh on his mind. Kidd echoed the sentiments of others, such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. "No matter where he's at, he's going to flourish," Kidd told Newsday's Barbara Barker. "When this free agent thing is done, if he's here [in New York] or wherever it may be, he's going to have success and only get better."
* - Timofey Mozgov's explosive return to the rotation on Sunday against the Pistons fizzled a bit against the Mavericks, though the Garden crowd still seems to adore the 7-1 Russian, who had four points and only one rebound in 15:34. But he was still very active and was open a few times on the pick-and-roll. He should continue to get minutes. What was more disturbing was word I got from someone that the enjoyably candid interview he apparently did with that Russian newspaper we linked to in a previous blog was somewhat embellished by the reporter who interviewed him.
* - Andy Rautins saw some rare game action when he checked into the game for the final 3:31 of garbage time. It was just his ninth appearance of the season and though he missed his only field goal attempt, he managed one point (a free throw, obviously), his sixth of the season.
* - T-shirt of the night: Bill Walker wins again. This time he has "Swag" on the front with the actual definition written on the back. In case, I guess, you didn't know.
* - So early in the game, Gallinari crossed over Cardinal, left him in the dust leaning the other way and drove to the basket for an and-one. I thought it was clever when I tweeted: "Injury update: Brian Cardinal suffered a broken ankle." I figured basketball fans would get the reference. Instead, a few fantasy sports websites picked it up as actual injury news. What's more comical is that one site commented, "Not exactly big news in the fantasy world, but news nonetheless. Cardinal has absolutely no fantasy value whatsoever." Ouch.
* - Speaking of unnecessary dises, Justin Bieber heard some aggressive boos that drowned out cheers when he was put on GardenVision during the third quarter. Then during the first TV timeout, half the lower bowl stood up to take pictures of him with their camera phones. Chris Rock ran over with his daughter for a quick hello and a photo. Spike Lee even strolled by. Meanwhile, Biebs, a Canadian, looked comfortable sitting and chatting with Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Yo, you have to know you're the ish when you have adult celebrities running your way.