The Wizards' opportunistic defense continues to pay dividends as they beat the New York Knicks 98-83 in a sloppy affair at Madison Square Garden. Paul Pierce and Garrett Temple led all Wizards scorers with 17, and Kevin Seraphin added 15 for Washington, who are 3-1 on the season. Carmelo Anthony had 18 points for the Knicks, who fall to 2-2 one the year.
1. The Wizards' bench shows up
The first half was an ugly mishmash of Knicks turnovers, Wizards misses, a bunch of no calls and a lopsided rebounding battle in favor of New York. John Wall was missing layups and Marcin Gortat was picking up fouls, so things looked very troubling for Washington early on.The Pierce-Anthony battle provided some measure of entertainment, with Pierce and the Wizards defense harassing Carmelo Anthony into 5 turnovers and just 9 points on 4-10 shooting, but overall, the first half was ugly to watch.
The obvious bright spot for Washington was the much improved play of their second unit. After having the starters play well in the first three games only to have their work undone by poor bench play, this time it was the reserves that picked up the slack for the Wizards in the first half. The Professor, who thus far this season looked suited to emeritus status, seemed revitalized by the opportunity to pick on someone his own age in Knicks backup point guard Pablo Prigioni. Miller dusted off some old lesson plans to display a variety of offensive moves, showing post ups, smart cuts, and odd angled mid range shots to score a season high 12 points on 6-10 shooting.
Drew Gooden did his part as well, keeping the Wizards in the game early when the Wizards couldn't seem to buy a bucket. With his customary mid range magic, scoring 7 points in the first half, and adding a three in the second to be one of six Wizards in double digits.
Perhaps the most surprising performance on the night from the Wizards came from backup center Kevin Seraphin. Seraphin, who played so poorly in brief stints against Miami and Orlando, saw extended time against the Knicks due to Marcin Gortat's foul trouble. Though Seraphin had a few typically #Kslife moments, a dropped pass, an offensive fouls, he also frequently established good position on both ends of the court. Seraphin scored 15 points on 6-7 shooting from the field. Most importantly, he managed to have a positive plus minus on the night, perhaps providing some measure of hope that the team can compete without Marcin Gortat on the floor.
2. Pierce shines one more time at MSG
The Truth came into the game the current active scoring leader among Knicks opponents at MSG, and he once again showed that he can shine on the game's biggest stage. Though he can't defensively provide the level of athleticism on the perimeter that Trevor Ariza did, he demonstrated hat he can still defend one of the NBA's most dangerous scorers. Pierce annoyed Melo through most of his time on the court, helping a defense that held Melo to an awful statistical night of 18 points on 23 shots with 7 turnovers. Offensively, he ignited the Wizards' attack in the second half, scoring 8 points in the Wizards 32 point onslaught that proved to be the decisive stretch of the game. For the Wizards, fighting a player like Carmelo to a draw or better is a recipe for victory against a Knicks team that isn't loaded with offensive weapons.
3. Washington's defense helps overcome early offensive struggles
While most of the starters struggled on the offensive end in the first half, it was the Wizards defense that would keep them in the game. The Wizards, who were last year were 2nd in forcing turnovers, once again showed their ability to harass opponents into making mistakes. The Knicks triangle was no match for the Wizards pesky defense, which caused them to commit 18 turnovers on the night, including 7 from their star Carmelo Anthony. This was especially costly for New York in the first half, as it prevented them from taking advantage of Washington's offensive struggles, which included several easy missed layups by John Wall. The Wizards continued ability to cause opponents to turn the ball over could help them maintain a top ten defense in the absence of Trevor Ariza.
4. The Garrett Temple 3-point shooting renaissance is real
Mike covered early today some of the things that Temple has done to improve his shooting ability. Temple, who is known more as a defensive specialist, has been working on becoming a more consistent outside shooter in the absence of starting shooting guard Bradley Beal. The improvement showed yet again against the Knicks. For the second game in a row, Temple proved to be money from deep, shooting 4-7 from behind the arc on the way to a team leading 17 points. The most impressive of these attempts came on a broken play as the shot clock expired.
5. The Wizards play some small ball in the 4th
When Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd was in Washington on Saturday, Paul Pierce's former coach mentioned that Pierce's playing the 4 in Brooklyn happened due to necessity. With Brook Lopez out for the season, the Nets needed more front line help and found Pierce to be pretty effective playing alongside Kevin Garnett. Necessity may have been the mother of invention tonight as well, as a lackluster, foul troubled effort from Marcin Gortat, and a lack of trust in Seraphin, led the Wizards to show a lineup featuring Pierce at the 4 in the last quarter. This Wall/Temple/Porter/Pierce/Nene helped keep any potential Knicks comeback at arms length, and hopefully gave Randy Wittman some ideas for the future.