Derek Fisher’s New York Knicks took on two of the toughest challenges the Eastern Conference has to offer to open the 2016 calendar year, and they came away with an even split.
After a tough 108-81 loss to the Chicago Bulls on New Year’s Day, the Knicks rebounded to take down the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. That 111-97 victory was fueled by a brilliant 38-point performance from Arron Afflalo, and it left Coach Fish happy with his team’s sense of pride and determination.
“I thought the guys were just determined. I think these guys are professionals at the highest levels and I think the way the game ended in Chicago a couple nights ago you just wanted to kind of go ahead and erase those memories and create some new ones,” D-Fish explained. “Arron was aggressive right from the start, but the ball moved in most situations the way it need to in order to allow for guys to have a big night.”
BULLS RUN PAST KNICKS
The Knicks opened 2016 with a tough matchup on the road against the Bulls and were right there, trailing by just four going into the fourth quarter. But Chicago dominated the final frame.
“We had some shots that didn’t go in to start the fourth quarter and I thought we got discouraged and we let our energy get turned around the other way,” Fisher said. “It just kind of snowballed from there.”
D-Fish also explained the message to the team after enduring such a tough loss. Fisher pointed out that it looked like the Knicks folded a bit towards the end of the game and he wants to make sure his guys put in the complete-game efforts necessary to beat a good teams like the Bulls.
“We don’t want to be frontrunners. We don’t want to be guys that can play hard or do certain things when it’s going well. We don’t want to team that when it starts to rain a little bit that we give in,” D-Fish said. “I thought we gave in a little bit there in the fourth quarter and let a quarter get away from us after working really hard to have a chance to start that fourth quarter.”
Carmelo Anthony led the way for New York on offense with a team-leading 20 points in the contest. Melo also added seven boards and three assists in the game. Aside from Jose Calderon, fellow starters Kristaps Porzingis, Afflalo and Robin Lopez struggled for the Knicks. The three combined for only 17 points, although Lopez and Porzingis made up for it in the rebounding department with a combined 15 boards on the night.
Calderon was one of the best players on the floor on Friday in Fisher’s opinion. The point guard scored 18 points while also dishing out four assists and coming down with four rebounds.
New York fell behind in the first quarter but chipped its way back throughout the middle stages of the game. Afterward Derek credited Calderon with being the catalyst for the comeback attempt and also reiterated how much he means to the Knicks offence.
“When he has the opportunities to be impactful and make the contributions he made tonight, he does[facilitate the offence],” Fisher said. “I thought his mindset, his aggression, his approach to the game really was the key to us getting back in the game in the first half.”
KNICKS BOUNCE BACK
On Sunday afternoon against the Hawks, Fisher and the Knicks were finally able to get the best of last year’s top seed in the conference. After losing the two tilts earlier in the year against Atlanta, New York came into this game with something to prove, especially coupled with the frustrating loss to the Bulls a couple of days earlier.
D-Fish explained that his squad was able to come out and set the tone early to prove to the Hawks that they were there to compete.
“The most important thing was just their mindset. At least it appeared from the start of the game that the guys wanted to set the tone. They wanted to establish they were here to play, here to compete,” Derek said. “This team has obviously beaten us handedly a couple times and they wanted to make sure that they were sending a message that they were here to compete tonight.”
Afflalo put together one of the best games of his career in fueling the Knicks victory. But Afflalo’s big night allowed for a tremendous collective performance.
In Sunday’s game, New York’s starting five all put together nice games. Melo had a well-rounded line of 11 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals in 35 minutes. Porzingis had a solid game as well with 14 points, seven boards and a block while shooting 2-of-3 from long range.
Robin Lopez recorded the games only double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes. He also had one of his best nights shooting the ball of the season, going 7-of-10 from the field on the day.
Most of the reserves all found a way to contribute in the winning effort. Jerian Grant was instrumental to the team’s crisp ball movement, turning in eight points to go along with seven assists and three rebounds. Langston Galloway had a decent game too, finishing with seven points and two boards.
With the victorious effort over Atlanta, the Knicks are now only one win away from matching the season total from last season. Derek said that he appreciates all the hard work that has gone into developing this team, but he is also unsatisfied because he feels that the Knicks still have a lot of room to improve.
“I think one, appreciative of the work that’s been done by so many people even outside of our locker room. Just a collective effort that has goes into developing players, our offseason programs, the draft process…free agency…all of that stuff is what factors into this,” Fisher said. “Also I think still just very much not satisfied with what we are doing because there’s still so much more room to grow and get better and improve in every area.”
The Knicks (16-19) can tie their win total from a season ago on Tuesday night when they have an instant rematch with the Hawks (21-14) again tomorrow night
Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. EST from Philips Arena and will be aired on MSG.