Here are three observations from the Atlanta Hawks’ 95-82 loss to the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, the New York Knicks, on Wednesday night:
1. Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith controlled the game from the tip.
Anthony, who has been on a ridiculous tear during the Knicks’ current 10-game winning streak, made the first basket of the game — which was not a problem for the Hawks in and of itself, except for the fact that he went on to pour in 38 more points (17-of-27 shooting) for his sixth game this season with 40 or more. Remember, he just put up half-a-century on the Heat on Tuesday. Now, after Wednesday’s effort, he is averaging 31.4 points over his past nine games.
Anthony also logged five rebounds and three assists.
For his part, J.R. Smith produced his typical give-and-take offensive game. However, despite a team-leading five turnovers, his 19 points provided a spark off the bench. Ten of his points came in the fourth quarter as the Knicks pulled away for the 13-point win.
2. The Hawks did not get it done defensively.
Atlanta is a middle-of-the-pack offense that has proven to be one of the better defensive teams in the league this season. But if defense takes a certain level of focus and effort, the Hawks just did not maintain it against the Knicks.
The Hawks ranked 10th in the NBA in defensive efficiency entering Wednesday night’s game, but allowed New York — which, it should be mentioned, is third in terms of offensive efficiency — to shoot 51.9 percent from the floor. And the Knicks didn’t even shoot well from the outside or get to the free-throw line often.
On a brighter note: This was the first time in Atlanta’s past five losses that it allowed fewer than 100 points.
Either way, it wasn’t enough against the explosive (and rejuvenated) Knicks.
3. The Knicks attacked Josh Smith and Jeff Teague on the defensive end in the fourth quarter.
Now, to be fair, Smith and Teague drew some of Wednesday’s toughest defensive assignments. But the effort and frustration were obvious.
With just over eight minutes remaining in a four-point game (76-72), Knicks point guard Raymond Felton began to penetrate the Hawks defense off the bounce. No one stopped him. Felton drove right by Teague — and the absence of a help defense — for uncontested layup after uncontested layup. In one minute, the lead doubled. Hawks coach Larry Drew elected to call a timeout and could be seen on TV chastising his point guard, who then visibly pleaded his case.
Next came Josh Smith’s defensive lapses, as the Knicks ran a designed play for Anthony to catch the Hawks’ 6-foot-9 forward. After kicking the ball out to Jason Kidd, Anthony spun off Smith for the easy alley-oop lay-in. A minute later, J.R. Smith drove right past a reaching, flat-footed Josh Smith (common last names are fun, right?) for the easy jam.
After it was all over, the Knicks had outscored the Hawks 27-14 in the fourth quarter, continuing their hot streak and Atlanta’s string of inconsistent play. After finishing with a 8-10 March record, Atlanta still can’t solve the best teams in the East.