The New York Knicks were on a roll, but that had to stop at some point. Their 108-98 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats brought a painful end to their winning streak, unable to cope with a huge night from Al Jefferson and with J.R. Smith being forgotten on the bench once again.
Al Jefferson produced his best game for the Bobcats since joining as a free agent in the summer, scoring 35 points on 14-of-20 from the field and adding 8 rebounds. He had no problem dominating against Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin or anyone else who got in his way. Jefferson was also smart enough to push the ball outside when he was double teamed. He had only two assists, but the Bobcats moved the ball well against a lazy Knicks defense, hitting 6-of-14 from beyond the arc including 3-for-3 by Anthony Tolliver.
Jefferson is averaging 17.4 points per game so far this season but has had three games of 20 or more in the last five. He might not be worth the money the Bobcats spent on making him their big-name player for this season, but with the Eastern conference being so weak and diluted this season there’s a chance it will be enough to give the franchise their second playoff berth ever.
Two more players the Knicks found very difficult to stop were Kemba Walker, scoring 25 points on 9-of-15 from the field, adding 7 rebounds and 5 assists; and Gerald Henderson, scoring 17 points. The Bobcats found it quite easy to get easy shots, finishing with 50.7% from the field, making the most of each time they started pushing up the tempo which the Knicks didn’t respond to very well.
One player that really helped in that matter was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The numbers don’t suggest he had a great game (8 points, 7 rebounds, 3-of-12 from the field), but his defense and energy were exactly the kind of thing the Bobcats needed as they pushed by the Knicks, who looked a complete opposite of the fighting, hungry team that built a nice five-game winning streak.
Maybe it was Chandler getting his spot in the lineup back. Kenyon Martin might be an inferior player on most days, but something clicked when he played for Chandler in the starting lineup. The defense, the energy, the intensity. Chandler protects the rim better, but right now he’s not very influencing due to a slightly tired look on him that comes by very quickly.
J.R. Smith didn’t get a single minute as Mike Woodson didn’t take any questions on the player. Carmelo Anthony scored 20 points to lead the Knicks who simply played slow and bad for most of the night, being unable to force more than five turnovers and allowed more points than they have since the beginning of 2014.
The five-game winning streak didn’t mean they’re championship contenders, and one loss to the Bobcats doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There’s talent on this team that’s good enough to make the playoffs, but it’ll be about finding balance and the right lineups that have enough energy and defense to get them there.