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Stoudemire Revolutionizes Knicks’ Bench
Posted By Alex Raskin On February 5, 2013 @ 12:09 pm In All,NBA | No Comments
The Sacramento Kings had to be feeling good about themselves.
After beating the New York Knicks at home earlier in the year, they jumped out to a 13-3 lead against them at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. The Knicks were missing easy shots and played the first six minutes of the game without a shred of energy.
And then 30-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire checked into the game.
First he flushed in an easy dunk off a Carmelo Anthony assist before making a jumper, the accompanying free throw and a layup. The Knicks ended the first quarter with a 25-22 lead and went on to outscore the Kings by 36 points over the remainder of the game as Stoudemire finished with 21 points on 10-of-10 shooting.
But even if the game devolved into a 3-point shooting contest (the Knicks hoisted 43, making 19), the most critical moments occurred during Stoudemire’s first 10 minutes–a stretch in which he produced 11 points and the Knicks outscored the Kings by 25 points.
“The game is made of runs,” Stoudemire said after Monday’s win over the visiting Detroit Pistons. “We should always expect for an opposing team to go on a run. We just got to make sure it’s not a big run and we stop it as soon as we can by playing defense.”
Defense was foreign to Stoudemire before Mike Woodson was promoted to head coach. He may have played most of his career as an All-Star and as the focal point of any offense, but now Stoudemire comes off the bench, exerts himself on the defensive end and helps the Knicks overcome their occasional slow start.
In other words, Stoudemire has become the perfect sixth man.
“We have so many threats, the starting five and the guys that come off the bench,” Stoudemire said. “We just have so many offensive threats so it’s hard for teams to really key in on us, and so with all those weapons we got to utilize all of them and we have been. When we go on runs like that, when we score like that, it’s hard for teams to beat us”
The Knicks are growing accustomed to their big second-quarter run. They’ve averaged 27.7 ppg in that frame over their last three games and they’re coming off a perfect five-game home stand in which Stoudemire averaged 18 points and 5.6 rebounds in just 24.6 minutes per game.
Oh, and he’s also made 72 percent of his field goals over that time.
The peculiar thing is that Stoudemire is supposed to be working himself back from early season knee surgery. The debridement cost him the first two months of the season, and when he eventually did make his debut, he struggled to find any consistency.
The Knicks went 2-4 in his first six games back.
Since then, however, Stoudemire has improved almost every day. He’s been in double figures in 10 straight games and he’s averaged 5.7 free throw attempts per game over that time, which shows just how much defenses have been forced to react to him.
One of the biggest changes has been where Stoudemire plays on the court.
He was a pick-and-roll player for the majority of his career, but now he’s able to post up on the block thanks to some summer work at Hakeem Olajuwon’s Texas ranch.
That may not sound like a huge development, but it’s enabled Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony to coexist. After all, spacing was a huge issue for the pair in 2011-2012.
“We’ve been playing well,” Stoudemire said Monday. “We both are perennial All-Stars, we’ve been in this league a long time. We’ve accomplished a lot as individual players so we know what it takes to win. All it takes is for us to get out and build some experience.”
“What he has been able to do down there on the post, I think teams are going to have to look at that more,” Anthony said Saturday. “Right now teams are playing him one-on-one. I know he is locking his chops. He is taking advantage of that and we are going to him.”
Perhaps the best moment for the pair came in the third quarter of Monday’s win when Anthony drove to the hoop, only to catch Stoudemire breaking along the baseline behind Pistons center Greg Monroe.
“I saw him driving, I saw my guy cheating on the play and I went back door,” Stoudemire said of the play, which resulted in a twisting layup. “So it was just an instinct play. When you see your man lose sight of yourself, then you got a chance for a backdoor play–instinctive.”
It’s also the type of play that left Knicks fans, coaches and doctors wincing only a month ago. However, Stoudemire’s back and knee have been fine of late, and he insists this is the best he’s felt since his first season with the Knicks. That year ended with him suffering a back injury in the playoffs against the Celtics, and it’s been one injury after another ever since.
Even though Stoudemire is seemingly healthy, Woodson is in no rush to reinsert him back into the starting lineup. He hasn’t ruled it out, but he’s also satisfied that the Knicks are winning, and he doesn’t want to disrupt the chemistry that Stoudemire has built with fellow reserves J.R. Smith and Steve Novak.
“I feel like we have the best bench in basketball,” center Tyson Chandler said after Saturday’s win. “People will really see it come playoffs and down the stretch. Our bench is very deep, especially with Amar’e in the lineup. He has been consistent ever since he’s been coming off the bench. He has been scoring and rebounding.”
Woodson has reiterated repeatedly, it’s more important who’s in at the end of the game, which is why you don’t see Stoudemire complaining about the starts.
As Stoudemire sees it, he’s started plenty of times in his career. What he hasn’t done is win a championship, and if this is the way to cross that off the list, then so be it.
“It would be hard for a lot of stars to accept coming off the bench,” Stoudemire said Saturday. “For me, it’s all about winning. The ultimate goal is winning.”
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