The Orlando Magic put up a good fight against the undefeated New York Knicks on Tuesday night, but fell apart offensively in the fourth quarter to lose, 99-89, marking their fifth straight defeat. Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points and grabbed eight rebounds for New York, which closed the game on a 20-9 run. Orlando got good production from J.J. Redick, Glen Davis, and Maurice Harkless in the loss.
The Knicks took control of the game in the fourth period with a 12-4 run which Jason Kidd ignited with a three-pointer and a layup. Orlando couldn't get its offense going, with six turnovers in the first nine minutes of the fourth. The Magic hung tough with New York for much of the game on the strength of its offensive execution, and their unravelling illustrates a cold, hard truth about this club: its margin for error is so low that it has to play nearly perfectly to compete on a nightly basis. The second New York took away the backdoor cuts with which Orlando had torched it through the first 36 minutes, the Magic were cooked.
Orlando trailed by as many as 10 points in the second period, but its second unit helped regain the lead. The rookie forwards Harkless and Andrew Nicholson combined for 13 points and four rebounds in the quarter, with the duo scoring three points on one four-point Orlando possession. Arron Afflalo sank a technical free throw, which Nicholson followed by splitting a pair of free throws due to a personal foul. Harkless tipped in Nicholson's miss, and referees counted the basket though replays showed the ball was still on the rim at the time of the tip.
The Magic struggled to contain Anthony, an All-Star who's shifted from the three to the four due to the absence of Amare Stoudemire. Afflalo, who was a teammate of Anthony's with the Denver Nuggets, started the game with that tough defensive assignment, leaving Magic big Glen Davis to cover New York swingman Ronnie Brewer, and though Afflalo battled gamely, Anthony bullied him with his size and strength advantage on the block. All told, Anthony scored 16 first-half points on 8-of-13 shooting, including several easy buckets on the right box.
In the first half, Orlando did an excellent job exploiting the absence of Tyson Chandler, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Chandler picked up three fouls in the half, prompting the Knicks to call on veteran reserve Rasheed Wallace. Without Chandler's rim-protecting presence, the Magic controlled the boards by a 25-16 margin and attacked the basket with relative impunity.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson made a key adjustment in the third period, giving Brewer a quick hook in favor of J.R. Smith. New York's sixth man responded by hitting each of his five shots in the period, including two three-pointers, to ignite a stagnant Knicks offense. Pairing Anthony with another offensively minded player had the trickle-down effect of forcing Davis to guard one or the other, rather than enabling Orlando to hide Davis on Brewer.
When Redick drilled a pull-up 18-footer 27 seconds into the final period, it marked the first time on the season the Knicks found themselves trailing in the fourth. Nonetheless, they earned the victory.
Despite the awful close to the game--the 10-point final margin doesn't indicate the extent of New York's dominance in the fourth period, as the Magic scored five gimme points with the game already decided and the Knicks not competing defensively--Orlando ought to be heartened by at least one thing: Harkless' terrific play. The rookie from St. John's played brilliantly in each of his stints on the floor, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds, and four blocked shots in just 19 minutes. With Redick in the starting lineup, Harkless has become the Magic's de facto sixth man, and it's easy to understand why. He brings great energy to the floor, but better still, he converts that energy into productivity. Magic fans surely hope the sort of defense Harkless played against Anthony--he rejected two Anthony layups right at the rim in the closing seconds of the third period--is an indicator of what's to come for the 19-year-old.