Maccabi TA NY Knicks.
(photo credit: AP)
NEWYORK - Maccabi Tel Aviv shot its way to an early lead before the New York Knicks, playing in front of an unusually adversarial home crowd, settled down and ran away with the preseason exhibition game 112-85 on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden.
"We didn't follow our game plan," said Maccabi's Vonteego Cummings, who led all scorers with 21 points. "We need to go over things because there are better teams than the Knicks in Europe right now."
With three of its top players - including all-Euroleague center Nikola Vujcic - out of the lineup with various injuries, Maccabi raced to a 15-5 lead, capped by a Cummings three-pointer from the corner. The Knicks tried chipping away, but another Cummings three kept the lead at ten, 20-10, with 4:11 left to play in the first quarter.
Following two Jamal Crawford free throws with 2:38 to play, the Knicks implemented a stifling man-to-man fullcourt press that forced three turnovers on Yotam Halperin. The Knicks capitalized on the point guard's sloppy play and turned defense into offense by getting out on the fast break. New York cut the lead to 25-20 at the end of the first.
"Their first group did a good job at the beginning of the game," said Knicks guard Stephon Marbury.
Tel Aviv shot 56.3 percent from the field to New York's 33.3 percent during the opening stanza, but the blue and yellow turned the ball over six times, allowing the home team to keep the game close.
The Knicks made adjustments between quarters, and with 10:12 to play in the half, Nate Robinson drilled a three to give the Knicks their first lead of the game, 27-25, which sent groans among the near-capacity crowd that was by-and-large rooting for Maccabi.
"I thought the crowd was great for Maccabi, " said Isiah Thomas, the Knicks head coach. "They really came out and showed their support. I just thought it was a great crowd tonight."
With the Knicks on the verge of pulling away, Maccabi refused to back down. Marcus Fizer threw down a rim-rattling slam dunk off of a broken play that caused Madison Square Garden to erupt in cheers and kept Maccabi within two, 37-35. The Knicks, however, closed the quarter with a 16-8 run and went into halftime with a 53-43 lead.
The Knicks ran on all cylinders during the third quarter, stretching the lead to as much as 22 points.
Although Maccabi remained red-hot, shooting 61.5 percent from the field, the visitors turned the ball over nine times, leading to 13 Knicks points.
The extra pass on offense that worked so well for Maccabi in the first quarter translated into passive basketball throughout the second half with seemingly no one wanting to take the shot.
"We didn't play with enough confidence," said Oded Katash, Maccabi's head coach who finally made his debut at Madison Square Garden after nearly signing with the Knicks before a lockout complicated matters prior to the 1998-99 season.
"They pressured us and did specific things against us on defense very well. They guarded us on pick-and-rolls in a certain way that caused many turnovers."
For the game, Maccabi committed 24 turnovers, leading to 36 Knicks points. The yellow and blue also hit only seven of its 28 attempts from behind the three-point line, which, in accordance with the NBA regulations, is 23 feet, nine inches away from the basket and 22 feet at the corners.
Maccabi is used to an arc that is 20 feet, six inches all around, one of many rule differences that seemed to distract Maccabi during the game.
"There was one rule that really influenced our defensive game," said Katash. "The rule of three seconds in the paint [on defense] caused our players to think too much and because of this we missed several moves [by the Knicks]."
In Vujcic's absense, Cummings established himself as Maccabi's go-to guy, knocking down four of six three-pointers. Fizer scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Terence Morris added 12 points and nine rebounds.
Lior Eliyahu had a solid all-around game with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists in only 18 minutes of action.
Jamal Crawford led the Knicks's balanced attack with 16 points. Zach Randolph had 15 points and seven rebounds but appeared a few weeks away from getting back into NBA shape.
Maccabi will open its Euroleague regular season at home against Le Mans on October 25.