In preparation for the 7:30 p.m. EST game between the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks, let’s take a look at some opening night statistics from both teams that may define the “Battle of the Boroughs.”
Keep in mind, one-freaking-game is by no means a reliable sample size to make snap judgments about play style. These opening night statistics are merely highlighted to give the viewer something to look for while watching tonight’s game (and future games, for that matter).
Let’s begin with the Knicks.
The New York Knicks defeated the Atlanta Hawks 126-107 during Wednesday’s opener. To be completely frank, the contest was a blowout for most of the game, as the Knickerbockers put up a franchise-record 49 points in the second quarter. Tim Hardaway Jr. led the charge for most of the game. His 31 points were the fifth-most by any 2018-19 NBA player on opening night. (Cherish this moment, Knicks fans!).
The two biggest changes in the Knicks’ style of play compared to last season was the pace at which they played and their activity on defense.
The Knicks defeated the Hawks in a lightning quick game of speed. Their matchup was so fast that it ranks as the second-fastest game of the season according to NBA.com. (The fastest game being last night’s Portland Trailblazers and Los Angeles Lakers matchup). The 2018-2019 New York Knicks speedy style of play is starkly different from last season’s team, who ranked 17th out of 30 teams in pace.
Although pace is a metric that requires a larger sample, it’s intriguing to see the team playing faster under coach Fizdale’s guidance. Since his hiring, coach Fizdale has been hammering home his interest in quickening the pace on offense. So far, it appears that his demands have been heard, but it remains to be seen if the Knicks can continue to play at such blistering speeds against the Nets.
On defense, the Knicks suffocated the Atlanta Hawks offense, which admittedly, is pretty terrible. After finishing 25th in points off of turnovers in the 2017-2018 season (at 15.1 per game), the Knicks showed signs of improvement in this category. On Wednesday, they scored 29 points off of Hawks turnovers. This was the most of any team on opening night.
The Brooklyn Nets, on the other hand, were not as successful in their opener.
The Nets fell to the Detroit Pistons, 103-100, in a down-to-the-wire game. My biggest worry with the team, as detailed in my (brief) blurb in the ESNY Official Nets Preview, came back to bite them in the butt. Their lack of go-to creators, especially late in the game, was the biggest reason for the disappointing outcome.
In the final possession of the game, Caris LeVert dribbled the ball into a crowd of Pistons defenders and coughed up the rock with eight seconds left on the clock, thereby ending the game.
That’s not to say that LeVert wasn’t deserving of the final shot. In fact, LeVert was the story of the game, putting up 27-points on an efficient 18 shots. It remains to be seen if he can develop into a reliable late-game scoring option, but at the moment he appears to be a dark-horse Most Improved Player candidate.
Turnovers also hurt the Nets, as they coughed up the ball an ungodly 19 times against Detroit. Considering that the Knicks feasted on turnovers in their opener, the Nets inability to secure the basketball should make for an interesting wrinkle in tonight’s game.
Brooklyn was, however, excellent at sharing the ball, putting up 28 assists against the Pistons. This was the fourth-most assists by any team on opening night. The Nets passing ripped apart the New York Knicks defense during their pre-season game, so it will be interesting to see if this trend continues.
Perhaps the most interesting Nets-related statistic from their opener had to do with the area of the court from which they scored from.
After finishing second in the entire league last season in terms percentage of shots from three (41.1% FGA 3PT Freq), the Nets played a different style of basketball against Detroit. The Nets altered their game plan, shooting only 32.9% of their shots from behind the arch.
Instead, the Brooklyn Nets played to defeat Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons at their own game. Brooklyn played like a ground-and-pound team and took advantage of the Pistons weak defensive frontline in Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin. The Nets finished with 66 points in the paint, which was the second most out of any team on opening night.
Part of this heightened load in paint scoring can be attributed to the efforts by the second-year player, Jarrett Allen, who put up 16 points and 10 rebounds while finishing lob dunks and baby-hook shots. The always efficient center, Ed Davis, was perfect from the field while putting up 8 points on 4-for-4 shooting.
With Kristaps Porzinigs out of the fold, the Knicks big-man rotation is by far the weakest part of their roster, defensively speaking. The pairing of an undersized Lance Thomas with a Noah Vonleh or an Enes Kanter isn’t exactly threatening to the opposing offense. As a result, expect the Nets to feast on the Knicks in the paint similar to the way that they carved up Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond.