Iman Shumpert, the ’ improbably confident rookie guard, started Saturday night against the . But it was Mike Bibby’s second-quarter scoring spurt that helped break the game open as the Knicks coasted to a 103-80 victory.
The Knicks were also helped by an energized frontcourt and a newly found defensive effort as they pushed their record to 4-4. But with the Knicks, good news is almost always balanced by the bad.
Their victory over the Pistons gave them their first two-game winning streak of the young season, but they have to be concerned about , who scored a season-low 13 points and said his “whole right side was locked up” as he dealt with back, hip and knee problems stemming from a back injury he sustained Friday night against Washington.
“I don’t think he was himself,” Coach said. “He was battling through a lot of pain.”
Anthony still faced double teams on pick-and-rolls, which freed up one of his hot-shooting teammates. He finished with a team-high seven assists, sometimes finding Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, who proved too much for their Pistons counterparts, Jonas Jerebko and Greg Monroe.
The Knicks’ precise ball movement, which D’Antoni called “contagious,” usually found an open shooter.
Stoudemire and Chandler took turns finishing possessions with uncontested dunks.
For a change, the Knicks were not plagued by poor shot selection. Instead, their defense forced the Pistons into bad shots. Chandler and Anthony agreed that communication on defense was a key, and active defense by the guards allowed Chandler and Stoudemire to roam.
“When we talk, big things happen,” said Anthony, who also said this was the first time all season that the Knicks put together four quarters of quality defense.
Anthony had some fun stuffing the Pistons with 4 minutes 22 seconds left in the second quarter when Stoudemire found him wide open, cutting to the rim. Immediately after his basket, the Pistons fumbled the ball away. Bibby hit an open 3-pointer — one of four he made in the second quarter — as the Knicks soared to a 55-35 lead.
“When you get up 20, the team’s spirit kind of goes out of the other team a little bit,” D’Antoni said. “That’s just normal.”
As the Knicks buried the Pistons, it was Bibby who played like the team’s most confident point guard. During a 27-12 second-quarter run, Bibby poured in 14 points, launching high-arching shots from deep — three of which were as far as three feet behind the 3-point line. Shumpert, who was in foul trouble, watched from the bench.
To start the game, D’Antoni decided to go with Shumpert, who has played well beyond his years, over the incumbent, Toney Douglas, who has been dealing with the aftereffects of off-season shoulder surgery. Shumpert rewarded his coach by knocking down an open 3-pointer without hesitation and adding a nifty layup in the first quarter. But when he picked up his second foul, Douglas replaced him at the 5:22 mark and proceeded to miss his first three shots.
Douglas, who is taking more shots this season and shooting the lowest percentage of his career, admitted that his rhythm was still off. D’Antoni said that replacing him with Shumpert was an attempt to shake him out of his funk. He laughed off questions about Douglas’s psyche.
“Toney’s O.K.,” D’Antoni said. “Everybody’s O.K. We’re going to do what works best. We don’t know now what works best. We won’t know — in two weeks it may look different.”
Eventually, Baron Davis could be an option, once he returns from a herniated disk in his back. Bibby’s hot shooting touch could force D’Antoni’s hand. Or Shumpert’s relentless defense and confidence could make him too valuable not to start.
“You don’t see a lot of rookies come in and play like he does,” said Landry Fields, who was burned on more than one drive Saturday night by Detroit’s Ben Gordon. “It’s actually helped me out when he’s in the game. I like his energy, his intensity, and he brings it out in me.”
And for part of at least one game, the 6-foot-5 Shumpert erased questions about his ability to play point guard. Twice he penetrated the Pistons’ defense, drew attention and found Stoudemire for monstrous dunks. Each time, Shumpert clenched his fists and shook his head, wearing that same confident look.