MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Earl Watson is a lot more comfortable as a starter. On Tuesday night, it showed.
Watson, filling in after starter Jason Williams (sprained right ankle) went on the injured list, also had five assists and sparked an early 10-0 Memphis lead.
“I think it’s easier for anyone to get in a groove when you are starting,” Watson said. “You know when minutes are coming. You know you’re going to play a lot of minutes, and you can do a lot more things.”
The Grizzlies led by as many as 15 late in the third period, and the Knicks got no closer than the final margin in the fourth quarter while dropping their third straight.
Pau Gasol added 16 points and seven rebounds for Memphis, while James Posey finished with 11 points off the bench. Miller’s 20 points included hitting all four of his 3-point shots. Watson shot 3-of-4 from outside the arc as Memphis shot 73 percent from 3-point range.
Jamal Crawford led the Knicks with 17 points, while Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed contributed 16 each, Mohammed grabbing 12 rebounds. Kurt Thomas scored 12. New York’s leading scorer, Stephon Marbury, had nine points and nine assists but hit only two of his 12 shots from the field.
Marbury said early foul trouble—he got his second with 3:33 left in the first period—took him out of his game, particularly defensively against Watson.
“When you get your first foul, you know you’ve got to ease up,” Marbury said. “When I got my second one, it was kind of tough for me to go out and be as aggressive as I am normally.”
Memphis led by 12 in the first half, benefiting from some early mishandling by the Knicks, but also from a strong inside game. Cuts to the basket led to several dunks, contributing to a 22-14 first-half advantage on points in the paint.
“The Grizzlies kept attacking the basket, and we came close to being back in the game at times, but our defense was terrible,” Knicks coach Lenny Wilkens said. ”…Our first line of defense was very poor. We have to work on that.”
New York used 11 second-quarter points from Tim Thomas to cut into the Memphis lead, although the Grizzlies held on for a 49-47 advantage at intermission. Miller’s last basket of the half, a dunk with 4:17 left in the second quarter, led to an awkward fall to the court. Miller immediately went to the locker room with a sprained right wrist. He returned to start the second half.
The Knicks took their first lead, 52-50, on Tim Thomas’ 3-pointer 92 seconds into the third quarter.
“I thought each time we pulled away, it was because of a transition run that we got,” Memphis coach Mike Fratello said. “It was those spurts that we ran and got easy baskets that I think made the difference in the game.”
The Grizzlies activated G Antonio Burks, a rookie out of the University of Memphis who got a warm ovation upon entering the game in the first quarter. He finished with four points and six assists in 19 minutes. …Despite being activated Tuesday, Knicks G Allan Houston did not dress for the game. …Memphis G Bonzi Wells was a game-time decision after suffering a hip pointer in practice Monday. Wells did not start, but did play. Entering the game, he was the only Memphis player to start every game.