I do too, eeeeeestern (You can't put a "<3" in the headline. Who knew?). Knowing that their offense still needs time to mesh, the Knicks focused on defense and beat the the Heat in a way you'd never expect them to. New York played a slow, gritty game, closed halves brilliantly, and took a convincing win against an energized Miami club on their home floor. After a precarious start, Mike D'Antoni's defenders closed out, rebounded, and contested without contact to hold the league's third most efficient offense to no more than twenty points in each of the last three quarters. Kinda neat, no?. That Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Chauncey Billups each had a hand in that defense makes it all the better.
The team offense still sputtered-- 39% shooting and just 8-30 from downtown are less than ideal-- but hard work and two timely flurries of scoring made all the difference. While feats of energy like rebounds and drawn fouls laid the foundation, Chauncey Billups led the attack for the game's two crucial runs. A 16-0 lead-changing stretch to end the first half included four three-pointers, including two from Billups and Bill's buzzer-beating bank bomb. The game's final three minutes showcased this squad's crunch time swag, with New York's 12-2 run delivering the victory. Again, defense paved the way, but an off-balance runner and a deeeeeep dagger (more like a sword, really. Daggers don't have that kind of reach) from the man they call Mr. Big Shot, coupled with four cold-blooded free throws by Shawne Williams, buoyed that final push. LeBron James saw his final two attempts-- one at the rim, one from distance-- swatted swiftly by Amar'e and well contested by Melo, respectively, much to the delight of a crowd that included an impressive amount of orange and blue.
These Knicks didn't "arrive", nor did they erase the memory of the egg they laid in Cleveland, but they did stifle an elite team with each of all of its top bros in action. That's really something. Take the jump for some quick notes.
- Amar'e 'n' Melo watch: Our two heroes had some pleasant (a successful hand-off or two, some nice connections in transition) and unpleasant (forced and telegraphed passes, cuts to the same exact spot) exchanges, but mostly occupied separate realms, and even separate lineups. Those two hit 7 of the Knicks' 8 field goals in an ugly (and falsely ominous, in retrospect) first quarter*, pretty much alternating isolation buckets since other Knicks couldn't connect. Stoudemire was quieter throughout, scoring just 16 points on 14 attempts and no free throws while pulling down double-digit rebounds for the second straight game. Anthony provided the lion's share of the offense, converting both gorgeous finesse buckets off dribble moves and beefier romps to the rim for fouls and second chance points. Again, it was most impressive that the two made a difference on defense. Melo took the James assignment in the game's final minutes while Stoudemire patrolled the paint as best he could. The two converged in the game's defining moment, when LeBron drove with Melo on his hip and got a look at the rim, only to have Amar'e rush over just in time to reject his attempt at regaining the lead.
- *That eighth field goal came from none other than Anthony Carter. "CAHTAH!" didn't do much more on the scoring front, but he did improve the second unit ball movement and play some impressive defense on Dwyane Wade after struggling to stick with him early on. The best moment, of course, was when he blocked Wade's jumper from behind, then scuttled coast to coast for a lay-up to put the Knicks ahead at the beginning of the fourth.
- Wearing #25, Carter looks to me like a squished Mardy Collins. The lady said he "looks like he's friends with OutKast".
- Billups admitted to struggling to move the ball when trapped on screens, but that'll come with more practice and a better internal GPS of where his receivers tend to roam. Meanwhile, I haven't come to trust a Knick with the ball in his hands this quickly since the early days of Stephon Marbury, and I mean that in the best way possible. That deep three to take the lead reminded me of Steph at his late-game best.
- Landry Fields and Shawne Williams both more or less held their own against Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but this game was neither very Landry nor especially poop-filled. Fields hit just one of his four threes and missed some unnecessarily hurried drives while Extra E's four big free throws, though they shan't be overlooked, comprised pretty much the entirety of his offensive output. You can tell both of those guys don't want to just settle for threes, but as long as Melo and Amar'e are still getting their bearings, Shawne and Landry might be best off limiting their dribbles. For now.
- In a game in which the long-haired bruhs (Ronny Turiaf and Renaldo Balkman*) had very little effect, Bill Walker was king of the bench. That bank job just before halftime was one of two big threes he hit, the other being an equally deep one to mess with the Miami momentum in the fourth quarter. Bully also had some nice sequences defending LeBron (and Wade as well), and pulled down 7 boards in 25 minutes.
- *Speaking of which, I'm looking forward to the "Andy 'n' Landry Show", but I might prefer "Ronny 'n' Renny". I'd even accept a show with Anthony Carter and Balkman, also known as "Ren and Stimpy".
- The Heat supporting cast missed a ton of important threes in the second half, but I'd like to attribute at least some of that to better closing out by the Knicks. If they gave nearly this much shit (as many shits) about things like close-outs, box-outs, and hands-free transition defense on Friday, that loss to the Cavs could have easily been avoided. It wasn't a matter of the best individual defenders excelling, but a team-wide uptick in assertiveness (without fouling) that got it done. I'm not going to bank on them keeping that up, but they totally should.
- Now that Ronny Turiaf has trimmed his beard, he might as well just shave the jawline clean. He's only a few square inches of whisker above the V For Vendetta look.
- Clyde meanwhile, hasn't trifled with his beard, but he did wedge a rather conspicuous plug for his tailor into the pre-game banter. It bothered me until I remembered that Clyde was wearing a purple suit.
- During MSG's "Hey! Look! Celebrities!" montage, we got to see Floyd Mayweather get handed a pack of Twizzlers and (I believe) a pack of Raisinets by some underling. I was jealous...until my housemate made me a peanut butter and Snickers Peanut Butter Squared sandwich between two chocolate chip cookies during the third quarter. I didn't even have to ask. That's just how we treat each other around here. In your fucking face, Floyd Mayweather.
- Very Knicks/D'Antoni moment: Anthony Carter lost Wade on a screen, and Stoudemire switched over to guard Wade. Carter scrambled paint-ward to complete the switch, only to realize he was guarding Matt Damon's giant black Canadian doppelganger. He immediately (and smartly) looked to switch with someone else, only to discover that the nearest Knick was Toney Douglas and that HE was switched on to Chris Bosh.
- I saw Melo and Amar'e clearing out for each other a lot and I was all like "Why, guys!?". If one of those friends is on or near the block, I think the other should stay on the strong side to pull at least one defender behind the play. Should said defender help, you've got a deadly mid-range shooter wide open and nearby. Make life easier for each other, guys.
- This was the second game in a row with a very bad offensive third quarter.
- Exciting games get me talking to the TV a lot, and I find that I address these new units as if they're puppies. I'm all about that positive reinforcement: "Gooood box out! Such a nice rebound! Who's a good boy!?". This is one of several reasons why I'm not allowed courtside.
- Corey Brewer was still inactive and, despite what several box scores might tell you, Shelden Williams did not play. Those two each deserve a look, and so does Kelenna Azubuike. Mike D'Antoni's love of short rotations (although, to be fair, he did run ten tonight) might take a back seat to some improved depth in the near future.
So, pretty cool, right? Not a bad way to end the weekend at all. For the second time in their three games together, New York overcame its own disorganization by sinking big, big shots and making key stops. This time, it was against one of the league's best. I'm pleasantly surprised and, more than ever, am thrilled to watch this team find harmony.