Building chemistry takes a while, and it's still not there for the Knicks. That wasn't the whole story over the recent losing streak, though. Beyond struggling to mesh, New York just failed to compete. The energy, particularly on defense, lacked such that leads weren't sustained, comebacks fell short, and pretty much any lapse in execution spelled disaster. Tonight against the Magic, they fixed that and it made all the difference. New York won without moving the ball very much, shooting well, or pushing the pace. They just took care of the simple things-- doubling effectively, shutting off lanes, closing out, boxing out, pursuing loose balls-- that stem primarily from sheer will to compete. New York benefited from some other stuff, of course: Carmelo Anthony's 39 points, Orlando's shaky execution and short-handed backcourt, some questionable calls down the stretch... ya know, stuff. The meat of this victory, though, (we're operating within a reality in which "meat" and "stuff" are distinct but complementary substances) was the elementary stuff (dammit). It was so, so refreshing to see these Knicks get pissed off and fight for a win. It leaves one to wonder where the hell that all was for the last two weeks and, more importantly, whether it can be sustained.
For now, I'm just enjoying a moment of catharsis. Like GAx, I need this win. A lot of us did, I think. The Knicks did, most of all, and they played like it. It's a massive, albeit ephemeral, relief.
Take the jump if you like to read game notes, or if you're just a jumping enthusiast.
- First and foremost: OrlandLOL or LOLando?
- Just to get it out of the way, the officiating was hogshit tonight. There were a couple of rather prominent and untimely instances in which Orlando got boned: Dwight Howard drew his sixth foul (and a subsequent technical) on an offensive rebound. Jason Richardson intentionally tripped Carmelo Anthony (drawing a foul that negated a simultaneous Hedo Turkoglu three), but only after Melo hooked him as he rose from the floor. It went both ways, though, with the Knicks committing some phantom fouls and losing an out-of-bounds call or two. I've really never seen a referee fuck up a call as gallantly as Dick Bavetta does. What a guy!
- The defensive plan, particularly in the early going, was fairly simple. With Jameer Nelson out, the Knicks zeroed in on Dwight Howard. He was doubled on most touches with his back to the basket, either by Amar'e Stoudemire shifting over from the weak side, or from the nearest guard shimmying down from the perimeter. When Howard passed out of the double team (and he did it frequently, and well), the Knicks busted ass to cover each subsequent open Magic...ian and close out on the eventual shooter. The Magic drained their share of jumpers and Dwight himself manhandled some help defense, but the gameplan was enacted with enough vigor to force 21 turnovers and hold Orlando to 45% shooting (34% from outside). Howard dropped 29 and 18, but fouled out and turned the ball over five times and went the whole first half without a field goal and picked up his 17th technical and was a stupid poopface who doesn't deserve the MVP award.
- This is pretty early in the post to address this, but while we're on the topic of Howard...SHELDEN WILLIAMS, Y'ALL. She-Will had the most ballerest zero-point, six-foul performance you ever did see. He just made one defensive play after another against the much larger and sightlier Howard. In my notes, I see a good front to steal an entry pass, a forced jump ball, a drawn charge from a high elbow, a good contest on a hook shot, another steal (the box score only credits him with one, so I must have eaten too much Sculpey again), another forced jump ball, and a huge offensive rebound, all against Howard. My questionable recollection aside, the point is that Shelden Williams galumphed his way to a huge game off the bench. I think he'll stay on the bench (D'Antoni explained after the game that he'd like to keep Shawne Williams in the first unit to spread the floor for Amar'e and Melo, while saving Shelden from picking up early fouls and having him ready to go when Amar'e takes a seat), but I'd expect him to gobble up up some of Jared Jeffries's minutes following tonight's excellent performance.
- It's Walt Frazier's birthday today (as in right now, the 29th), and instead of the usual cake, he was treated to a bowl of Snickers (his favorite candy, as Aretha Franklin mentioned this in her interview a few days ago. Wait, is Aretha behind this?) in the broadcast booth. When Mike Breen asked him how old he was turning, Clyde replied with a (deliberately) garbled answer that, after much rumination, I feel can be best transcribed as "sfittittittitt". He's 66. Happy birthday, Clyde. We love you.
- I kept saying obnoxious things like "THIS, Carmelo. Do THIS." in the game thread, and also out loud to the various items of furniture in my presence. The shooting is what it is on any given night (and, though he seemed in the zone, Melo shot just 12-26), but the aggression on both ends of the floor are sustainable with effort. Melo busting his ass to stick Hedo Turkoglu or snaggle a rebound or close out on a shooter, even as an occasional endeavor, got the crowd and myself more excited about the guy than any of those step-back jumpers. On the other end, he supplemented all the shooting with intermittent attempts to distribute and repeated undressings of Turkoglu and Earl Clark off the dribble (not literally. That might be blinding). Melo's had some brilliant shooting displays already as a Knick, but I've seen Al Harrington hit a bunch of shots. For all of his "pure scoring" prowess, Anthony also has some raw physical gifts: strength, foot speed, that aren't readily evident unless he's putting them to use. And tonight served as proof that he hasn't always been putting them to use, and has no excuse not to continue doing so. There were few bad shots, and maybe couple of bad fouls and defensive lapses, but for the most part, it was one of Melo's best nights in New York. Now do it again, guy.
- Amar'e Stoudemire looks tired, hurt, or both. If the marked uptick in dainty finishes at the rim doesn't convince you, then the conspicuous grimaces should. I hope the days of rest coming up after the New Jersey game do him good. Either way, he was completely invisible in the fourth quarter and overtime, but managed to wind his way to 20 points on 6-10 shooting, 9 rebounds, and a couple of steals with almost no dunks or mid-range jumpers. He created a lot of stuff off the dribble, and did a whole lot of turning over and foul-drawing in the process. Stoudemire also compensated for diminished scoring with those nine boards (good ones, too. He worked for 'em.) and a couple of crisp feeds from his office on the elbow. 'Twas a quiet game, and possibly a painful game, but not a bad one at all from Amar'e.
- That pick-and-roll defense, though. Yikes. I swear Brandon Bass could have dropped 50 if he just rolled off ball screens all evening. Tonight, Chauncey Billups and Toney Douglas were actually fighting over those screens, so Amar'e's tendency to float looked even sillier.
- The Rooster's comment in the post-game thread that Pharoahe Monch is "hip-hop's Extra E" is both funny because it's funny, and because I was thinking earlier in the day about how Haywoode Workman is the Extra E of referees.
- Clyde: "Du...Duhand...Duhon's hand".
- Gilbert Arenas was supposed to have a big game or something against the Knick backcourt. He hit some important shots to keep the Magic alive late in the game, but...no, no. Not a big game. 2-11 from the field, a handful of calamitously bungled fast breaks, and...uh, well, 10 rebounds, which is...strange. Seriously, though, those fast breaks. I think he whipped one would-be assist at Hedo Turkoglu's face. Hedo Turkoglu and his face were both like "ow, Gilbert, that was needlessly heavy-handed".
- Jimmy Fallon, at halftime, on the worst part of being on late night television: "You don't get to come to enough Knicks games". The best part: "When you do come, you sit courtside".
- Howard threw some exotic shit (not literally. Not like ocelot shit or something.) at the double teams in the second half. He was more patient, re-posting a few times and holding the ball others to back down, make a fancy spin move and finish at the rim. I don't really know why I'm telling you this, but it was cool. He's really good. The Knicks fouled him a lot of times in that third quarter. I think he scored 15 points in the third alone, but I think Melo also scored 19 in that one, so who's the MVP now, poopface?
- One cool thing I've noticed that Melo does: When he's the closest defender to a cutter, it seems like he'll sometimes deliberately give them a step or a window of openness, almost inviting the pass. He'll watch the passer, then strike at the exact moment the ball takes flight. He gets a number of his steals this way. I could be projecting onto what is, in fact, just a cocktail of laziness and luck, but I swear it's a calculated procedure at least part of the time.
- Breen made an astute observation, I thought, when he said that Melo was still operating in isolation, but making his moves quicker and more decisively than he has recently.
- Oh, and that play toward the end when Melo grabbed Jason Richardson, prompting J-Rich to trip him, was nothing short of evil. It worked, and that's great, but...evil, y'all. Whatever it takes, I suppose.
- Melo hit (and has hit) a couple big threes as part of his third quarter boogaloo, but he's part of the New York chapter of the "Every Time He Hits a Three It's Kind of Bittersweet Because Now You Know He's Going to Keep Shooting Them" club.
- President of the chapter: Chauncey Billups. He hit a few Big Shots™ but shot just 3-9 from downtown overall, including some truly heinous pull-ups. 17, 6, and 6, though. He's looked much sharper handling the ball in the last game or two.
- I guess Toney Douglas should get similar recognition (3-10 from outside), but I swear he was taking good, open looks off the catch. If this was the Grizzlies and Bernard King's Game Face and I were in attendance, Toney would've drained all of those.
- Landry Fields: Pretty much silent. Shawne Williams: Couple o' poops. Jared Jeffries: 4 fouls, one putback dunk in 22 minutes. Bill Walker: 2 threes (not poops, though), 3 fouls, 2 turnovers, and 2 steals in just 14 minutes. He looked active as hell, as if he's dead set on keeping that utility guard role away from Roger Mason.Anthony Carter: One sweet finish at the rim, 4 fouls in just 13 minutes. Efficient fouling was the theme of the evening, I suppose.
- Had the game ended in regulation, the the last two plays of the game would have been Jared Jeffries failing to raise his hands on a Jason Richardson three and Carmelo Anthony passing to himself off the backboard. So close to being the wildest of finishes.
- Mike D'Antoni apparently yelled a lot before the game about "drawing a line in the sand" and "asses" and some other stuff, and that made me quite happy. He probably needed to do some yelling, and it looks like it paid off this time around.
So, good. The Knicks won a game. You think that's something? That ain't nothing, y'all. Keep this energy up, particularly on defense, from here forward, and then I'll get excited. For now, though, great win. Great relief.