Well, that was weird. Here's the super fast recap in case you don't feel like reading my blather: The game started. The Knicks fell behind 10-0 in, like, a minute. The Knicks stormed back in, like, a minute, then took a lead that wavered between four-ish and ten-ish for the rest of the night. Though they kept building momentum and seeming like they were going to break the game open, that never came to pass, and the Bobcats predictably tied things up heading into the final minutes. In those final minutes, D.J. Augustin drilled one impossible three but missed an easy one, and the Knicks made enough free throws in the meantime to escape with a win. And, indeed, it did count as a win, though, like Mikel L expressed in the postgame thread, it didn't quite feel like one. At least not near the end.
Take the jump to get into a little more detail.
- I'm grumpy even though the Knicks won, but consider this: The Knicks emerged victorious despite:
1. Shooting 38 percent from the field.
2. Getting 13-43 shooting from Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
3. Shooting 1-10 from downtown.
4. Getting 3 points from the bench. Three.
I'm pretty sure if you go back and add the score up, they Knicks lost. Seriously, though, if you're looking for the stat that cancels all that crap out, look no further than the 40 free throws the Knicks attempted, 30 of which they hit. The point is, they did what it took to win despite sputtering in several typically important modes of attack. Good teams have to do that from time to time, so...cool?
- Those free throws came predominantly from Melo and Amar'e, both of whom were otherwise suuuuper off in this one. For Melo, there were a handful of bad, forced shots or ill-conceived attempts to draw contact, but it seemed mostly like he was getting good, close looks that just wouldn't drop. We were told before the game that his back/hip/groin/leg/tail were all fine, but he did seem a little off at times, and Tyson Chandler mentioned after the game that he thought Melo was still hurting. Amar'e on the other hand, just forced and forced and forced. He made up for it with eight(!) offensive rebounds, all those free throws, and a few nice baskets off the catch, but there was still way too much dribbling directly into multiple defenders and heaving up bad shots while other guys were open. You can tell how much Amar'e's forcing by how often Mike Breen uses the phrase "right at" while describing his drives. Anyway, both stars made positive impacts on the game, (Amar'e's rebounding, Melo's passing, both of their free throws and whatever made shots they could muster) but neither was especially efficient or effective at all.
- Melo's passing, though, really had its moments. Oh m'goodness. He and Chandler have begun to harmonize just like we hoped they would, at least for stretches. Offensively speaking, the Knicks escaped from that ten-point sinkhole by moving the ball so snappily, and that often culminated in a crisp Melo-Tyson pick 'n' slip. Those two are getting better each game at synchronizing the lob and the basket cut, be it a backdoor sneak or one of them slipped picks. Shit was picturesque, and the rest of the Knicks got in the mood, too. We saw Melo lobbing for Amar'e, Iman Shumpert lobbing for Landry Fields, and-- my personal favorite-- Chandler hitting Shump way up high for a one-hand cram off a back screen.
- And yet again, the fourth quarter saw the Knicks dumping Melo the ball, then pretty much sitting cross-legged on the weak side while he tried to create something alone. I'm all for Melo being the go-to scorer in crunch time, but what about running the same sorts of on- and off-ball screens to shake the defense a bit and create lanes for Melo so he doesn't have to bushwhack 'em himself? I'm without DVR at the moment, so tell me if I missed something in that fourth.
- And part of what's aggravating about the above is that Iman Shumpert had been so sharp offensively earlier in the game. He made some splendid assists and finishes in transition, both off backcourt steals of his own and speedy coast-to-coast pushes. In halfcourt sets, Shump did well to start the ball moving (though he didn't generate many assists in set plays) and call his own number when appropriate. So, it was troublesome to see Iman fade down the stretch, not necessarily in terms of his usage, but just in his influence on any particular possession. Some of that may have been attributable to the Cramperts, which sidelined (baselined, really) him again in the closing minutes.
- [Reminds self that, cramps or otherwise, Shump is a rookie with only a few games' worth of pro experience and it's downright greedy to demand fourth quarter leadership from him this soon. Goddamn does he seem ready, though.]
- Regarding that chronic affliction, we've heard separately that Shumpert's legs are just prone to cramping and, from Iman himself, that it's a temporary consequence of his missing time due to the knee injury. Either way, it couldn't hurt to up Shump's potassium intake, right? He could snack on a banana or two at halftime, or just do what I do during every athletic endeavor and inhale four to six whole avocados in succession. The Knicks have always been big on conditioning and nutrients and things, so one can assume that they're hard at work on the Case of the Cramperts.
- I've put off two of this game's finer aspects long enough. One was Tyson Chandler, who I've mentioned in passing, but more than deserves his own bullet, if not a trophy or at least a certificate. Chandler, as he has pretty regularly thus far, repeatedly made himself available for interior feeds. And when he got fed, the guy tended to find a way to either tomahawk that shit hard enough to leave craters in the paint or-- at worst-- rope someone into fouling him. Chandler's 20 points were his high as a Knick, and he bought them for just eight field goal attempts. And that's not all! Tyson's rebounding, a force on both ends all night, was instrumental in the game's final minutes when the Knicks desperately needed to limit the possessions of those creepin' Bobcats. Chandler's defense, particularly as a helper, was also crucial to the Knick win. We've fussed before about his drifting too far from the paint, but Chandler gave that strategy a better name tonight by employing it with more conviction, trapping and practically consuming ballhandlers instead of merely roaming to lend a hand. Three blocks (two, by my account, at Tyrus Thomas's expense, which is an entertaining expense because he get so grouchy, and I say that as somebody who likes Tyrus Thomas. He's just such a wonderful sourpuss. Do you even remember what we were talking about outside this parenthetical break? Don't even bother going back out there. Just stay in here and make yourself comfortable. Want a popsicle? I'm just kidding. We don't have any. Go back to the sentence now. it was about Tyson Chandler's defensive stats) and three steals only tell part of that story. Splendid stuff, though it wouldn't have worked so well without...
- ...our second Fine Aspect™ of the evening: better defensive rotations. This wasn't an all-game thing-- they're not nearly there yet-- but tonight brought the longest stretches of impressive defense we've seen. Instead of token switching, we saw an increased effort to stay matched up properly, and that started with Shumpert on Augustin or Kemba Walker up top. For the most part, switches only took place in response to a solid pick. If Fields got clipped off the ball or if Shump got smothered in Boris Diaw's bosom, then the match-ups got shuffled as needed. Most importantly, the Knicks were finally diligent about the subsequent rotations that had to be made. Folks were accosting the open man before he got the ball instead of pointing and grunting at him while a shot was already aloft, as in previous games. Again, this wasn't a wire-to-wire phenomenon-- it was most notably absent in the opening and closing minutes-- but, for my money, it was as regular an event as it'd ever been this season.
- And the numbers seem to agree. The Bobcats-- Diaw in particular-- executed on open shots nearly as well as in Wednesday's game, but the Knicks didn't give them as many (I think). The team that shot 55 percent from the field, 64 percent from downtown, took 21 free throws, and turned the ball over 13 times last week went for 42 percent/37 percent/15/17 this time around. That is marked improvement across the board.
- One time Tyson Chandler dove on a loose ball only to have it roll between his legs. What I'm saying is it looked like Tyson Chandler pooped a basketball.
- Landry Fields was quiet, but had a couple nice finishes, didn't force things tooooo much, and did a far better job than last time at hounding Gerald Henderson over screens and helping when called upon.
- Loose Amar'e Stoudemire notes:. 1. Yet another double-digit rebound game for the apostrophe. It was another game flush with rebound opportunities, and he could still be snaggling 'em at a higher rate given the defense he plays, but it's still nice to see Stoudemire grabbing a couple more boards per outing. 2. The drives were really ugly, but Amar'e single-handedly kept the Toney Douglas-led Knicks afloat in the early second quarter by repeatedly getting to the line. He did all of New York's scoring (9 points) in the first four minutes or so of that period.
- It pains me to report this, but nothing was really "Toney Douglas-led". It was another short stint for Douglas, with little in the way of scoring, nothing even resembling point guardsmanship, and little to show on defense besides a face-first collision with DeSagana Diop's backside that knocked Toney supine with little stars and chirping birdies circling his head for the umpteenth time this season.
- I hate the word "umpteenth" and I'm sorry for using it. On the other hand, I would like to have a Sweet Umpteen party every year.
- One lovely sequence: Amar'e shanks a dunk so hard that the ball rockets backwards and practically assists a D.J. Augustin layup going the other way-- only Augustin misses the layup and ignites a counter-fast break, which ends in Melo getting a clean look inside...and missing.
- Mike Bibby, fresh off a couple fine three-point outings, had pretty much nothing to offer in six minutes (apparently his knee's acting up now. Always something). Neither did Bill Walker in his fifteen. Josh Harrellson at least grabbed a bunch of rebounds, humped folks into some turnovers, and had the most nonchalant, thought-it-was-a-dead-ball put-back attempt rim out in the first half. I vote for more Renaldo Balkman and I mean it. Especially if the Knicks are moving the ball (which, to be fair, they haven't been in the units with which Humpty would usually spin. Still.)
- As I mentioned earlier, D.J. Augustin hit a ludicrous fall-away corner three over Bill Walker (who had a beat or two to give a foul if he so chose) to cut the Knick lead to one with ten seconds left...then bricked a wide-open attempt that would have tied the game at the buzzer.
So, it could have been cleaner, and the ending left a bit of a sour aftertaste, but the Knicks beat a team that'd previously blown them out, and they did so with improved defense and spurts of offensive splendor. We'll take it, right?
That's three straight wins and a 5-4 record with the very lively Sixers next on the schedule. That'll be a bigger test.