Man, was that a big, weird, ugly, awful, hilarious, big win. Like our friend Moshe said in the thread, it was an absurd game with an equally absurd ending. All evening long, the Knicks executed like hot goatshit. The Bobcats' wildly aggressive defense closed off the Knicks' routes to the rim (or at least convinced them that it had done so) and, particularly in the second half, swarmed Carmelo Anthony with abandon. That defensive strategy, coupled with Melo's passing out of those swarms, allowed the Knicks' ample open shots behind the arc, precisely none of which found the net. The Knicks shot a wacky 13-41 from downtown. A decent chunk of those misses were on good, clean looks off the catch, and something about the fact that the good ones didn't drop encouraged the Knicks to continue taking more, worse threes. It's pretty much all they did in the middle of the game.
The Knicks' defense, meanwhile, was horrid. Even with Tyson Chandler on the floor-- but especially without him-- the Knick guards couldn't contain Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Ben Gordon in transition or off the dribble and none of the paint-dwelling Knicks could be bothered to rotate and help. And all the carefree trips to the bucket seemed to empower those rowdy little Cats to hit difficult, back-breaking shots in between the easy makes. It sucked.
New York lagged in nearly every regard, but hit enough of those threes and commited few enough turnovers (eight total, none by the point guards) to keep things close down the stretch. The Knicks finally started to execute (and the Bobcats finally started to err) in the game's final six minutes. With 3:30 remaining, New York began to gain real ground on Charlotte's six-point lead. Raymond Felton hit a tough floater off the dribble, then Anthony banked in another tough runner out of a time-out to cut it to two, then things got weird. On the ensuing defensive possession-- a terrific series of rotations to run out Charlotte's shot clock-- Melo dove heedlessly 'n' needlessly over the Knicks' bench to save a ball from going out of bounds. Nobody stepped in to brace the fall, and Melo came up with his left hand gushing blood and had to retire to the locker room to get stitches, missing the rest of the game. The Knicks were undeterred even after a solid but futile ensuing offensive possession and a surrendered offensive rebound thereafter. Felton's ball denial forced a five-second violation on a Charlotte inbound play, then his driving layup off a screen tied the game at 98. After another couple of empty possessions, J.R. Smith jumped a passing lane for a huge steal with less than a shot clock left to play, but ruined a 2-on-1 fast break by groggily sidling into the corner, uncertain of what to do and who he was. Mercifully, New York had a timeout remaining and, with three seconds left, managed to summon this:
Then he did the Victor Cruz salsa.
I watched the game on MSG and enjoyed Mike Breen's call, but the dismayed silence of the Charlotte announcers is even more delectable. Warranted, too. The same J.R. Smith who drilled that game-winner shot 5-15 before that, including an unseemly 1-9 from downtown. Some of it was stereotypical Bad J.R., some of it was just downright frigidity. He couldn't hit anything, and didn't help matters by getting repeatedly burned on defense. Of course, this being an absurd evening of basketball, we got a Bad J.R. sandwich on Good J.R. bread in about 10 seconds: that frazzled undoing of the fast break between the steal and the game-winner. That game deserved that ending.
- Melo cooked soup in the first half. He drilled jumpers good and bad and threw perfect cross-court passes to the weak side. In the second half, he just couldn't get anything to fall and, perhaps frustrated by his passes going unfulfilled, began to force some shots. And then he slashed his finger open.
- I don't think we'll see Felton wearing padding on his left hand much anymore. Even with the padding, he came out determined to heave, but missed seven of nine attempts in the first half, some by several furlongs. He took the floor sans padding in the second half, immediately tossing a perfect alley-oop to Chandler and drilling a pull-up three to assure the friends and family in attendance and those of us at home that the first half inaccuracy was purely the fault of that shit on his hand. He was 5-10 in the second half, and it was nice to see him attack the rim some down the stretch after he'd been settling for jumpers prior.
- Important: While Raymond was making huge plays to help win the game, his baby son was OUT. Never has a living human being been more asleep. It was the adorablest, and we have documentation.
- Tyson Chandler was one of several culprits among the Knicks' shoddy interior help, but made up for it with 17 rebounds (eight offensive, and nine total in the first quarter alone) and 18 points on ten shots, mostly rolling up the middle and finishing through Bobcat traffic (Imagine actual bobcat traffic!). The Knicks desperately needed those second chances on a shooting night like that one. I may have been hallucinating, but I think I also saw Tyson drop in a textbook baby hook as well.
- Chandler did tip one rebound into the Charlotte basket, which wasn't ideal. Really glad the Knicks didn't lose this game by one or two points.
- Steve Novak started the second half again, leaving Kurt Thomas with just five total minutes played. That continues to be weird. Novak was one of several to miss wide-ass open opportunities, but he still hit 3-8 from downtown. Once again, we saw some nice use of pin-downs and pump fakes to get good looks, even if they didn't all drop.
- Ronnie Brewer just couldn't stick MK-G and his telescopic arms. He did hit two of five threes and actually finish a fast break, though, which is adequate
- Jason Kidd quietly made a huge impact in a 25-minute return. He nailed two of three three-point attempts (and seemed to hit them when no one else could), drew a foul on one of those signature pump fakes, played terrific help defense (three blocks somehow), threw a borderline erotic bounce pass to a baseline-cutting Pablo Prigioni (a play we've seen both Knick point guards run with Kidd on multiple occasions), and nearly clothes-lined a referee while the Knicks were frantically trying to call timeout on the final possession.
The best part of it all is that THAT win-- that ugly, narrow escape from a middling team-- gave the Knicks sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference in December for the first time since 1993. Of course, they're now headed to Miami to defend that status against the current second-place team. We'll see how that goes.
That felt like a big win. The Knicks had fallen short in a couple close, ugly games this season (Mavs, Nets), and it felt great to finally see them salvage a win out of one of 'em. Major relief that Melo didn't do anything too grave to his hand, too.
That is all. <3