Can the Knicks just win one of these goddamn games so I can feel good? A good half of New York's eight losses are outright stinkers that never had a prayer of flipping, but losses to some of their toughest opponents so far-- Chicago and Houston-- have come down to the final possessions, and now they've just come a fingernail away from upending the Pacers. And I really mean a fingernail. The Knicks defended the hell out of the Pacers-- sticking to their men through picks, recovering, and laboring for rebounds-- and produced as much as offense as they could muster against Indiana's all-consuming D. As New York's short rotation got tired and sloppy, the Pacers chipped away at the margin with transition buckets, taking a lead of their own for a bit. But New York got some tough scores-- including a surprising little flurry from Beno Udrih-- and two big stops in the final minute to take a three-point lead with five seconds to go. And then Paul George pulled up for the game-tying three, came well short, and cemented the Knicks vic-- NO! NO!!!!!!!!
I was at the game-- sitting undeservedly close thanks to the benevolence of our own Bernard King's Game Face-- and that was exactly how it went down. We celebrated for a split second before realizing there had been a late whistle, at which point I bellowed like a burn victim. Of all the tight and questionable calls that went both ways Wednesday night, I was certain that one was wrong. It wasn't: replays showed Shump's fingers grazing-- not pushing, not even nudging, but grazing-- George's right elbow as he released. That is contact and that kind of contact is a foul but GOD DAMMIT JOEY CRAWFORD YOU GIANT GIGGLING BABY GUMP YOUR EYES AREN'T THAT GOOD THAT GOES UNCALLED ALL THE TIME WHY CAN'T WE HAVE JUST ONE THING TO ENJOY. But yeah, the call was made, George hit all three free throws because life is pain, Carmelo Anthony missed a close but off-balance look before the buzzer because life is pain, regulation ended in a tie, and the Pacers dominated overtime because life is pain. One Iman Shumpert fingernail. Never mind that Mike Woodson could have avoided disaster by just instructing the Knicks to foul on the floor. How do you type out the sound of exhaling through a closed mouth so your lips flap? That's the sound I made and am making. Prbrblblrlbrlrlblbrl.
- And yeah, let's just start there. The Knicks missed out on some calls last night. I did a lot of screaming*. It was a tightly called game and New York benefited from some calls, too (several missed travels, some weird ticky-tack fouls up top). The Knicks just happened to get fucked over when it mattered a lot. Udrih and Andrea Bargnani each got whistled for absolutely nothing late in the game, and for every play where Melo lunged into Roy Hibbert and Hibbert did his LOOK I'M NOT FOULING I'M NOT FOULING LOOK HOW STRAIGHT UP MY ARMS ARE LOOK AT ME EVERYONE thing, there was a play where Melo just got battered about the head without a call. Those are not looks I like and they're bail-out calls, but it's not the refs' job to penalize him for bad shots. The guy got hit.. But fuck, that last play was the right call. Shump didn't have his hand in the cookie jar, but he took the top off. They didn't have to call it-- and they often don't-- but they did. It's not *why* the Knicks lost in the grand scheme of things, but in an immediate sense, it is very much why they lost and I'm still quietly screaming "NOOOOOOOOO!" in my head.
- And yes, I know it is silly for a Knicks fan to be whinging about a Knick grazing a Pacer's arm during a last-second three-point attempt.
- *There's something to be said for the way sporting events allow you to scream. When everyone's worked up like that, you can just let loose and it's rather cathartic.
- Now, about the defense. The Knicks played very good defense for most of the game. It was so very refreshing. My feeling about why that happened falls somewhere between "the Pacers don't have the point guard or shooters or transition game to exploit the Knicks" and "the Knicks just fucking tried for once". George Hill isn't as much of a terror over picks as some other point guards the Knicks have faced, but he did use picks, and the Knicks suddenly made the effort to get over those picks and help each other if said getting over wasn't easy. They hardly switched. They let Andrea Bargnani handle Roy Hibbert on his own, and he did a splendid job of battling for position and fronting him to send the ball the other way. Shump finally gave us the kind of defensive performance we know he can provide, hounding Paul George through a gauntlet of baseline screens. Bad habits surfaced later. Stupid turnovers fed sloppy transition D that left shooters open, and the Knicks started to over-switch and over-help in a way that stacked up the ball side of the floor and left open shooters (Hill) one decent pass away. And that goddamn foul.
- Some rotational surprises: Udrih played a remarkably productive 38 minutes filled with pull-up jumpers and buried open threes. He showed his chops as a passer, too-- not so much an incisive passer as a willing, even-handed passer. He wasn't out there threading needles, but when he's a threat to shoot, he can put the ball on the floor and kick pretty nicely. Really quick decisions in transition, too. The domino effect of Udrih's big minutes and big game (combined with Shump and J.R. Smith getting their usual stints) led to just 15 minutes for Pablo Prigioni (who spent that time passing up open threes and being really grouchy with his teammates/Woodson. Pablo!) and just four (weirdly crucial) minutes for Tim Hardaway Jr. Cole Aldrich managed to get the coveted 0 minutes with a -3 plus/minus because he checked in for a split second at the end of the first quarter and surrendered a desperation bank three to Hibbert. YOU'RE TERRIBLE, COLE. NEVER PLAY AGAIN.
- I'm relatively unannoyed at poor shooting lines for Melo (10-28) and Bargnani (4-16. Woof). Melo forced a lot of shots, but he followed his misses (nine of his EIGHTEEN boards were offensive) and, well, he was under a lot of pressure. Bargnani just missed open jumpers. That'll happen. The guy's not a deadeye shooter, and he's gonna go cold sometimes. I do wish Bargnani and Pablo would stop passing up good shots. When a set with a pick and a baseline cut and a ball reversal and another pick and a kick-out churns out an open three, you have to take that. A teammate's scrambling pull-up as the shot clock expires is never better than your open three off the catch.
- 8-19 doesn't look great, but J.R. Smith played a nice game until he bungled a few plays down the stretch. Especially early on, he sought to attack off the dribble, showing off the kind of moves that highlighted his best stretch of '12-'13. I love that rapid back-to-the-basket game where he gets a step, drives, then throws it in reverse and does all kinds of shaking and half-spinning to find a slot for a finish. Would've been a huge night if he hit his threes and/or got to the line more.
- This only comes up when he's using picks, which is a good thing in and of itself, but J.R. needs to actually USE picks. I've long been annoyed at his tendency to take a long, looping arc over picks such that the defender can get over very easily. Shoulder to shoulder, bruh. You too, Beno.
- I remain surprised that we have yet to watch Kenyon Martin make a man stop breathing on the court, but there's no doubting that the fear of such a grisly death makes guys think twice about going up strong against him. Not sure that's okay, but it helps make up for all the fouls!
- Stop splitting traps and pulling up for silky mid-range jumpers, Paul George. Stop it. I hate you.
- I don't like the new MSG. It's shiny, but it lacks character. I miss the crustiness and the piss smell and the purple and green seats (I don't remember the previous colors) and the Ranch One chicken. WHERE IS THE RANCH ONE CHICKEN?
The Knicks played well enough to beat a better team, but not all the way well enough. I'm tired of that. I'll take that kind of loss over the "blown out by a mediocre team oh god why did I even wake up this morning" kind of loss, but like abe88 said in the thread, I can't handle these moral victories any longer. Keep doing what you did Wednesday night, Knicks. You can't contain all teams the way you contained the Pacers, but you can try, and you can score more at the other end, too. Please.