Knicks 83, Bulls 78: "Got too close for comfort."

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

A "win"!

Back to purgatory we go? After the Knicks got humiliated by the Celtics and Cavaliers, there was a buzz around these internets that a loss to the gravely shorthanded Bulls on national television might spell doom for Mike Woodson. Last time there was a similar buzz-- a week ago!-- the Knicks throttled the Nets and Magic and momentarily cut the doom. And maybe they saved Mike Woodson's job for a bit. I don't know. I still wonder very much if Woodson's been sitting pretty this whole time and we've been heating his seat artificially because it's so incomprehensible that he wouldn't be threatened.

BUT ANYWAY, Wednesday night had the trappings of a potential third-strike game. The Knicks spent 2.9 quarters or so building what looked like a hit, only to, like, foul off the pitch. Or take first on a dropped third strike or something. The Bulls without Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng are a desperate bunch, and the Knicks made them look that way. New York mitigated their own awful shooting in the first quarter by forcing eight Bulls turnovers, mostly because Kenyon Martin played the role of marauding wild person with aplomb. They finally took over in the early second, fueled by a mostly familiar (led by Beno Udrih, not Pablo Prigioni, because of the Felton injury domino effect) second unit that orbited beautifully around Amar'e Stoudemire. When the Bulls gave Amar'e space, he scored efficiently off quick post-ups, rolls and pop-out jumpers. When the Bulls pinched, Udrih made good on pull-ups and kick-outs to the corners. The starters filtered in and kept the momentum alive, and after a 19-0 run, the Knicks looked poised to blow the thing open in the third.

And they did, momentarily. Iman Shumpert banging his left knee and leaving the game ("bruised", "day-to-day" for now) was the only bummer in an opening second-half stretch that was otherwise a lot of fun. Pablo Prigioni drilled an early three. J.R. Smith checked in for Shump and moved the ball splendidly, including an outstanding behind-the-head dish off a spin move to Bargnani. Carmelo Anthony stuck a couple isolation jumpers. Amar'e returned and showed a little two-man game with Bargnani. The lead blossomed to 23 points. It was 20 with under two minutes to go in the third, and the Knicks needed only to close out the period and tread a little water in the fourth to initiate garbage time. They would have had to just give the ball away over and over to let it become a game again.

So...

Screen_shot_2013-12-12_at_9

Yeah, they went ahead and did exactly that. J.R. spun into traffic. Melo threw a bad pass into the backcourt and Amar'e carelessly failed to track it down and dead the play. Beno picked a poor time to experiment with dribbling and passing using only his nipples. It takes near-willful incompetence to go from a comfortable fourth-quarter segue to a tense battle for survival in just one minute, but the Knicks don't back down from challenges.

And of course, the scare wasn't over. The Bulls tied the whole damn game. New York reverted as they have so many times before to dribbling out the clock, then spectating while Melo tried to beat several Bulls by himself. Martin's wild marauding lost its charm, as one Knick defensive breakdown after another culminated in him attempting a mid-air tracheotomy. Clyde noted that Martin is "prone for fragrant fouls", but he avoided a flagrant-- despite, I'm pretty sure, swinging an actual mace at someone-- yet still gave up six free throws by himself. That happened, the Bulls drilled a couple pull-up threes, the Knicks failed to box out, and shit got truly scary. New York survived-- Melo canned a jumper and a couple free throws and Amar'e scored off what felt like the only non-iso set of the whole endgame-- but jeez, guys. Wins and losses are binary, but the Knicks did a lot of losing very fast without surrendering that discrete W.

So I guess Woodson lives to coach another week? Is that how this works? Because time ran out on the Knicks' self-immolation, James Dolan sheathes his sword? I have no idea-- and I hope not, because that premise is idiotic-- but I'm kinda curious. Kevin McElroy's recap put it much better than I ever could, but after the Pyrrhic-est of Pyrrhic victories, I almost find myself wishing they'd lost. Just to see what would happen. Because until these Knicks show any will to turn their season around, I'm left expecting something to detonate, and I'd rather they just get that out of the way. Instead, they manage to delay the inevitable without actually changing much. Head fakes.

But shit, maybe they did just turn it around. Maybe they're about to exact revenge on the Celtics and get back on a win streak. I will keep watching and hoping, because I am a sheep.

Notes!

- What a wonderful week this has been for Amar'e. He's made progress each game, reintroducing skills without sacrificing his others. His progress Thursday night came in the form of jumpers-- three of them in four tries, each popping out to the left elbow just behind the free-throw line. The pick-and-roll finishes (many, this time, from Beno instead of Pablo, which still looked great) were still there and the post-ups and weak-side cuts were still there, too. He just opened things up a bit with a few jumpers as well. He even played some spurts of truly sound help defense to make up for the poor rotations and non-box-outs (not just his problem of course) during that second-half collapse. The gogglefriend is playing great AND guys are playing great around him.

- That fourth-quarter fouling was kinda embarrassing, but Kenyon Martin played a terrific defensive game overall despite plainly favoring that left ankle. He made up for some blown finishes and one particularly disappointing fumble of a gorgeous Melo pass by getting his hands on every lazy pass and probing shot attempt the Bulls threw. And I guess all that got him revved up because he seriously threatened people's livelihoods in the fourth quarter. I think he shot a gun at Joakim Noah.

- It doesn't bother me that Pablo rarely gets to the rim, but since it looks like he'll be starting at point guard for some time without another passingman beside him, the dude's gotta shoot when he's open and not shoot when he's not open. He behaves sometimes as if trying to honor some internal quota. He'll eat a WIDE open look if he's shot recently and jack up something contested if it's been a while. Until proven otherwise, Pablo is the best three-point shooter on the Knicks and one of the best in the whole NBA, and I wish he'd fully accept that sensibility. His 2-7 line from outside includes a couple bricked bunnies (that got the ball rolling for all-Melo-all-the-time in the fourth) along with some untimely forces. And it's also missing a few attempts that should have gone up but didn't. LET YOURSELF BE GREAT, PABLO!

- Except for that one time (take a few minutes and watch the video. It's so tense and fun.), Melo tends to struggle against the Bulls D. This time, he didn't have to face Deng or Butler, and the Bulls didn't give him much trouble until late, partly because he didn't invite trouble. Through three quarters, Melo did a lot of his scoring by using pin-downs, loitering near pick-and-rolls, and fighting for loose balls around the rim. I believe he was shooting 8-14 heading into the fourth, and quietly. And then, as mentioned above and as you could have predicted/pictured with your eyes closed, the Knicks surrendered all possessions to Melo. Unfairly, too. It'd take six seconds to navigate Chicago's full-court pressure, another six seconds for everyone to get out of the way and get Melo in position, and another six seconds for Prigioni to get Melo the ball, so Melo would have not only 2.5 Bulls but a ticking clock working against him as he isolated. The dichotomy in post-game comments about all that is pretty interesting. I don't know what to make of that. And to be fair to everyone else, Melo neglected to pass out of the post (or passed way too late out of the post) on several occasions. It's just a bad look all around.

- It may be too early to make this diagnosis, but Andrea Bargnani sure looks like he's going through whatever Jason Kidd and Ronnie Brewer and Landry Fields went through before. There is a split second before each jumper during which every contour of Bargnani's body says "Okay, time to miss a shot now." He is shooting to get rid of the ball, not to score it. It sucks, because he's spacing the floor smartly and getting pretty sweet set-ups from his friends.

- Some MSG broadcast moments for those of you who watched on ESPN (as if I wouldn't share these anyway): 1. Mike Breen watched Bargnani swat Taj Gibson in the post, then noted that the injured Tyson Chandler leaped off the bench in celebration: "Chandler looked like he jumped more out of his seat than Bargnani did on that blocked shot!". 2. Breen, at the end of the first half: "The Knicks have time to get off a quality shot here." J.R. Smith promptly dribbled into someone's chest then passed the ball off as time expired. 3. We got our first Breen "Anything goes when the ball's loose on the floor! You can sit on somebody's head!" diatribe of the season, I think. 4. Someone spilled a drink on the court and Clyde joked that Jason Kidd wasn't in the building. Everyone laughed, then Breen bellowed "HA-HA! WE ARE LAUGHING AT A $50,000 FINE!". 5. Breen teased Jim Todd for saying "Kenyon Mahh-tin" during his halftime interview. 6.MSG showed a slow-motion replay of the Quick Change act between quarters and, in doing so, totally ruined the bit. Breen was beside himself at the error. Don't watch this if you don't want your dreams shattered. While we're at it, MSG would like you to know that Santa is not real.

- The last few minutes of a bad, close game on national TV taking a while is a well-worn trope, but I swear the final 2:00 of this one took 45 minutes.

- The turnover-fest in the late third quarter stands out, but don't discount some of the fourth-quarter calamities. The best sequence was-- immediately after Stoudemire back-rimmed a put-back dunk of an awful missed Melo three-- J.R. getting over a screen by simply throwing Kirk Hinrich to the floor while Dunleavy missed a jumper. There was also a possession around the 4:00 mark in which the Bulls pushed off a turnover, got the initial shot swatted by Melo, then missed and/or narrowly avoided a turnover like half a dozen times before Noah tipped in a miss to tie the game.

- Note that after that terrible J.R. foul, Woodson actually pulled him out of the game, only to toss him back out there for Tim Hardaway Jr. a minute and change later.

- Hardaway, incidentally, shot 3-7, and not just on catch-and-make threes. He did some kinda questionable pulling-up from inside the arc, but got those shots to fall.

- Rough night for FARTDOG. Kirk Hinrich may be beyond saving.

Sorry, that was a lot. In short: The Knicks won on a technicality (the one where having more points than the opponent counts as a win). They surrendered nearly all of an easy blowout win, but came out alive. Coming out alive is cool, but at least for me, it left a nastier aftertaste than it was worth. It got too close for comfort, like Dead and gone said, though if the rumors are to be believed, it did, in fact, buy Mike Woodson a bit of comfort. Maybe.

Updates on the injured friends as soon as they are available. <3

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