It would have been unbecoming to get excited over one win over the Nets. It's just the Nets. A second straight win over the Magic, though? The Knicks are back. The East is ours. The Heat and Pacers aren't eve-- what's that? The Heat and Pacers just quit the NBA and ran off into the woods because they're so terrified of the Knicks? Wow. Poor form, cowards, but I understand. KNICKS FOREVER.
But for real, instead of reverting to the stinking wet-dog funk that characterized their nine-game losing streak, the Knicks built upward Friday night. In doing so, they rather resembled the Knicks of 2012-2013: defending well only in spurts, but stacking up extra possessions and filling them with torrents of three-pointers. Once again, Mike Woodson sent out lineups that-- with the exception of the starting unit-- included only one "big man" alongside Carmelo Anthony/Metta World Peace, and those lineups just hit a mudslide of threes. So many threes. Assisted threes, too. Pick-and-pop threes. Drive-and-kick threes. Extra-pass-out-of-a-post-double threes. Smart, open, off-the-catch threes. 17 of them in 34 attempts. That's an absurd number, but it's the kind of absurd number the Knicks rode to a two-seed last year. It was wonderful.
The starters here-we-go-again'd pretty hard to open the game. They got a couple jumpers off pull-ups and broken plays, but not enough to compensate for the Knicksiest possible defense. The Knicks switched and snoozed and sagged and gave Arron Afflalo and Victor Oladipo every damn thing they wanted. Oladipo had a stretch of like two minutes in which he violently swatted Iman Shumpert at the rim, then drilled a pull-up three a few plays later, then violently swatted Melo at the rim, then drilled a three again when Shump gave him a step. New York was down 15-7 when J.R. Smith checked in for (and this is a new-ish but familiar trend) Kenyon Martin, not Shumpert. That small fivesome still did some dumb shit defensively-- abandoning Jameer Nelson to double Glen Davis, RAY; ignoring Moe Harkless in transition, MELO-- but got a few stops and turnovers and started turning them into buckets. Shump got a couple scores in transition, Melo and Raymond Felton each got to the rim, and Bargnani found two open threes by just slipping or popping out to the right elbow while the Magic converged on Felton/Melo drives. The Knicks ended the first quarter down just 3 despite the Magic shooting 6-7 from downtown.
Woodson sent out a unit of Pablo Prigioni, Tim Hardaway Jr., J.R. Smith, Metta World Peace (supposedly out of the normal rotation, but playing since Amar'e Stoudemire sat), and Martin to start the second quarter, and that group went bananas. They didn't defend much better, but a Magic unit led by Ronnie Price couldn't really exploit them, and when Afflalo returned, Hardaway checked him fairly well. But fuck all that anyway because the Knicks COULD NOT STOP hitting threes. They were possessed by the god Threepointio. All of this happened in the second quarter's first six minutes:
- J.R. and Kenyon ran a pick-and-roll, J.R. kicked to Pablo, who made the extra pass to an open Hardaway three.
- Metta posted up Melo-style and kicked out to Hardaway, who threw an extra pass to a Pablo corner three on the weak side.
- J.R. popped over a Martin flare screen (thanks, Jared Dubin, for telling me this is called a flare screen. I've never been sure. J.R. just used a Martin screen to pin his defender for a second and get a bit of space. The Knicks bigs are getting increasingly good at those. Flare screens.) to catch and drill a three off a swing pass from Hardaway.
- Pablo drove over a Martin pick and kicked to a Metta three.
- Pablo passed up a shot of his own, drove diagonally from the left side, made a sExUaL ball fake in the air, then kicked cross-court to a Hardaway three that caught a helpful bounce.
- Pablo drove and kicked to a Metta corner three (off an unnecessary pump fake).
In between, there was a miss here and a defensive breakdown there, but that is some delicious basketball. Note the six assists, and note the abundance of ¡Pablocura! We like that. And it continued that way, more or less. Melo passed happily out of the post and the Knicks hit threes. Pablo and Ray passed happily out of the pick-and-roll and the Knicks hit open threes. Martin and Metta set the screens and got some deflections on the other end and Melo and Bargnani minded the defensive glass, crucially limiting Orlando's second opportunities. The only real diversion in the action was the genuinely good defense the Knicks played for parts of the third quarter, the bigs in particular (and this after they spent the end of the first half just fouling everyone). Martin played goalie quite nicely when he was in there, and the smaller lineups trapped and jumped passing lanes. I even saw Bargnani rotate in to be that third pick-and-roll containing guy a few times. That's good. And yeah, the Knicks got to play a good six or seven minutes of garbage time. And they won by almost 40. That's good, too. Some more notes:
- Woodson went particularly small in the second half, breaking up that starters-but-with-J.R.-instead-of-Kenyon group to put Metta in for Bargnani and run a Metta/Melo frontcourt for 4:30. That unit pushed the lead from 9 to 20 over that span, and it was pretty much all from Melo creating/distributing out of the post until Metta-- who had himself a productive and mostly collected overall game-- hit a stuuupid fading mid-range J at the buzzer.
- I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before, but Mike Woodson's (many coaches', really) substitution pattern where he trickles guys in over a few dead balls annoys me. If you want to play a unit, why introduce it step-wise instead of just sending it out wholesale out of a timeout? This makes my note-taking difficult, Woody. Think of the bloggers.
- That's two straight simple, quiet, superb games from Melo. Pass when there passes to be made, shoot when there are shots to be made, rebound, get to sit the fourth quarter. Beautiful. Working hard, playing smart, having fun, eating vegetables, brushing teeth, etc. That's my favorite Melo.
- After that really goofy interview wherein he gruffly told Tina Cervasio he was "pissed off at everyone, mad at the world", Shump played okay. Oladipo (and Afflalo, when switched) really killed him by using back-screens and pin-downs, but Shump had his moments. He made nice plays in transition (a lovely lay-in and a Clyde's Favorite Pull-up Midrange Jumper) and put down this VERY pissed-off dunk:
- And J.R. Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. played very efficient, very similar games. The generational suffix bros mostly stuck behind the arc and waited for catch-and-make threes. Hardaway got a few in garbage time, but also made damn sure the game was done with bombs early in the fourth. And J.R. just played like near-peak J.R., not getting to the rim, but also not trying to score off quixotic dribble moves. He caught and he shot and he scored and he filled in the margins with rebounds and extra passes. Well gunned, gunners.
- Mike Breen, right after a J.R. three: "He's finding to start the range!". Somehow, that makes sense. Breen also said a real thing that had me nodding and applauding from my high chair-- something to the effect of: "how you shoot is a product of the quality of the shot you take as much as it is a product of the shooter you are". He said it much more eloquently than that. But the Knicks need that tattooed inside their eyelids. Maybe abbreviated somehow, because that's a lot of letters.
- While Melo was grabbing this rebound, he screamed "I GOT IT!", as is his wont (although he's usually more profane), then Nelson swiped it away from him in plain defiance of Melo's declaration of ownership. This is punishable by your teammate getting ruthlessly swipe-blocked. HOPE YOU LEARNED YOUR LESSON, JAMEER:
(Thank you, Bronx Chica. You are the light of my life.)
- Garbage time was fun! Toure' Murry had a good time faking, getting to the basket, giving-and-going, and even hitting a jumper off the dribble. Cole Aldrich moved his feet well on defense, hit a nice little hook, and did seriously my favorite thing to happen on a basketball court this season.
Destroying the Nets was a nice change and a step in the right direction. Destroying the Magic was even more fun and another step in the right direction. The schedule going forward is pretty easy, but next up are the surprisingly-okay-and-damn-near-contending-by-Eastern-Conference-standards Celtics on Sunday. Nets to Magic to Celtics is a gentle climb, but still a nice positive gradient of challenge for the Knicks to get genuinely back on track. I can't tell yet, but it would be so incredibly nice if this has been them starting to get back on track, not just distracting us with a couple tastes of their best. Either way, we got to love basketball again Thursday and Friday. It had been a while and we needed a reminder that that was possible, just like Dishing and Swishing said. Keep it up, the Knicks.