That was fun for the whole family. There have been some legendary individual performances by visitors Madison Square Garden in recent years, but none in my memory did us the favor of falling short. The 50+-point scoring performances dropped by Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and the guy from Space Jam ended in victories for their teams and left me snarling and spewing hexes upon their families. Stephen Curry's 48-minute, 54-point dagger shower was heroic and ebullient and, honestly, a joy to behold even when I feared the Knicks might not survive it, but its greatest virtue was that it ended in a blocked shot by Raymond goddamned Felton and a New York victory. Have you ever seen a figure skater perform a flawless, ethereal routine only to trip over a napping frog on the last jump? Well, now you have, and you get to keep the frog.
I don't want to make it sound like the Knicks stole this one, though. They soiled the narrative of the game, but did so with one of the more thorough performances we've seen from them in some time. Yes, the Warriors have been struggling and yes, they played especially shorthanded without David Lee, but after some sickening losses and uninspiring wins, that one felt substantial for New York.
On a night of poor outside shooting for everyone but J.R. Smith, the Knicks found other ways to assert themselves. Carmelo Anthony churned out free throws and points in the paint with his first step and some splendid pick-and-roll passing, mostly to Amar'e Stoudemire (14 points on seven shots). Tyson Chandler ruled both backboards (28 rebounds! And that's not the story!) while Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert burgled, stacking New York's possession time such that they out-attempted Golden State 87-72 from the field and 33-21 from the line. The possession-hoarding was key. Curry would have happily taken 40 shots and surely dropped 70 points in the process, but you can only shoot so much when your team never has the ball. Finding themselves outclassed technically, the Knicks seized the game by brute force.
- Chandler decided from tip-off that he was going to set a career-high in rebounds and had his first ten within seven minutes. Tonight was the night to do it, what with the Leelessness and the small Golden State lineups-- Andris Biedrins and Festus Ezeli played 25 minutes combined. Chandler didn't just gobble up easy rebounds over short folks, though. He pursued every missed shot with the usual impeccable timing and force and, at the other end, frequently ran the gamut of hedging on a ball-handler, hauling ass all the way back to the paint, backing said ass into somebody's ribcage, then snatching caroms out of the crowded sky. A good chunk of those 28 rebounds were hard-earned. The Knicks couldn't generate many intentional touches for Chandler after some nice first-quarter pick-and-rolls, but he made an impact thereafter by playing excellent help defense and getting a hand on damn near every Knick miss. The fourth quarter alone saw Chandler make several huge plays as a helper or switcher contesting a Warrior guard and feed a huge second-chance baskets with Tyson Tip-Outs™.
- Still, props to the guards for covering Chandler's ass a couple times by crashing the glass themselves or stripping Warriors after they'd grabbed offensive rebounds.
- To get it out of the way, Melo missed some unseemly attempts on top of the go-ahead three and game-clinching baseline two he hit down the stretch. There was a particularly stinky minute or two in the mid-fourth where the Warriors went on a little run to take the lead as Melo bricked three consecutive shots over double teams. On the other hand, the guy spent a healthy portion of the evening passing out of the doubles, but too often had to watch his generosity beget a weak-side brick. When Felton, Shumpert, Jason Kidd, and Steve Novak go a combined 2-14 on threes (open ones, too), I think Melo gains license to chuck a bit. Anyway, that was really just a late-game phenomenon and it ended happily, so forget it. For most of the night, Melo played aggressive, generous ball. He pivoted with ease around Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes to score around the rim and draw fouls, peppering in the occasional jumper off a jab-step or kick-out. Later, Melo found a lovely groove with Amar'e Stoudemire, tossing him no fewer than three pinpoint entry passes as he backed into the low post or crept along the baseline. Some of those passes were truly sensual.
- Raymond Felton played a pretty poor offensive game. Just one finish in the paint is way too meager an output against such a lame interior defense, and he compounded that by bricking some wide-open jumpers and shooting 2-6 from the free throw line. The third quarter sequence in which Felton drove, drew help, jump-stopped, inexplicably hopped up and spun 360 degrees, then chucked a "floater" directly into the elbow pits of the help defender was astoundingly awful. And, ya know, Curry peed on all the Knicks, but Felton definitely got the most drenched. ALL THAT said, Felton proved the unlikely hero in the final 1:30 by getting a flipper on that Curry jumper and stealing a careless backcourt pass from Ezeli. He went on to miss both ensuing free throws, then rebound his second miss. Well trolled, Raymond. You are the sleepy ice frog.
- This was Iman Shumpert's best performance in a while. He played a shaky offensive game, save for a friendly roll on a nice, J.R.-esque Euro step in transition and a nice drive-and-dump to Amar'e, but finally made some impact on defense. Those six steals came from a mix of hounding ball-handlers, pouncing upon faulty dribbles, and twice hustling back on defense to steal back his own turnover (this is known as the Marbury Maneuver). He got torched by Curry just like everyone else, but at least did so by gambling and fouling too much. After sitting most of the second half with four fouls, Shump returned for the final few minutes and came up with a fairly important steal off a telegraphed Curry pass when the Knicks were down one.
- After three quick fouls, a technical (for sarcastic clapping) and some very sad help defense, Amar'e did a pretty good job of rotating to to cover for double teams in the third quarter. Offensively, he was quiet in the first half following his big, uncontested dunk, but as mentioned above, quite productive in the second half. Good positioning before the catch, be it deep beneath the rim or prowling the baseline on the weak side of a pick-and-roll or Melo drive.
- I want to give J.R. Smith a big, happy noogie after that one. He hit most of his good shots-- 6-11 from downtown, all off the catch, two off offensive rebounds in the fourth-- and a remarkable number of his bad ones, including a weird, close-range, pump-fakey jumper to break the tie with just over a minute left. My favorite J.R. moment of the night by far was when he raced up the floor in a fast break, resisted the temptation to shoot over solid Golden State transition defense, drew a "J.R. Smith, wisely..." call from Mike Breen, then reset to drill a quick, reckless three before Breen could finish his thought. Wonderful. Five rebounds, too.
- Jason Kidd played spots of good defense, but remained frighteningly cold on wide-ass-open looks out of Melo double-teams and kick-outs. Same for Steve Novak, minus the spots of good defense.
- Pablo Prigioni hit a three late in the shot clock. He managed to surrender like 70 of Curry's 54 points in just nine minutes.
- Kenyon Martin played! Not in garbage time, either. He logged about five minutes in the second quarter and registered a handsome 5 trillion. So, yeah, it wasn't much of a debut. He just didn't really get the chance to do anything, though his wild help defense did contribute to a couple Warrior turnovers somewhere in there.
- Standing 6'8"ish and wearing a white headband, Martin was easily mistaken for Melo on my TV.
- It's easily forgotten, but the Knicks bolted ahead to a double-digit lead in this one, only to squander some of it when Chandler took his now customary late first-early second rest.
- New York lucked out with a few wiiiiide open misses by off-ball Warriors. They rushed Curry with coverage he hadn't seen since Davidson-- three guys shouting at him and poking his nipples-- but got only occasionally punished by the Warriors they left open. Really, aside from Knick-killer Jarrett Jack (who harmed the Knicks, but also helped them plenty with his hoggish ways), no Warrior besides Curry did much of anything. Tyson Chandler maintained his heightened post-All-Star vigilance and guys mostly rotated well to cover him when he went trappin'.
- Jill Martin's halftime interview was with Marlon Wayans, who had: 1. Something other than blood in his bloodstream. 2. A stolen clementine in his pocket.
With the possible exception of the blowout win over the Spurs that some of us got to watch together in person, that was the most exciting viewing experience of the year. The Knicks played genuinely, consistently well for the first time a while and a visiting player gave us a show without taking our win for the first time in a loooooong while. Like Moshe said in the game thread, it was hard to keep track of one's emotions while the Knicks tried to overcome a dazzling opponent performance, but we ended up getting to have it both ways-- the majesty of Curry's big night made its futility more satisfying. I had a lot of fun watching along with y'all and a lot of fun writing this recap, too. 34-20, on to Washington for a shot at redemption.