Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
It wasn't exactly a winning effort, but the Knicks did win.
Hey, I'm glad they won. I'll take any win, especially on a Friday, but like JetsFan718 said in the thread, this one felt like stolen goods. The Knicks have a way of doing that against the Wolves. This game had a lot in common with the previous win over Minnesota and many of New York's recent games: The Knicks parted and switched to permit easy penetration by the Ricky Rubio/Luke Ridnour tandem and constant mismatches for Wolves big and small. The Wolves didn't erupt from downtown like Washington did on Wednesday (quite the opposite-- they shot even worse than usual), but they did consistently probe all that open space and all those mismatches to get 42 points in the paint and 27 attempts at the line. For the second straight game, the Knicks didn't shoot well enough or draw enough fouls to make up for that bafflingly gracious defense.
Minnesota ran their lead up to 11 midway through the fourth quarter, but this time the Knicks had an extra push left. Carmelo Anthony-- as is his wont, especially against Minnesota, perhaps because their fans harass him before games-- got to asserting his will off the dribble. After getting beat backdoor by Derrick Williams a few times to start the quarter, Melo took control of the match-up and stepped past him repeatedly to draw fouls and finish some spectacular plays in the paint. That up-and-under enticement of Williams for the easy finish and the sweeping righty hook were particularly brilliant. The hook put New York up one for the first time in a while, then the Knicks got three buckets in the final two minutes-- a J.R. Smith drive-and-lob to Tyson Chandler, a Melo pull-up jumper, and a J.R. and-one dunk off a turnover-- to burgle the victory.
At last, the defense matched the offense during crunch time. Raymond Felton finally started going under screens to stay with Rubio driving over picks (and surrender open looks, one of which Rubio hit, but that's fine with me), which allowed help defenders to stay home and swallow up penetration on consecutive Minnesota possessions. The defense collapsed on Ridnour to knock the ball away and feed that J.R. transition to go up four, then Chandler caught Rubio around the rim and spanked his final attempt into the hardwood.
And with a 24-7 run to close a 30-18 quarter, the Knicks beat the Wolves at basketball. Had Minnesota hit more free throws or Williams finished all those plays around the rim, New York may not have pulled it off. On the other hand, if the Knicks defended the first 40+ minutes the way they defended the last few, they'd have won easily. This is one of many recent wins in which big minutes for Melo and scary moments down the stretch could have been avoided with smarter, sturdier perimeter defense and better help from guys like Chandler and Melo.
Just a few notes:
- Amar'e Stoudemire didn't get many shots up (seven in 21 minutes), but made some beautiful moves around the basket and straight-up yammed on Greg Stiemsma's towhead. As has been in the case, his only rough offensive moments-- and there were just a couple-- came when he came to a halt in the paint and got smothered by help defense.
- Iman Shumpert's not defending like Iman Shumpert and forcing the issue on offense, and I think the dwindling minutes are deserved. He's just not in a rhythm yet post-injury.
- Four assists to three turnovers for Felton doesn't look good, but I thought both he and Melo missed out on a bunch of assists/hockey assists when guys just bricked their open looks. Felton didn't shoot well (4-11, 1-4 from outside) but finished a couple tough, contested runners off penetration to keep New York within arm's reach during the third quarter.
- Chandler hardly got the ball, got shaken by Nikola Pekovic, and didn't play much help defense on penetration until the final minutes. He did do a great job on the offensive glass.
- Jason Kidd stays deflecting passes and pokin' balls away from people. I thought he played better on-ball pick-and-roll defense than Felton or Pablo Prigioni did, too. 30 minutes is probably more than Mike Woodson wants to demand from Kidd, but having him out there down the stretch helped quite a bit defensively.
- Steve Novak started the game hot with a couple catch-and-threes (one off a lovely cut over an Amar'e back screen and a strong-side feed from Melo) and a pull-up two off a pump fake, but missed his open threes later in the game (4-9 overall, 2-6 from downtown).
- J.R. Smith took and missed a bunch of yucky jumpers, so it was nice to see him put the ball on the floor and attack a bit more down the stretch. That and-one in the final minute was obviously crucial as well. It felt like the game's first two-play worth celebrating.
- The Knicks' transition defense was so, so bad in this one. Guards consistently failed to pick Rubio up in transition, so he'd march all the way to the rim, where Melo or some other bigger Knick would inevitably foul him in the act of shooting. Minnesota earned what felt like a dozen and-ones on those kinds of plays.
- Mispronunciations galore, and not just from Clyde. Clyde gave us "Alexey Shrev" and "Luke Ridmire" and whatnot (also "Melo, dancing with the Wolves!"), but Spero Dedes won the evening by calling Mickael Gelabale "Mik-heil Jellz-a-ball" throughout the first half. He fixed it later, though.
Soon enough, the Knicks are going to face a steady stream of opponents who can't be beaten with five to ten minutes of decent defense. One such team, the Clippers, comes to the Garden on Sunday, provided weather allows that game to happen. If the Knicks defend the way they did tonight, they will more than likely get blown out (and I know the Clips got dismantled by Miami tonight. Still.). One can only hope New York's just in the habit of giving exact change on defense-- offering exactly as much effort as it takes to survive-- and that they won't step up to a team like L.A. with a couple nickels and expect to compete. We shall see. For now, better a stolen win than no win at all. And now I will bid you goodnight before this money metaphor gets any more convoluted. <3