Don't puch Amar'e, Ray. Not nice. - David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
This time, the Knicks played an awful first half but made up for it with a huge comeback sans Carmelo Anthony.
The Knicks, man. These doggone Knicks. It takes a truly special team to blow a double-digit lead against the Heat one night, then devour a double-digit deficit against the Cavaliers the next. As I saw a few people mention tonight, swap the second halves in that back-to-back and you've got one dominant win and one horrifying loss. In reality, the Knicks gave us a disappointing collapse and a feckless, shameful start that blossomed into an exciting 102-97 win on the road. Like our friend Weekend at Bernabe's noted in the thread, it ended up being a pretty thrilling night, albeit in the weirdest way possible.
The Knicks played an outstandingly horrible first eighteen minutes. When Carmelo Anthony checked himself out of the game with 6:41 to go in the second quarter, the Cavaliers were up 22. They'd hit almost 80 percent of their shots (I know they were 19-24 at one point). Marreese Speights was en route to a 10-10, 21-point first half. As with every massive Knicks deficit, it wasn't just one thing. The Knicks played terrible defense against pick-and-rolls and in transition, but also watched helplessly as the Cavs drilled all ilk of low-percentage pull-up jumpers. It was that awfully familiar, familiarly awful spiral of easy makes feeding tough makes feeding more easy makes until all five opposing players were on fire and you had Luke Walton running around making highlight plays like that's allowed.
Anyway, we thought things couldn't possibly be worse until Anthony made things decidedly worse by tripping over his own foot and injuring his knee (more on that here). Melo exited the game for good, we sobbed and wondered what sins our previous incarnations had committed to deserve such foul payback, then...the Knicks went on a run. Amar'e Stoudemire checked in for Melo and the bros promptly broke off ten straight points. While Cleveland abruptly began to regress on one end, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith drove and dished to Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler on the other. The Knicks finished the second quarter settling for threes a bit, but not before they'd climbed almost halfway out of a 22-point hole in just minutes.
Amar'e and J.R. started the second half in place of Melo and James White, and that unit wasted no time striking within single-digits. Those two combined for 15 of New York's 21 third-quarter points while Cleveland mustered just 13 in total, in part because New York's defense suddenly gave a shit and in part because the rim no longer permitted nonsense like Marreese Speights 20-footers off the bounce. The Knicks finished the period down just four.
The threes took over from there. After shooting 5-19 behind the arc through the first three quarters, the Knicks drilled seven of 11 attempts in the fourth (maybe Quicken Loans Arena has one wide basket?), including five combined from the slump-bustin' Steve Novak and Jason Kidd. Stoudemire filled in the cracks with a couple gorgeous finishes and a couple more surprisingly sharp passes in the paint, then Chandler snapped the proverbial pickle (note: not an actual proverb) by tipping out a crucial offensive rebound and swatting Kyrie Irving's game-tying attempt on a rather ballsy switch.
- I have seen a bit of "Are the Knicks better without Melo???" and a bit of "Melo's injury had nothing to do with the turnaround" out there. My thought is: No, of course the Knicks are not better overall without Melo. However, on a night when his knee felt particularly uncomfortable, his best looks wouldn't drop, and the big, toothy man he was supposed to guard torched him in the pick-and-roll...yeah, this may have been the night for Melo to rest. The ball movement and defense picked up right around the time he departed, and it struck me as only part coincidence. I hope very much that Melo feels better quickly and can play in as many of the remaining games as possible, but we know from experience that, in certain-- not all-- circumstances, no Melo at all is preferable to a hurt Melo. Perhaps tonight was one of those circumstances.
- As our dear friend bluecheese pointed out, none of the starters hit double-digits in scoring. With four guys in double-figures, the bench beat the starters (well, the first-half starters) 70-32.
- That's not to say none of the starters made positive offensive contributions. Iman Shumpert got all eight of his points off jumpers-- two off the dribble, one off the catch-- in the first quarter, but faded in scant minutes thereafter. Neither Tyson Chandler nor Raymond Felton scored much-- Chandler had to milk points out of some precarious lobs and Felton couldn't get anything to drop-- but their tidy pick-and-rolls fed most of the offense.
- Included in that offense: A sparkling, efficient 32 minutes (yes, a shade above his prescribed limit) from Amar'e Stoudemire. He gave us a lovely mix of slick baseline dunks behind help on those Felton-Chandler exchanges, scores up the middle off transition feeds and rolls of his own, and self-made buckets from the post. The best of those was a tight pirouette past Speights that happily pushed memories of Amar'e creaking through early January "spin moves" out of my brain. Stoudemire went on to dominate the fourth not just with open and one-on-one buckets but by conquering help defense, twice with assists from under the basket and once by tipping in his own miss to put New York up four with 40 seconds left.
- I'm typically of the opinion that any J.R. Smith three is a good three as long as he doesn't dribble, but that wasn't the case in this back-to-back. His 1-7 shooting from downtown brought him to 4-21 over his last 74 minutes. On the other hand, J.R. continued to make nice things happen when he drove inside the arc. He shot 5-10 on twos, most of them pull-up jumpers, drove-and-kicked for seven assists, and pulled down seven rebounds, too. I consistently overlook that part of J.R.'s regular performance. He's pulled down 5.1 per game this season and has now grabbed 12, 12, and 7 in the last three games.
- 3-5 from downtown for Kidd. 7-10 in the back-to-back. So very nice to have you back, Jason, if only briefly. Kidd added his usual share of rebounds (eight) and bunch of deflections and poke-aways as well.
- 4-7 from downtown for Novak, three of 'em in the fourth quarter. He drew a foul and fourth point on the one early three and got another pair of free throws off a pump fake and phantom contact inside the arc.
- Pablo Prigioni received his first minutes in a bit and used them to toss one pretty pass over a triple-pick, drill a three-pointer, and grab a couple rebounds.
So, the Knicks bounced back from the loss to Miami, but first they had to find a deeper, harder floor off which to carom. New York still hasn't given us a WIN-- a solid, wholesome, undeniable victory-- in...shit, almost a month, but the standings reflect ends, not means, and three Ws in the last four tries ain't bad. On that note, the last team the Knicks beat by double-digits, the Pistons, happens to be next on their schedule. They play in Detroit on Wednesday, opening another back-to-back that finishes at home against the Thunder. As we keep noticing, this March schedule is a beast. That's why it's essential for the Knicks to mow down these putties, even if it means falling down by 22 points first.