Knicks 120, Wizards 99: Atlantic Division Champions!

Al Bello

13 straight!

Things are great. I'm very happy the Knicks have won thirteen straight games, very happy they clinched their first Atlantic Division title since I was in pre-school, and regular happy that they did it with a merry three-point siege of the Washington Wizards. Tonight's match-up seemed a bit of a trap going in, but the Knicks didn't mess around. Well, they kind of did mess around, but in a good way. This team's baseline is Great Three-Point Shooting Team. That's what they are on an average night. On below-average nights, they are merely a good three-point shooting team. On above-average nights, zoo-wee-mama!

Tonight was that last thing. Everybody hit everything. Carmelo Anthony passed brilliantly out of the post-- waiting, surveying the floor, attracting help, throwing not just swing passes but direct cross-court assists-- while Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton created adeptly off the dribble. Those three propagated great ball movement that found open looks for everyone. The Knicks hit nine threes in the first quarter (the most in any quarter this season) and tied a franchise record with twenty on the night. Iman Shumpert, Steve Novak, and Chris Copeland each hit four. Melo hit three. J.R. Smith, ironically enough, hit just one, though it was a buzzer-beater from like 40 feet away.

That's all it took for a blowout. The Knicks didn't defend, rebound, or limit turnovers especially well. They just passed and shot and passed and shot until the lead was huge and the Wizards were sad and tired and the Garden was quaking in delirium.

I'm not gonna do individual breakdowns for this one (Quickly: Shump and Copeland were especially versatile and terrific, J.R. was a trifle step-back-y but efficient anyway, everyone else was normal), but Melo's third quarter deserves special acknowledgment. The way he's been playing this April almost tricked me into taking that stretch for granted, but yo: 21 points in a quarter! Like it was nothing! At halftime, Melo had a solid, smartly earned 15 points on ten shots. He was playing fine. Then the third quarter started and, after a lovely alley-oop to Kenyon Martin, Melo ascended to that isolated plane upon which only he and the basket may dance. He remained there for the whole period, cooking delicious leather and nylon bisque while defenders tugged helplessly at his shoelaces. Melo befuddled Martell Webster in the post, alternating between ass power and tiptoe finesse. He buried threes catching in place and pulling up over picks. When he deigned to share, the ball animated its recipient into draining a three-pointer; the shooter had no agency over the transaction. In the closing seconds, he bricked a three, but-- aided by Jason Kidd, who knows how to stoke a hot hand-- retrieved the ball and flung it through the rim as the quarter expired. 21 points, all of them blithe and frictionless. Even in the context of this brilliant April, that quarter was something else.

Anyway, that pretty much ended the game. The only fourth-quarter event of note (besides that J.R. three) was Kenyon Martin spraining his ankle. Otherwise, it was just a matter of resting the people who needed rest and whiling away the minutes with the closest thing these depleted Knicks have to a garbage lineup. Most of this game felt like garbage time, but everyone on the healthy roster but James White is a member of the rotation, so the game could only get so ridiculous, relatively speaking. We did get to learn a lot about Clyde: He's never been to the Playboy mansion, Searching For Sugarman is one of the many movies he hasn't seen (Mike Breen thinks he would like it, though), and he's not into skiing but loves ski lodges. There were a few moments that stood out to me besides Melo's third quarter-- Pablo sneaking on an inbound pass and loudly convincing Ken Mauer he'd deflected it off a Wizard, Kidd and Raymond Felton hassling Wall into a turnover and easy fast break basket for the penguin in the final seconds of the first half, and this, for instance. Other than that, it was just a lovely blur of threes.

That's all I've got. There are more challenges and hopefully some more great triumphs to come, but right now is pretty great on its own. See you tomorrow!

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