The Knicks blew a lead against the Suns like it was 2013. Their collapse had all the ingredients: dominant opposing guard performances via FARTDOG, a frustrating turn toward isolation offense, and even a bad buzzer-beating foul in regulation. But man, an unnecessarily narrow overtime victory feels a lot nicer tacked onto a win streak than it does in between sluggish losses, eh?
The game's trajectory spelled collapse. New York's lead wasn't very Knicks-ian, and felt tenuous. New York stayed ahead through most of three quarters despite committing way more turnovers than they forced, in part because they got to the line enough to compensate. Carmelo Anthony dominated, throwing lovely passes out of double-teams, then turning to his own shots after guys couldn't capitalize. Melo jab-stepped and spun around and over P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green and drained a few deeeeeep threes for a brilliant 17 first-half points (and ten rebounds). The Suns, meanwhile, failed to cash in on their surplus of attempts. Green chipped in by just heaving long, contested twos, but as a team, Phoenix had a weirdly hard time finishing layups and hitting open threes. Only Goran Dragic-- matching Melo bucket for bucket-- kept the Suns afloat.
Anyway, that double-digit lead (14 points in the second quarter) wasn't built to last. From the end of the first half forward, the Suns got their shit together. Melo's soup began to cool and the helping hands of FARTDOG guided driving guards-- not just Dragic, but Leandro Barbosa, too-- to easier and easier finishes. Raymond Felton reacted to picks as if they were set by pufferfish, just freezing and staggering out of the picture, and the bigs hardly ever offered him help. Phoenix reeled off a rapid game-tying run to open the third quarter, then came back again in the fourth to actually take a late and frightening lead. And for a moment there, it really felt like the Knicks were going to over-isolate and ill-defend their way into a full-on flame-out, but they survived thanks to a couple wonderful clutch plays.
First of all, New York actually got some stops to end regulation. The Suns helped them out by running a Green post-up(???) on a crucial final-minute possession, but even before that, the Knicks snuffed out a couple Dragic pick-and-rolls with some actual help at the rim and Andrea Bargnani's best effort in a switch. And, crucially, Melo kicked to the corner on a late isolation drive to find Felton lurking behind the arc for a ballsy three-pointer to put the Knicks up two. That would have been the game-winner had Kenyon Martin not committed a grabby but borderline foul switched on Barbosa in the closing seconds. Barbosa's free throws tied the game, J.R. Smith missed a last-second turnaround nigh identical to his game-winner in Phoenix last season, and the game continued into overtime...
...where the Knicks just handled business? Kenyon Martin threw some great passes, set some great picks and converted a great tip-in, and both he and Bargnani played some splendid defense as helpers and switchers. Melo wasted a couple late possessions, but finished a Martin lob and canned a tough turn-around before that. And, in one of the more surprising and uplifting sequences of the night, the Knicks *perfectly* executed giving a foul up three in the closing seconds. And they won. They blew a lead, they made as many big boners as they did big plays, they watched Melo fizzle through the second half after he'd been so superb early...and they won. A couple other notes:
- Bargnani and Martin really did get some stops switched onto Dragic and friends. That's not a good look, but last night, it struck me as the lesser of two evils compared to leaving Felton (or even Toure' Murry, at times) alone against those speedy Phoenicians, essentially giving them a free path to the rim if they used a pick. Ideally, guys just guard their own men, but better a mismatch than a no-match.
- This fucking pass:
- In the second quarter, Markieff Morris picked up a second technical (he shoved J.R. Smith a little) and got himself ejected. First, there was some chuckly confusion from our announcers over which Morris had received which technical, but it was Markieff-- the Goofus of the Morris family-- on both and Markieff who had to go. Unfortunately for the Suns, it was also Markieff who'd just drawn a foul and was due two free throws, but was no longer available to take them. And thus, for what I believe to be the first time since I've been watching the Knicks, the New York bench got to pick Phoenix's shooter off their bench. Mike Woodson polled his assistants, and then, with a grin unlike anything I've seen from him this season, requested that sparsely-used Ukrainian big man Viacheslav Kravtsov (14-43 from the line in his career before that point) step in to take the free throws. He made one of two, then sat right back down at the next dead ball.
- Reason #290833 I could never be a coach: I think I'd pick a GOOD shooter in that instance, just on the off chance that he'd miss one of the shots and I could pretend I was a mad genius and/or clairvoyant. In this scenario, I would be cackling and stroking an ermine while I coached.
- Amar'e Stoudemire, enabled by entry passers, forced so many post-ups and came up with some ugly misses and turnovers in the process. He made his 19 minutes count, though, by drawing several weird fouls and pulling down seven rebounds.
- Iman Shumpert's back to single-digit shot attempts :( He missed one or two open threes early and just disappeared for most of the rest of the night. Good rebounding, some decent defensive moments, but near-silence on offense.
- Quiet nights for all the wings, really. J.R. Smith mostly remained an evenquarterman and shot 5-11 on a mix of nice drives and yucky turnarounds. Tim Hardaway kept his place ahead of J.R. in the rotation, but played just 15 minutes, hitting exactly one HUGE three off a desperate J.R. kick-out in the fourth quarter.
- The Knickerblogger recap has the full transcript of an excellent Clyde-Breen conversation about mink coats that I missed because my little brother is a rude guest and was harassing me because I'd made an incorrect Harry Potter reference (also it's a great recap).
- Murrostep? Meurrostep? Meurroste'p?
- Weird line for Felton, who scored 19 points by hitting 8 of 16 shots-- and difficult ones, at that-- and totaled only a single assist. The Suns gave him steps over picks, and he used them pretty effectively, which I guess is nice. One play that sticks in my memory was that sequence in overtime where Felton ran a give-and-go with Martin and caught the ball slicing to the rim on a gorgeous backdoor cut, but passed on finishing in favor of kicking to the far corner. The ball swung to Bargnani at the elbow, and Bargnani misseda three, because he does that.
- MSG showed a fan gobbling down a giant, fixin-laden hot dog or sausage sandwich of some sort and Clyde let out a visceral "UGH", Pusha T-style. Then there was a conversation about tofu, I think.
- Clyde, after MSG displayed some stats showing how much better the Knicks' record is when Melo records a lot of assists: "They have a show called Numbers Don't Lie...so Melo has to know that." That numbers don't lie? Or that that show exists?
- One of my favorite Melo plays of the night actually came in his ugly second half. He lost a Dragic double team with a nasty ball fake toward the perimeter (not long after he'd hit Shump for a three in a similar setting), then spun back toward the rim to draw what should have been a goaltend, then an eventual foul.
And so they won. It was dirtier and more annoying than you'd like, but it extended the streak to five straight, and I'll take that, like mrodnyc said in the thread. Charlotte tonight.