Late in the fourth quarter Thursday night, I felt. More specifically, I felt sick. My face felt flush with blood, my stomach full of hot marbles. My joints burned and my teeth chattered. That, for me, is how it's supposed to feel to watch the Knicks. That's how it always has been, even in losing seasons. And yet the Knicks made me feel almost nothing in December. New York put forth such a limp product that comebacks, collapses, and blowouts in either direction registered in common flatline, for them and for me. Joy and rage converged at hollow dissatisfaction.
The Knicks probably should have lost to the Spurs on Thursday. Their defense-- clumsy as ever-- crowded Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, but granted threes aplenty to the league's best outside-shooting team. Had the Spurs better exploited their excess of open looks, or had they made late free throws, or had they retrieved a loose ball or two down the stretch, they would have won. And I would have felt heartbroken. But that alone-- feeling heartbreak, not bitter nothing-- would have meant something to me. The sickness that preceded it meant something, too. The Knicks made me care again, because they cared.
Iman Shumpert was the mascot of December's doldrums, so it fit for him to spearhead Thursday night's excitement. Shump played fiercely, like he's supposed to. Most of all, he hit threes. The guy who'd declined more open shots than he'd attempted in December hit six of eight catching and firing instantly from the weak side. He created, too, with some punchy dribbling and entry passes to slipping bigs. Mike Woodson let Shump guard Tony Parker, and he blasted relentlessly through screens to trail the guy (the Knicks rarely provided any support, which led to breakdowns, but it was still a noble endeavor). Shump battled for deflections and loose balls, which mattered most when he chased down a Beno Udrih fumble to set up his own huge three in the final minute. He rebounded, too, which mattered most when he fucking levitated to tip in the biggest bucket of the night. (Video of all that here. Wear two diapers.) I don't want to bury Carmelo Anthony's splendid return from injury, but Shump defined Thursday night for me. A guy who used to care the most but hadn't cared in weeks looked like his healthy, vigorous self, hit his shots, stirred things up all over the floor, and provided two nipple-hardening bursts of clutch fortitude.
- But yeah, let's not forget Melo. Shump hit shots because he got good looks, and he got good looks because the Spurs could not stop Melo one-on-one. They offered only glimpses of their usual hard doubles, so Melo attacked. He killed Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, and the rest of them in isolation, plowing into deep position, then spinning away for off-balance baskets. When the Spurs finally did send help, Melo passed up top, and that top bro (often J.R. Smith) did a nice job making the extra pass to the open shooter. Melo pulled down 11 boards, too, in a game that produced very few rebounds. His late-game play wasn't all iso, either. He went (I think) 1-2 on hard drives to his right late in the game, but the miss that Shumpert tipped in was a good open three off the catch. Terrific game from a guy who wasn't supposed to be 100% on that ankle.
- Beno Udrih led the charge for FARTDOG, facilitating a career game for Marco Belinelli with his negligence. Beno damn near threw the game away down the stretch, too. I still found myself mostly satisfied with the way he ran the offense. He didn't try anything fancy, just gauged the Spurs' coverages and ushered the ball toward the open man, staying in motion after the pass. And when the Spurs gave Beno space, he hit his pull-up jumpers.
- I enjoyed the second-quarter stretch in which Andrea Bargnani really went at Matt Bonner, but I did not enjoy his egregious FARTDOG efforts or, eh, pretty much anything else he did. I'm happy Bargnani played just 22 minutes.
- I'm not sure why Tyson Chandler also played 22 minutes. He didn't offer much but a couple jumpers (yeah!) and attempts to goalkeep following defensive breakdowns (which often left the rim open for Duncan or Tiago Splitter). Chandler didn't make a fourth-quarter appearance until there were like three minutes left.
- J.R. played the equivalent of a decent December Shump game. Few, bad shots but lots of pick-and-rolls and snappy extra passes and effort on the glass and stuff like that. Just 29 minutes, too. Woodson's minute distribution was much more even than usual across the board.
- Amar'e Stoudemire hit a few catch-and-shoot elbow things and a big contested J to beat a shot clock in the fourth. He finished some pick-and-rolls, too, but dropped soooo many passes. It was bizarre.
- Toure' Murry hit a couple awkward-looking jumpers and ran a couple sound pick-and-rolls in his 15 minutes. He didn't really have an impact defensively until Shump replaced Tim Hardaway Jr. and the two got to harassin' folks as a tandem. Clyde called him "Tracy Murray", which I guess is closer to the real thing than Lamond.
- And Mike Breen called Manu Ginobili a "swashbuckler". And he screamed "BANG!".
- Re: Chandler not playing for a while, I enjoyed when Breen surveyed a unit of Murry, Smith, Hardaway, Bargnani, and Stoudemire and said "I don't think Woodson likes the lineup he sees out there." Woodson did, indeed, look distressed, as if he wasn't responsible for putting that group on the floor. (To be fair, those guys held on. The Melo-Amar'e frontcourt blew the lead.)
That was the game. It was a real Knicks game, one that made me feel. And Iman Shumpert, man. "Holy Shump!", like Crackback and a few of y'all exclaimed, is right. Shump producing even half that much would make 2014 a whoooole lot better than the end of 2013. One narrow win over a great team doesn't make a turnaround, but even in isolation, Thursday night was great, if only for the opportunity to feel again.