Man, I would NOT object to this win trajectory becoming a regular thing. For the second game in a row, the Knicks thumped their opponent so completely in the first half that the third quarter was just treading water and the fourth quarter was a scrimmage. The Knicks got their points by collapsing the Cavaliers defense with crisp pick-and-rolls, but also by just torching guys one-on-one. Either because of a bit of extra pushing or because of useful picks or because the Cavs just suck and don't care, it felt like Tristan Thompson or poor, sweet Anthony Bennett or some other woefully overmatched Cav always found themselves isolated against someone like Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, or Raymond Felton. That worked in the Knicks' favor:
(All GIFs via the wonderful Ruka35). The Cavs laid down on the floor and the Knicks trampled them. And it didn't hurt that what we expected to be a FARTDOGgy evening against Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack was, in fact, a pretty solid outing of strong traps and effective interior help.
Unlike the Celtics on Tuesday, the Cavs did issue a bit of a rally in the second half. It was gradual, but what had been a lead of more than 20 points got down to like 14 and 15. The Knicks had long since relaxed, making Cleveland's newfound ability to hit open jumpers a little foreboding. It's unlike New York to switch back on once they've been switched off, ya know? It was just a matter of running the clock out and maintaining enough distance to let Melo and company sit the fourth quarter, but it was uncertain.
FEAR NOT. Tim Hardaway Jr. had been sharp from the field in each of his early stints. Late in the third, with the game teetering on the verge of competitiveness, Tim started cooking soup for real. Felton returned to the floor and got back to work drawing attention over picks, which left Tim open to hit every single open jumper that came his way. He caught and splashed repeatedly from either corner, taking a dribble-step on the odd occasions a Cav bothered to close out. And that did it. A few minutes into the fourth, we had garbage time, thanks almost entirely to Hardaway jumpers out of Ray/Tyson Chandler and Ray/Jeremy Tyler pick-and-rolls. Hardaway finished with a new high, 29, and might have cracked 30 if the bench hadn't Mutombo'd the notion in the final seconds:
That's the game right there. Just a few more notes:
- Tyson Chandler's not near Peak Tyson yet, but he's improving. I thought his help defense against Cavalier penetrators (cavalier Cavalier penetrators) was solid for long stretches, and his pick-and-roll finishes included a couple unusually tough catches and things that involved more than a single step.
- The starting point for everything Chandler got at the rim and, shit, pretty much any easy shot anyone got, was Felton getting into the paint over those picks. Ray and Chandler had a nice thing, Ray and Tim/JR had a nice thing, Ray and Melo had some of a nice thing, and...
- ...yooooo, Ray and Jeremy Tyler had a nice thing. Tyler is very arm-swingy on defense and gets a little overexcited sometimes, but damn, is he versatile in the pick-and-roll. As the roll man, he can catch with a few steps or a spin move between himself and the rim; he doesn't need the guard to do all the work for him. And as a decoy, he's been nearly perfect catching and shooting from either baseline.
- Felton swatted the shit out of an Irving jumper, by the way. He and some other folks did a pretty nice job trapping and harrying Irving overall. And Ray stuffed him. Retire, Kyrie.
- Toure' Murry got to play in garbage time, or else he would've been the victim of a brutal James Whiting: 5 seconds at the end of the first quarter.
- It was nice to see Metta World Peace settle in, hit a couple shots, and play some decent help defense later in the game, because the first things he did upon checking in were losing the ball, bricking two free throws, and committing a really dumb open-court foul.
- Aside from all the splashing, Hardaway had another insanely strong and composed finish on the move-- a floater-type thing with a guy chest-bumping his shoulder-- to add to the Tim Hardaway Jr. Is A Damn Savant In Transition file.
- Mike Breen delighted in telling a story about Henry Sims (who is on the Cavs! I either never knew that or forgot it.) feasting on a huge piece of cake while in full uniform in the media room before the game. He ended up not only playing but playing pretty well, so I think Breen's aphorism on the subject-- "The key to athletic accomplishment is dessert"-- rings true as hell.
- Pablo Prigioni, like the rest of 'em, had a surprising bit of success defending Irving, but man, is his offense awry since he returned. His passes just aren't as timely and accurate as one would typically expect.
- I have much less of a problem with J.R. trying to isolate if he's putting the ball on the floor for some of that rapid-back-down semi-post-game-type action. Those still end up being high-difficulty shots, but the likelihood of drawing a foul or finding a last-second pass recipient are much higher. 19 points on 16 shots is a lovely line in a rare start.
- As Adam Reisinger pointed out, the Knicks played a 5-6-7-8-9 lineup for a little while there. They have all the numbers 1-9, which is fun for the whole family. They had 0, but 4 replaced him. :(
- It's 2:35 in the morning and I just ate so many damn gummy bears. My tummy hurts. I'm going to bed.
The Knicks have won four straight. They're on a win streak. They've got some very good teams coming up on the schedule (also the Bucks) that'll test that streak, but they look more up for such a test than they have at any other point this season. Waaaaay more up. Good night, and praise be to Tim.