"Of course" was the phrase most uttered after Dirk Nowitzki's buzzer-beating game-winner caromed high off the rim and down through the net. Dirk, defended all night by futile switching, finally drew a proper match-up with a handsy Carmelo Anthony and issued a wobbly jumper that caught just the right lip of the rim. The ball hung in the air long enough for every one of us to certify it would drop. The moment had all the makings of a sickening finish-- the kind of ending that jumbles the innards and leaves you haunted by the centimeters and milliseconds that allowed it. Only it wasn't that, at least not for me. In that weightless instant before the ball descended, I felt relief that the game wouldn't drag into overtime. We say "of course" to a strange buzzer-beater sinking the Knicks, but it'd be just as "of course" for the Knicks to stretch the game another five or ten minutes, further exhausting Melo before they finally rolled. At least that bounce saved us the trouble this time.
Overtime would have carried Melo up near 50 minutes yet again, and probably up to 50 points. After a cold first quarter spent striking rim over Maverick doubles, Melo shot 12-21 the rest of the way, including a particularly devastating turn as a trailer or pull-up sniper from the top of the arc. The Knicks offered Melo a modicum of help-- Tyson Chandler played the rim and the glass, mostly on offense and J.R. Smith gamely borrowed the driving and creating duties from Raymond Felton while Felton and Pablo Prigioni each hit a couple threes. It was still mostly Melo, but that help mattered as the Knicks corrected an early deficit, fought through another successful FARTDOG project (65 points on 48 shots for the busiest Maverick guards, including Vince Carter's season-high 23), then competed for real in the fourth quarter. None of it mattered late when the Knicks switched to self-destruct mode and abandoned every element of timing, spacing, passing, cutting, picking, and rolling that had served them so well.
It really is as if there's a switch. It's on a timer linked remotely to the Knicks' frontal lobes, and when the game clock strikes, say, 1:00, electrical impulses disable the Knicks' faculties of reason, planning, and working memory. Before Monday night's 1:00 mark, the Knicks ran off a riveting string of baskets-- a nimble Raymond Felton drive, a quick lob entry off a turnover to a Chandler and-one, and a transition Melo three off another turnover that lit up the Garden like so little else this season. Eight straight points in 40 seconds because of energy and strategy and execution and all the good, sensible things. And then, given one more possession and an opportunity to take the winning lead, the Knicks behaved as if they'd been poisoned, standing entranced while Melo dribbled out the clock and any chance for another possession then bailed out to a wild J.R. heave.
I'll take a silly Nowitzki winner over more of the above. As the game gets tense, Clyde's less liable to get side-tracked and reminisce about his drinking days ("I drank so many mimosas, man, I don't even go near them anymore") or compare a Tyson Chandler-Samuel Dalembert collision to wildlife ("Like two giraffes going down, two giraffes at the watering hole.") anyway, so I have no use for overtime. I want as little of the Knicks as possible. The more I get, the less I want.