It doesn't take long to count all the games these Knicks have won against decent competition. New York has beaten up on enough tanking and infirm opponents to make a run at the playoffs, but they've mostly gone limp in the face of real challenges, even when the games mattered most. So of course, at the very last moment, with only a thread of hope left to grasp, the Knicks came through. They made a comeback, they took an improbable late lead, then they executed down the stretch to take a road win against a pretty good, pretty healthy Raptors team with something to play for. I was left shaking my head and muttering the same thing as alleyhoop_20: This fucking team, man.
There wasn't much to it, really. New York did a horrid job contesting shots, to the point that Toronto's excellent 15-33 line from downtown looks like a failure. They were all open. Toronto got to the line a bunch too, including a few trips during a final stretch in which the Knicks just couldn't avoid whistles. As always, the Knicks just had to outrun their own defensive breakdowns, only this time they did it far more at the line than behind the arc. That's super weird for the least-free-throwing team in the NBA. (They shoot under 20 a night, but hit 32 of 36 Friday.)
Carmelo Anthony led that charge. He shot surprisingly unshittily relative to his recent performances with a bum shoulder, settling for a lot of jab-jabby isolation but still dropping a clean enough 8-17 shooting line. HIs aggressive play against overmatched guys like Terrence Ross and John Salmons bought him a lot of contact, which kept him at the line and away from jacking up more dicey shots. I'd rather he just pack it in and rest that shoulder, but this was an unsurprisingly gritty and surprisingly effective outing.
Melo's only consistent sidekick, save for spurts of help from his guards, was Amar'e Stoudemire, who had one of his finest games in by far his longest spin of the season. Amar'e waited on the weak side, caught passes out of good ball movement, and finished. Amar'e backed his man down, gained separation with a spin, and finished. Amar'e got touches in transition and out of the pick-and-roll and finished. The Raptors have decent interior defenders, and Amar'e jammed jams on all of them. Melo and the guards helped Amar'e out, too, by not just force-feeding him the ball but actually working around fronts and offering him bail-outs when help came. And he responded well, staying active off the ball and passing out a couple times when he was crowded. The begoggled one just had an especially lovely bounce for all his 40 minutes, and it even carried over to a weirdly productive stretch on the glass (11 boards in the first, 0 in the second half) and some spots of defense. Like maybe one or two defenses. A lot of fun to watch.
That's really all I have. Iman Shumpert deserves a mention for moments of expert ball-swiping right out of Christian's recent post and Pablo Prigioni's two threes get a tip of the hat as well. USA TODAY Sports for sending one photographer and having him sit really high above the action so all the game photos are from a strange angle. Oh, and Mike Breen gets a shout-out for referring to Stoudemire's genital region as his "bread basket," which...do people say that? (Update: See the comments.)
Most everyone played adequately and the Knicks are somehow not deceased yet. Free throws won the game. Weird. Good job, I guess!