I woke up today excited for this game. How silly is that? Weeks ago, I was beginning to quit on the Knicks. I felt like I had seen enough of this team, of this season. But after the road trip -- as up-and-down an affair as you could ever see -- I was sucked back in. Piling losses from the Atlanta Hawks and a 3-2 road swing from the Knicks, capped off by an impressive victory over the Golden State Warriors, had the Knicks realistically in the playoff picture.
Each game is a must-win from here on out, and tonight's matchup with the Brooklyn Nets seemed like a particularly important one. The Knicks needed the win for obvious reasons, but the Hawks were playing the Chicago Bulls (Chicago won), and the Nets are still fighting for the Atlantic Divsion. It wouldn't come easy to the Knicks, and if they couldn't get it done tonight, they probably weren't going to get it done at all. This was playoff basketball a few weeks early!
Funny enough -- it was pretty easy. After a back-and-forth first quarter in which New York was buoyed by J.R. Smith and Amar'e Stoudemire's shot-making, the Knicks slammed on the gas pedal. While the Nets enjoyed a "zone defense" from the Knicks for the first few minutes, it was the end of the quarter that proved pivotal to the game. Iman Shumpert picked off a Deron Williams pass and fed Carmelo Anthony for an open dunk. Seconds later, the Knicks forced another turnover, J.R. Smith raced up the court and found Tim Hardaway Jr. in the corner for a buzzer-beating three. Knicks were up 29-20.
That ignited the spark. A 20-12 flurry in the second quarter (a 15-0 run spanning from the end of the first quarter through the first few minutes of the second) put the Knicks up double-digits, flirting with a 20-point lead. The offense was coming from all over, too. Pablo Prigioni and J.R. dished the ball to open men. Hardaway Jr. and Shumpert came off the bench and attacked, contributing a healthy dose of second-unit points, Tyson Chandler battled for second-chance points. And on top of it all, the Nets flatlined, simply bricking open jump shots (it wasn't the Knicks' D) and tossing careless passes into the Knicks' hands. By halftime, the Knicks had a commanding 63-38 lead.
And that's all it really took. It didn't matter that the Knicks' offense stagnated in the second half, or that they got sloppy with the ball. It didn't matter -- thankfully -- that the Nets started to get it together in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 14 at one point. When it got close, the Knicks effectively shut the door closed again, courtesy of a big 8-0 from a couple of treys from Pablo and J.R. and another tough runner from Smith. And when the fourth quarter rolled around, the Knicks kept rolling, too, pushing the lead up to 29 before Mike Woodson gave the bench bros some run. That didn't matter, either!
The Knicks cruised to an easy victory and as our friend Dishing and Swishing said: "8th place, yo".
Some individual notes:
- I think we all wanna talk about Shumpert, but first, give J.R. Smith his due credit. Though we've seen the wily, versatile April Smith fade out in the playoffs before, he's peaking when the Knicks need him to. J.R. splashed in a team-high 24 points on 9-16 shooting (6-12 from downtown), pulling down 8 boards and dishing out 6 assists in the process. Smith has, at times, legitimately been the Knicks' best passer this season, and tonight, he was pretty generous in passing out of the pick-and-roll, both to cutters and to shooters. And that says nothing of his timely buckets, either.
- Now on to our beloved Shump. His stat line won't blow anyone away: 24 minutes, 10 points, 4-6 FG, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 steals. Solid, but not mind-boggling. But his second quarter ballet was a pivotal part of the game. He hounded the Nets on defense, snaggling loose balls and careless passes to ignite some transition buckets. And on offense, he dove into the paint to finish several tough layups, including a dazzling shake-and-bake around Mirza Teletovic (thanks to Bronx Chica for the .gif). We've waited all year for Shumpert to put together this kind of consistent excellence, but let's see if he can close out the season on a nice little run.
BEE TEE DUBS - 0 assists for Deron Williams tonight. That's some Shumpness!
- It feels strange for Carmelo Anthony to be a third mention in a recap, but, really, he wasn't the star of the show in this one. Melo dropped a cool 23 points on 8-16 shooting, to go with 9 rebounds, and 3 assists -- quite a nice line. It felt like Anthony got a lot of his baskets on the kind of shots we don't love to see: deep, pull-up twos, mid-range face-ups, fade-aways along the baseline. It was still an efficient outing, though, for his 22nd double-double of the season.
- Stoudemire played a nice game (13 points on 6 shots, 6 rebounds), but his hands got a little sticky with the ball. You don't wanna complain about a 110-point, 60%-shooting night for the Knicks, but STAT missed a lot of open teammates by refusing to surrender the ball when he was doubled in post-ups or face-ups.
- Props to Timmy Junior for a solid outing -- 17 points, 7-10 shooting. Hit some big, momentous shots like a good boy.
- It deserves extra mentioning that the Knicks didn't defend well. Brooklyn was on the second night of a back-to-back, and frankly, just played flat for most of the game. When the Nets were able to assemble some sort of offense, they pretty much got whatever shots they wanted -- they just ended up missing most of them.
- Raymond Felton crashed HARD to the ground when he collided with Deron Williams on a rebound attempt in the third quarter. Like, the cameras picked up the SMACK! when he hit the ground. He was down for awhile, got picked up by his teammates, and was taken back to the locker room where it was declared he had a contused back and ribs. He returned later, though.
- Don't know if anyone else felt this way, but at one point Mike Breen cautioned about Andray Blatche's willingness to shoot three-pointers as if he were a smaller animal willing to attack a bigger animal. Like a python eating an alligator or a lion attacking a rhino. "Blatche will take those shots on occasion, y'know!"
So, yes, tonight was a great victory, and for now we can celebrate and rub ourselves in chocolate. The Knicks are in eighth place and face the Washington Wizards on Friday. But there's still work to be done!