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Knicks 97, 76ers 92: "I'm scared of us."

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Is anybody else reminded of early December? (And why isn't it "remound"?) I need to go back into the archives to jog my memory, but didn't the Knicks build their eight-game win streak by playing teams way too close for comfort, then winning anyway? This seems oddly familiar, but maybe it's just me. In any event, tonight was about as bipolar an example of that phenomenon as I can remember. New York had to weather some runs, but they dominated for a while, building their lead in each of the first three quarters. The Knicks defended decently and without fouling and caught splendid looks off spiffy ball movement and second efforts. Then Chinua Achebe struck.

Seriously, what a collapse! The Knicks had been sharing the rock like the best of bros in the early going, then they just went into a trance. Chauncey Billups succumbed to a frightening thigh injury (other thigh, more on that after the jump) with 4:39 left in the third and the Knicks up 15. From that point forward, and particularly in the fourth quarter, the Knicks' familiar late-game malaise took over. Toney Douglas and Anthony Carter struggled to navigate Philadelphia's pressing defense, the stars' hands sprouted Velcro, and all variety of bad bounces triggered an avalanche of Sixer fast breaks. Thaddeus Young and his fifteen-point fourth would have been the Philly hero if Toney Douglas and Carmelo Anthony didn't step up with some ruthless shots in the final minutes. (You know, now that I think about, the streak feels like early December, but THIS win felt like that Melo rescue in Memphis).

So yeah, it got real. The Knicks have made a habit of building something beautiful, then demolishing it in a matter of minutes. At least lately they've been able to scrap together wins out of the rubble. We'll take it, though, right? This five game win streak's been scary; I'm as bent out of shape about these limping stars and late-game collapses as stingy d was in the game thread (and our headline). Five straight is five straight, though, and we're now looking at a sixth-seeded team (for the time being) with four chances to finish .500 for the first time in ten years. That's a pretty okay place to be, even if the path to get there took a few jogs.

Take the jump for more!

- I'd like to start with the end, mainly to get it out of the way. I'm not that worked up about the defensive struggles. Some of those transition buckets resulted from strange bounces, Thaddeus Young is a tough cover when aggressive, (although sticking Derrick Brown on him proved to be cuter than it was wise), and the law of averages dictated that Philly was going to hit some threes eventually. (My own jinxing didn't hurt.) The killer, as in a number of earlier games, was the stagnant offense. Part of the problem stemmed from feisty backcourt pressure by Doug Collins's Sixers. The Knick guards struggled to advance the ball promptly, which often left them to set up deep in the shot clock. This "Seven Seconds or More" offense called for crisp, decisive basketball, and the Knicks didn't look up to the task. That sickeningly familiar paradox of "Carmelo won't pass the ball!" vs. "Nobody wants the ball!" set in. Melo dribbled and dribbled, nobody really got open, and each possession ended "Catch Phrase"-style, with someone having to look like a fool with the ball as 24 seconds expired. Again, we'll rightfully chide Melo and Toney Douglas for not creating, but there weren't many avenues for creation. With Billups out and Amar'e hobbling a bit (see the next note), there weren't many Knicks who felt comfortable making the plays down the stretch. (Incidentally, something tells me that Bill Walker would have been perfectly willing, if not entirely dependable, to attempt some clutch shots. He sat the final seven minutes). The Sixers are a good defensive team, and they dialed up the pressure when they smelled fear among the Knick ranks. Ultimately, Toney Douglas hit a rather scrotal three-pointer and quartet of free throws, and Carmelo Anthony buried a a bayonet of a three-pointer (2:12) to escape Philadelphia with a win. All clutch shots, all feats of individual fortitude.

- The injuries: Billups suffered a mirror image of his injury a few weeks ago, this time mashing his right (other) thigh into Elton Brand's bony-ass knee (which is different from a bony ass-knee). He tried to give it a go, but ended up missing the game's final quarter and a half. Amar'e Stoudemire, meanwhile, turned his ankle something fierce during a futile chase-down of a Thaddeus Young fast break. The word on those two, from Howard Beck:

Neither injury is considered serious, but Stoudemire and Billups expressed some doubt about playing Friday against the Nets.

...

Afterward, Billups said the thigh was sore but that the injury was not nearly as severe as the left-thigh bruise that knocked him out for six games last month. It took him nearly a month to completely recover.

"I’ll be all right," he said. "It’s not like the last one."

So, that's good. We'll see how everybody feels tomorrow and on Friday evening.

- Stoudemire shot just 7-19. To me, it didn't seem like anything was afoot; just one of those nights. He did throw 7 assists, though, often creating from the elbow for folks around the arc. Three big kid blocks, too. Not a bad game.

- Billups was very quiet (1-7, 3 points, 5 rebounds, no assists) in his abbreviated stint.

- Melo's fourth quarter was eleven and a half minutes (more like half of that. Athony Mason's Haircut-- yes, Athony-- reminds us that Melo actually sat the first few minutes of the fourth with foul trouble. Things weren't good then, either. Error on my part, though.) of ineffectiveness followed by that game-clinching J. His first three quarters were pretty uniformly excellent. He shot the ball like a goddamn assassin, highlighting a 5-8 downtown performance with a 15-point third quarter that included a dazzling barrage from the right elbow. That success seduced him into a few bad attempts (some of which he made), but we're mostly talking about pure, in-rhythm jumpers with set feet, full follow-through, and a smile. That he did all of this (as well as some divine finishes off the dribble) against the defensively apt (albeit slightly injured) Andre Iguodala makes it that much more impressive. Oh and, Melo stuck to his guns on the glass, noisily snaggling rebounds. In traffic, too. Not these uncontested bunnies that Stoudemire likes to lap up (sorry to pick on you, Amar'e). Great game. Shit got weird for most of the fourth quarter, but great game nonetheless. Oh, and big shot. Big, big shot.

- Toney Douglas shot a bunch, and shot better from downtown (3-8) than he did from...uptown? (2-6). His passing wasn't quite as sharp as in the Toronto game (due in large part to much tougher defense), but again...big, big shots. Besides his seven points in the final two minutes (!), Toney sank a huuuuuge three to put the Knicks back up 9 mid-way through the quarter. At the time, the seemed like it might've broken the Philly momentum. Not so much, but that was an important, unsung play nonetheless.

- Once again, Landry Fields didn't do much wrong, (It seemed like he lost Jodie Meeks a few times, but Meeks did shoot 2-11 and 0-8 from downtown. Kind of justifies the losing. Fields did make a few nice close-outs, too. This parenthetical interjection is going on far too long, especially for the middle of a sentence. Do you even remember what we were talking about? I definitely do not.) but he also didn't produce that much. 6 points in 25 minutes isn't much. Then again, I'll happily take it over Jodie's 9 points on 11 shots in 35 minutes.

- Bill Walker, y'all! Couple o' rousing-ass plays for the Bully: One aerial rebuff of Spencer Hawes (who I really want to call Har-dee-Hawes for no reason), and one sneakynasty putback dunk over Iguodala (both of which can be seen here). Bill also grabbed six boards and scored a really nice hanging shot inside despite some serious (uncalled) contact. The man's got body control oozing out of every orifice. What?

- Rotational hijinks: Shelden Williams started on Elton Brand, but couldn't really deter him and sat the latter three quarters. Ronny Turiaf started the second half on Brand after not playing in the first. Derrick Brown got to spin for 9 and a half minutes, slipped some more screens, grabbed an o-bound, blocked a shot, and looked better defensively on the interior than he did tailing Young.

- Great first quarter for Shawne Williams. The Poopsmith converted all 8 of his points from the corners!

- First of all, Jared Jeffries put in some very solid defensive possessions. Most of all, he made some wonderfully accidental plays. On one sequence, Melo threw Jared an interior pass as he cut to the rim, only he was cutting while completely oblivious to his involvement in a competitive sporting event. The ball caught the rather started Jeffries in the arm, then glanced toward Shawne Williams on the opposite baseline. Shawne pooped, and Jared was not credited with an assist. Later on, Jeffries allowed an offensive rebound to squirt out of his hands (a hobby of his), only to have it bounce its way back so he could deposit it in the rim.  

- Some good defensive trends in the early going included not getting into the penalty in the first quarter and generally deterring easy shots by anybody but Brand, for whom pretty much everything is an easy shot. Man, does he kill the Knicks.

- Anthony Carter seems to relish opportunities to guard bigger guys. I relish Anthony Carter's relishing. We both relish relish.

- Just six team turnovers, even though it seemed like there were dozens in the fourth quarter. Commendable.

- Carmelo grabbed Roger Hinds's hand to pull himself off the bench at one point. I giggled.

- Doug Collins says "fuck" a lot. Then again, the Sixers gave him a lot of reasons to say "fuck".

- Do the Sixers have the weirdest teeth in the NBA? Some gnarly choppers in that bunch.

- MSG opened the fourth quarter with a shot of a little kid, his lips dyed indigo from some bygone sweets, screaming and gesticulating at somebody off-camera. Mike Breen: "Handsome little fella!". Breen also misspoke on a couple important calls in this one. We'll give him the benefit of the doubt, as Philly's broadcast booth is like way up high.

Again, like stingy said, tonight was far scarier than it had to be, with the blown lead, narrow escape, and scenes of Knick leaders writhing in pain. However, the Knicks departed Philadelphia (by plane, hilariously enough) with a fifth-straight win, a sixth seed, and hopefully no long-lasting injuries. Good stuff. Good night.