All you've got to do to win an NBA game is score more points than the other team does, and that's about all the Knicks did against the Kevin Love-less Timberwolves tonight. Granted, there were some fine individual performances-- J.R. Smith played terrific offense, Tyson Chandler defended everyone in the fourth quarter, and Carmelo Anthony dominated the final minutes-- but the Knicks won behind some bad, bad basketball, like statnmelo said in the thread. New York's perimeter defense-- even during a fourth-quarter comeback-- was as terrible as it's ever been and they played some of their sloppiest, most listless offense yet. These are trends. The Knicks, shorthanded though they may be, haven't played a great defensive game in weeks as their offense has gotten ever colder and stiller.
That said, the Knicks did win somehow. They desperately needed a W to end their six-game home stand with a positive record and hit the road on a high note, and they found a way to snatch one. What changed from the meek, defenseless first half that left them down nine? Well, offensively, New York shot a bit better and got to the line a whole lot more after the break. Melo, cold through most of the middle two quarters, took it upon himself to drive more out of isolation. While that approach led to a few unsightly shots and turnovers, it also bought Melo a heap of difficult baskets and some trips to the line. New York as a team benefited from some increased aggression-- Felton and Smith driving, Chandler drawing contact at the rim-- but most of the offensive uptick could be attributed to Melo willing points onto the board.
Defensively, I guess the Knicks did rotate better in the second half. They must have. Early on, all we saw was a parade of Minnesota guards dusting New York's perimeter defenders to either reach the rim or attract Chandler and create open looks for others. Nikola Pekovic got plenty of easy finishes and trips to the line while the shootin' Wolves-- Alexey Shved in particular-- nailed weak side threes without a Knick in sight. In the second half, they didn't. New York rotated a bit better and Chandler covered an absurd amount of ground, but for the most part, a poor-shooting Wolves team just reverted to shooting poorly. Whatever the reason, the Wolves shot 16-44 in the second half with just a single made three and registered just 36 points after dropping 55 before the break.
The Knicks nibbled away a double-digit deficit in the third, then strode ahead in the fourth behind Melo's brutish scoring. Aside from one huge three off a Smith kick-out, Melo got all his buckets and drawn fouls with some marvelous footwork off the dribble. He ended up producing 19 of New York's 23 fourth quarter points, missing just one of the many clutch free throws he attempted along the way. I didn't love the way Melo got his shots up, but I can't argue with the result.
It's funny looking back, because I was sure the Knicks had lost their composure again and blown this one a couple times in the fourth. New York picked up two technicals in that quarter-- one on J.R., one on Coach Woodson-- during a stretch in which they (rightfully, to some extent) bristled at the lack of calls going their way. Immediately after Woodson's technical put the Wolves up four, Minnesota squandered what should have been a debilitating possession, launching no fewer than three shots and eating a full minute of clock, yet somehow generating zero points. The Knicks quickly responded with a Melo three, then a strip of Pekovic, then a Melo and-one to go up two (Whoopi Goldberg liked it). After that, it was Minnesota's turn to get shafted on a few calls and lose their composure. The Wolves got plenty of opportunities to even things down the stretch thanks to some poor Knick box-outs and one bizarre turnover, but exploited only the latter opportunity. That turnover-- an instance in which J.R. got trapped in the corner and appeared to willfully surrender the ball to Shved, who immediately hit a three-- cut New York's lead to just one, but Melo hit some free throws, Shved whiffed the game-tying attempt, and New York survived their own malaise and misfortune. It was the second straight hideous game full of awful calls in both directions, only this time the Knicks came out on top. We'll take it.
Just a few more individual notes for guys I didn't mention:
- Well, I did mention him a lot before, but Tyson Chandler played a pretty important game. Pekovic kinda kicked his ass on a bunch of possessions (and I'm not talking about instances in which Chandler helped. Pek just took him on some plays), but by the second half, Chandler was doing everything in his power to stop every Wolf on the floor. He'd help to deter drivers, then recover in a jiffy to bother Pekovic as well (as much as one can bother that guy without getting shanked) and fight for the rebound. Meanwhile, Minnesota mostly cut off Chandler's looks on the roll, but he did draw some fouls and tip a few touch passes (hadn't really seen those before in non-rebound scenarios) out of traffic. Pekovic clearly won the individual battle, but Chandler's team asked a whole lot more of him, and Tyson mostly came through.
- Pretty wild that Melo scored 19 in the fourth after missing ten straight over one stretch. Props to that guy for persistently attacking the rim when his jumpers wouldn't fall.
- Ronnie Brewer's inability to hit open shots is killing the first unit. Jason Kidd's similar inability is also a problem (and J.R. replaced Kidd, not Brewer, in the first quarter), but Kidd at least creates more with his passing and plays better help defense. No matter who Smith replaces, it continues to feel like the Knicks can't find any groove until that first substitution. The Knicks struggle when they aren't punishing teams for doubling Melo, and Brewer, Kidd, and Felton definitely aren't punishing anybody of late.
- Felton finished with an okay shooting line (7-15, 15 points) and actually had two nice driving 'n' creating stretches in the second half, but missed another slew of ill-advised pull-ups and coughed the ball up four times. I'd say he was second to J.R. among New York's perimeter defenders in that he successfully defended maybe one or two possessions, but this was not a good game.
- J.R., though. I'm really happy that last brainfart of a turnover didn't lose the Knicks the game and undo all the good work this man had done. Smith filled both Felton's and Kidd's shoes on a night when neither made much offensive impact. He drove diagonally to draw help and kick AND made some terrific extra passes from the perimeter, finishing with seven assists in total including that last cross-court dish to the huge Melo three. Smith cooled off a bit after a hot start, but not before he'd put one DOWN in and around Greg Stiemsma's mouth:
That right there was retribution for Stiemsma swatting J.R. just a little while earlier.
- Pablo Prigioni point guarded better than Felton did and hit a three, but somehow defended even worse than the rest of the guards. Ricky Rubio took particular delight in torching his old rival (they met in Olympic play, and I assume they faced off in Spain at some point) off the dribble.
- Prigioni does not get the Revolving Door Badge for worst defense, though. That goes to Steve Novak. Novak spent the evening guarding Shved and Dante Cunningham (neither of whom is a good match-up for Novak, but then, who is?) and did not contest a single one of their shots because he was too busy ball-chasing and doubling at inopportune moments. When he does that and hits his threes, it can be a wash. When he does that and shoots 1-3, stepping on the line for his only make, it's not good. For what it's worth, he might still be a bit sick. (If that's the case, though...Chris Copeland? He's a guy who is shooting the lights out this month and defends better than Novak does. Just saying.)
- God, what I would do to meld Brewer and Novak into, like, Ronnieve Brewvak.
- Kurt Thomas hit both his jumpers in ten minutes. Got his two fouls, too.
- Clyde, translated: "Shred"/"Chevre" = "Shved". "Petrovic" = "Pekovic". "Barayer" = "Barea". I think that covers it.
- Clyde on "Barayer": "They list him as six-foot. That's on a ladder".
And that's all. They survived. Most of the game sucked to watch and even the comeback was pretty ugly, but that's a big, much-needed victory nonetheless. Mike Woodson insisted that the Knicks get their twentieth win before leaving for the road trip, and they found a way to do that in spite of themselves. It was a pretty yucky, inconsistent home stand, but with that considered, a 4-2 stretch and a 20-7 record overall are pretty fantastic outcomes. To Los Angeles we go.