Okay. I got distracted by the Raymond Felton injury news, then got so overwhelmed that I needed to take a shower, but here I am to recap the wild game that just took place. The build-up to J.R. Smith's heroic finish wasn't anything particularly special or unfamiliar: The Knicks and Suns agreed to play pretty much zero defense to start the game. A motley bunch of Knicks kept pace with the hot-shooting Suns through the first quarter, then bolted ahead by double-digits in the second by defending the interior better and forcing turnovers (the Suns scored just 15 in the second), then sprinting for an uncharacteristic bunch of buckets in transition.
What followed in the second half surprised nobody. Before the Knicks could run away with the game, the Suns grabbed them by the ankles and pantsed them. Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley torched the screen-ducking Knick guards to key the grossest 17-4 run ever toward the end of the third, actually pushing Phoenix ahead momentarily before the Knicks tied it. Kidd's marvelous point guarding built the Knicks a small lead in the fourth, but that came crashing down when Phoenix ran off a 7-0 run within the final two minutes. New York got the ball back down 2 with over 30 seconds remaining, botched the opportunity for a two-for-one by letting the clock wind down to ten seconds before they called a timeout. Solid Phoenix defense wrecked Mike Woodson's set out of the timeout, but the Knicks thankfully employ a man who feels right at home in a busted possession. J.R. drained a difficult, fading jumper over P.J. Tucker to tie the game, then after Sebastian Telfair botched Phoenix's game-winning possession by stepping on the sideline, J.R. struck again. Here are his last two shots, arranged chronologically and by ascending lateral cant:
The first shot was tough, but we've all seen J.R. sink turning fade-aways before. The winner was something else entirely. First, let us applaud Kidd for serving Smith with a perfectly placed pass that-- even after Smith slipped momentarily while cutting-- arrived right on time and past J.R. in such a way that he had few degrees left to turn. Smith caught the ball facing the sideline, propelled himself upward, outward, backward, and clockwise, then hung in mid-air just long enough to calibrate a clean look at the rim. Tucker may have even touched Smith's elbow, just to add another layer of difficulty. From pass to splash, that's about as much remarkable athleticism as you can pack into a split second.
And it fits that the fine work of Kidd and J.R. sealed New York's victory. Those two took turns playing both creator and finisher on a night when the absences of Raymond Felton and Carmelo Anthony left those roles up for grabs. Kidd threw all ilk of pinpoint feeds-- some homing in from the perimeter, some kicking out off the dribble-- and snapped out of a recent slump to bury five of eight three-point attempts, several of them on the move and early in the clock. J.R. missed a whole slew of ugly shots, but also hit a whole slew of ugly shots and did every other basketball thing imaginable. He (and Kidd) battled relentlessly around the defensive glass, turned five steals into transition buckets, hit Tyson Chandler with some outstanding feeds in the side pick-and-roll, played several of New York's few useful one-on-one defensive possessions, and even knocked Goran Dragic out of the game with an undercutting flagrant foul. That's hitting for the NBA cycle, I think. Injuring a Slovenian is the last thing, no? (Jokes. I hope Dragic, who was pretty banged up after the play, is alright). J.R. worked his ass off and-- this is key-- seemed to channel the frustration from any errors he made into increasingly dogged defense and ever-sharpening focus.
Anyway, Kidd and Smith played like superstars in this one and they both deserve all the hugs and free lasagnas headed their way tonight. Some notes on the rest of the odd, short-handed Knick conglomerate:
- Tyson Chandler had himself a nice bounce-back game following the rough afternoon in Los Angeles. He opened the evening with an astounding array of makes outside the immediate vicinity of the rim-- first a whirling ten-footer, then a Kurt Thomas special from the intermediate baseline, then a turning righty hook from a few feet out. I thought we might get to see Tyson The Offensive Juggernaut all game long, but he reverted to Tyson The Restricted Area Juggernaut after the first quarter. Even then, Tyson crammed a few dunks, finished and drew some fouls on the roll, got his hands on a couple o-bounds, and, on defense, did a terrific job helping without leaving Marcin Gortat wide open beneath the rim. He also had that extremely satisfying block of a Gortat last-second three-point attempt, but I didn't hear whether or not that counted. The shot clock buzzer sounded right as it went down, depriving of us of a James White transition dunk the other way.
- White played just 18 minutes and, save for a nice baseline dunk off the signature hurried Kidd dish to a backdoor cut, didn't do much in his first start as a Knick.
- Ronnie Brewer finished one nice lefty coast-to-coast lay-in but otherwise did mostly bad things. Kurt Thomas banked in a long two and drained a pick-and-roll J from Kidd in the first quarter. Neither really did anything at all after the first quarter.
- Chris Copeland has now hit 63 percent of his field goals and 62 percent of his three-pointers in the month of December. His 6-12 shooting tonight actually hurt those numbers. As usual, he microwaved a bunch of lovely jumpers off the catch, struggling only when he hesitated or passed up good looks. Most of Cope's work came in the second quarter, but he drilled a huge jumper to cut Phoenix's run in the third, then added a big recovery block and a bigger weak-side jumper out of a cool set and a tremendous cross-court feed from Kidd. Lots of neat-o action in 4-5 pick-and-rolls with Chandler (and maybe Camby) as well.
- Pablo Prigioni had his moments, but this was not the most encouraging performance as Pablo approaches a spike in minutes. As usual, Pablo eschewed his own attempts (he did hit a three over a pick and, according to the box score, another shot that I do not recall) for pick-and-roll feeds, but mixed some excellent ones shuffle passes in with a few forced, ill-fated lobs and precarious bounce passes.
- How about nine rebounds (four offensive, though a lot of those came on one possession, which also explains the 2-7 shooting line) in 13 minutes for Marcus Camby? Spanked a Telfair layup attempt out of bounds, too. That's exactly what we had in mind, Marcus.
- I sometimes feel like Steve Novak's defense was put on Earth to make me appreciate Amar'e Stoudemire's modest contributions on that end once he returns. Novak isn't a physically unqualified defensive player but, like Amar'e(!), he chooses to help-- ball-chase, really-- in the most desultory fashion at the most inopportune moments. Steve's worse than Amar'e in that regard, really. He's quite bad. At least he hit his three.
- Before I got preoccupied with the fracture in his pinky, I was fascinated by Raymond Felton's gray suit/eggplant shirt combo with no tie and zipper lapels on the jacket. I concluded that Raymond plays through injury so often because he's got some weird-ass street clothes.
- I'll just say it: Ruining Jared Dudley's career night made the win that much tastier. I didn't fully know this about myself before tonight, but I really loathe Jared Dudley.
- This was the moment at which I became convinced J.R. would take us home.
That's all I've got. The Knicks, for the most part, keep finding ways to thrive against the odds. The Suns aren't good, but they've played well at home and taken down some very good teams. Not a bad win at all. To echo what BJabs said after the game: Thanks, J.R. Thanks to Jason and the rest of 'em, as well. Cool effort.
Sacramento on Friday, then it's time to rest. More on Felton's finger and Melo's hyper-extended knee (please please please be just that) as updates arrive. <3