Oh man. I can't really breathe right now and my hands and my face hurt, but let's try and recap what the hell just happened. So, the Knicks opened today's game against the Bulls with perhaps the best basketball we've ever seen from them or anybody ever. That may have actually been the best few minutes of team basketball in human history. New York just smothered the Bulls on defense, forcing turnovers and bad, late outside shots. Then they'd push in the other direction to get easy transition buckets, or reset and find Carmelo Anthony, who was cookin' soup right from the outset and drilled his first five shots. The Knicks dominated the first nine minutes of the game, leading by as much as 21 (twenty-one! XXI!) points.
I think we all knew that wouldn't last, though. The Bulls cut their deficit nearly in half through the final minutes of the first quarter, then kept chipping away with crisper play on both ends, that familiar dominance on the offensive glass, and a second half eruption from Derrick Rose. A tighter, more engaged Chicago defense snuffed New York's transition play and pushed them back to shooting and missing jumpers. The Bulls pulled ahead by the end of third and looked to have the game in hand when Rose's four point play and a jumper by Taj Gibson put them up 10 with 3:45 left in regulation.
But the fact that I'm even using the phrase "in regulation" tells you what happened next. J.R. Smith, miserable all game long, drilled a big three, then Melo finished consecutive drives to the basket to cut Chicago's lead to three. Meanwhile, a Knick defense led by Iman Shumpert and helped mightily by four missed free throws by Rose and Luol Deng for the final 3:44 of the game kept things close. With the lead cut to 3, Mike Woodson ran a beautiful play to get Steve Novak open behind the arc. Novak's game-tying three went like 94.6 percent through the rim, then popped out as if by sorcery, at which point I had a very small stroke. Rose missed his free throws, though, and the Knicks came the other way and got a bomb of a contested three-pointer by Melo to tie the game. Shump harangued Rose into an airball on the other end, and we got five more minutes of basketball.
In overtime, the Knicks fell behind again, but Shump stepped up his defense again after conceding consecutive Rose baskets, and after two misses and two incredible plays on the offensive glass by Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith, Melo rose up and did it again.
Like Joamiq said in the thread, Anthony's 43-point outing was a signature performance unlike anything we've seen since Game Two of the Celtics series, but he wasn't alone. New York needed some otherworldly individual performances to win this one and I'd put Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert right up there with Melo. I'm still borderline rabid and it'll take a few more posts to fully unpack today's events, but let's get into a little more detail after the jump.
- New York played a decent defensive game throughout, but those first nine or so minutes deserve separate celebration. Like, they ought to be clipped from the rest of the game and framed. I haven't seen the New York terrorize an opponent to that extent in years. They were pretty much playing offense on defense, because half of their scoring possessions in the early going started all the way in the backcourt.
- And the other half of those possessions went to Melo, who opened the game with sweet, effortless shooting, almost all of it off the catch. He also did a pretty nice job on Carlos Boozer, stripping him clean on a few moves near the basket. As the game progressed, Melo got more looks against Luol Deng (teams testing out the mismatch then eventually switching to their best wing defender is becoming a trend) and generated more of his offense off the dribble. As usual, that meant there was a lot of isolation and some stretches in which four Knicks loitered whilst Melo went one-on-two. It got ugly at times-- one baseline jumper cracked off the side of the backboard-- but Melo did enough to hit difficult shots, draw fouls, and force his way into the paint. He finished with 43 points on 31 shots and the Knicks needed every single one of them. What a wonderful, wonderful performance.
- I'll also add that Melo's two crucial shots were...well, ill-advised, but they weren't typical of the looks he got the rest of the time. Melo went iso a lot and put up some shots over multiple defenders, but also made plenty of effort to pass out of help defense and keep the ball moving when possible. But yeah, the headline quote wouldn't apply if Melo didn't hit some tough, ballsy shots that only a scorer of his caliber can hit.
- Tyson Chandler barely got a touch (well, let's call it a "hold") after the first quarter, but he still had a massive impact on the game. As was the case the last time the Knicks played the Bulls, Chicago dominated their offensive glass and got second chances on a full third of their misses. Part of that was Chandler's fault, either because he let somebody sneak past him or was just out of position after playing help defense, but Tyson compensated on the other end by ripping down 10-- TEN-- offensive rebounds by himself. And I don't know how exactly they keep count of these things, but I'm certain he was involved in at least a few more of New York's 16 team o-bounds. We're going to have to look back at those plays with some video. Chandler also blocked three shots inside and deterred countless others. I just...I don't know, Tyson. I don't really know how to show my appreciation at this point. Can I knit you something? I know you like scarves. I'll just never be able to make you as happy as you've made me.
- The third devastatingly brilliant individual performance came from Iman Shumpert. Shump's offense came and went-- he missed plenty of shots but hit a couple important jumpers and threw down a gem of a one-handed putback dunk. His defense on Rose, though, made me want to cry sometimes, in a good way. It was sublime. Rose had his moments-- a few open looks over screens and a run of absurd contested three-pointers in the second half, but spent most of the day thoroughly haunted by Shump's quick feet and long arms. Shump dealt with all kinds of punishment from Chicago screeners (and from Rose himself) but did as good a job as anybody ever has to stay in Rose's face and strip the ball when he exposed it (this seriously happened at least half a dozen times). We saw some really savvy moves on that end, too. On the very last play of the game, Shump was matched up with Rose but knew full well that he was about to get run through screens, so he called for a switch with Landry Fields to negate the first of those screens. He and Rose ended up colliding (probably could have been a foul either way, but not in the final seconds of an overtime game), then Rose ended up taking a forced shot over multiple defenders. Anyway, I love Iman Shumpert and, even as a youngster who still has a lot to learn, he is an absolute menace on defense. Some of Rose's poor play has to be attributed to rust, but especially down the stretch, Shump was personally responsible for quite a few empty Chicago possessions.
- So, the upshot is that Melo's big shots won the game, but they wouldn't have mattered without Chandler's rebounding and Shumpert's wing defense. Three heroes. Theeroes? Nah.
- The day brought yet another interesting turn for the interrelated opportunities given to Landry Fields and J.R. Smith. Fields started the game with a flurry of quick baskets on the move while Smith couldn't get anything to fall in his minutes. In the second half, with fewer transition looks available, Fields began to sputter, driving his way into a few turnovers and terrible shots. Smith reentered and continued to heave and brick long jumpers, then lingered on the court for most of the rest of the game. It's tough, because a few of those looks were genuinely terrible shots that never had any chance of going in. Then again, some of the misses were decent looks that just wouldn't fall, and Smith-- save for a foul or two and one breakdown that led to a Kyle Korver three-- put in some very nice work on defense. Woodson's preference for Smith gets aggravating at times, and I think the stretch in which Smith bricked roughly 80 consecutive fallaway threes counts as one of those times. Still, it often felt like the Knicks just weren't going to get good shots against Chicago's defense, so they might as well have had somebody out there capable of hitting a bad shot. I was as irritated as everybody else to see Smith stay on the floor after a couple timeouts, but I think he 1. Missed some good shots 2. Hit some bad ones and 3. Made meaningful contributions defensively and on the glass.
- Baron Davis and Toney Douglas combined for just 30 minutes (21 and 9, respectively), and neither had much to offer. Baron's hands played a part in a few of Chicago's turnover and Toney moved his feet nicely with the second unit, but neither guy produced much on offense (Davis did have four assists).
- After going with some ridiculously small lineups early (Douglas-Shumpert-Smith-Anthony-Novak, for one), Woodson went point guard-less for long stretches of the second half, probably because of what I said above. With neither Davis nor Douglas producing much, Woodson was content to let Shump bring the ball up, then go to Melo on the wing and let things radiate from there with mixed results. It's pretty crazy that New York managed to win while getting almostnothing from the point guard spot. And again, I think the fact that New York played some crucial stretches without a true point guard factored into Woodson's decision to leave Smith out there. For better or worse, Earl can create his own shot, and Fields really can't.
- Also pretty crazy that New York managed to win while getting out-rebounded, out-free throwed, and out-shot. Even with all that, they managed to attempt 13 more field goals than the Bulls did, probably because they turned the ball over just nine times to Chicago's 19. That's an impressive number for a turnover-prone team (though Chicago, even as an elite defensive group, forces relatively few turnovers).
- Steve Novak spent the entire afternoon either struggling to get open or rimming out decent looks. I can't stress enough that his three to tie the game in the final minute-- which came off a flawless inbound set-- was as in an in-and-out as I've ever seen. I swear the ball passed fully under the rim before jumping out of the basket.
- Jared Jeffries was perfectly Jared in just 11 minutes (too few, perhaps?) off the bench. He put in some fine defensive possessions (one sequence in which he harassed Gibson to the point that he just fell out of bounds stands out) and made two of five shots (including a driving layup)! Josh Harellson did not play.
So, I think that about covers the individual play of the nine Knicks who took the floor. We're far from done reviewing this game, though. For now, I'd recommend watching tthese on repeat until you've descended into a state of giddy delirium. It's good for you.