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Game Four- Knicks 89, Heat 87: MILPCAT ENGAGED

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There I was stomping around my apartment like a fool, screaming, and pounding on the walls when my girlfriend was like "wait, I thought you just wanted them to lose and get it over with?", and yeah, a couple days ago, after a third consecutive depressing game in this series, I probably said that. Now, though...FUCK ALL THAT. The Knicks winning a playoff game for the first time since I had braces and little to no body hair felt GREAT. It was hideously ugly for a while and it'll almost definitely amount to nothing, but I dooooo nooooot caaaaaareeeee.

The Knicks won, the season will continue, and the MILPCAT is in motion. Let us recap some things then get into some individual notes.

- Okay, here's your quick recap of what went down if you missed it: I don't remember. Oh, wait. Okay. The game began with both teams shooting pretty poorly. Carmelo Anthony started cold. The Knicks, however, attempted a few free throws while the Heat attempted none. That trend launched off the tracks (the trend was a train, you see) in the second quarter, when Miami attempted nineteen(!) free throws. That, combined with a dismal stretch at the beginning of the period in which the Knicks had their bench on the floor and the Heat had both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade out there, had things headed in a familiar direction. New York went the first four or five minutes of the second without a field goal and flopped into halftime down six. At that point, Carmelo Anthony was on and off, Amar'e Stoudemire was in foul trouble after a solid start, and Tyson Chandler was making some very uncharacteristic poor decisions. Things didn't look good.

Something useful was done or said during halftime. New York came out of the break playing better defense than we've seen them play all series-- and this is the first unit (with J.R. Smith instead of Landry Fields) I'm talking about-- to go on a 19-2 run. They got in transition, they got both of their scorers the ball, and they just had an energy and excitement about them befitting an elimination game. Would've liked to see that sooner, but anyway...

That big third quarter, though it wound down with Baron Davis hurting himself (more on that later) and James drilling a three, ended with New York up by three. They went into the fourth with that edge (that's how basketball games work), and neither team led by more than four after that. Both squads got to attacking the basket and hitting the occasional big jumper, punching and counter-punching right through an absurd, fever-inducing final two minutes. First, Mike Bibby broke a tie with a massive corner three. James then responded with a pull-up three of his own. Then Melo came the other way and matched LeBron's shot (presumably avoiding the "H") with a silly pull-up three of his own. Up three, the Knicks forced a backcourt violation then sent Melo to the line after Shane Battier fouled him (not really) on a three-point attempt. Melo, though, hit just one of three free throws, and James raced the other way to drop an impossible and-one runner off the glass. Now up one with less than a shot clock remaining, the Knicks zipped the ball up the floor to Stoudemire, who drew the intentional foul, but hit just one of his free throws. At that point, I began filling my chalice with hemlock, knowing full well that the Knicks were about to lose the series and end the season with a defensive breakdown that would haunt me for the rest of my life if I didn't just preemptively take said life. Only...the Heat ran a pretty dogshit set, Amar'e and Landry Fields switched back and forth seamlessly on Wade, and Wade's jumper caught front rim and soared toward the heavens. Now we're headed back to Miami for more basketball.

- Whew. We'll begin the individual recaps with Baron Davis, who ended a pretty uneventful game of basketball with a really grisly, upsetting event. Baron was running full speed on a fast break, took a misstep (FUCK missteps), and just blew out his knee. The joint bent inward, and by the time he hit the ground, there was a sickening indentation where his kneecap used to be. His patella is dislocated, his series, season, and (I really hope not, but possibly) career are over. So, this one was for you, Baron. And for you, Shump. And for you, Jeremy.

- And for you, MCA. And for you, Fuzzy Levane.

- A 41-point, 6-rebound, 4-assist, 1-turnover, 15-29 from the field, 10-14 from the line performance was precisely the kind of outing Carmelo needed to provide for the Knicks to win this game and for people to get off his back for a second. Early on, we saw more of the same missed jumpers from typically knockdown spots, but as time went on, the man got aggressive and it was the best. According to this tweet, 18 of Anthony's 29 attempts came in the paint and 14 of those were at the rim. That's great, and it doesn't even account for his 14 free throw attempts. He broke quickly up the floor for a lot of easy baskets and, even in halfcourt sets, stopped settling for jumpers all the time (ya know, except for those jumpers) after his first few rimmed out. And that wasn't just against Battier, either. Melo took it at Wade and James as well, which was a marked departure from the more perimeter-oriented (sissy) approach he'd been taking against those two earlier in the series. Dude threw some scintillating one-handed passes, too. My scins were thoroughly tillated. Oh, and Melo's three at the end made me do a headstand, which is not something I can do.

- Let me just pause here to mention that, even as a dullard with an untrained eye for basketball play-calling, I noticed some more creative sets to get Melo the ball in this one. Mike Woodson ran him across the lane, up from the baseline, and over multiple picks (three of 'em on consecutive possessions, it appeared) to get the ball. Even if it still ends in an iso, stirring the defense a bit before setting Melo up leads to good things. It increases the likelihood that somebody else can shake open and it opens pockets for cuts and offensive rebounds. Good stuff, though it obviously helps that Melo hit most of his shots this time around. I'm sure there'll be more, smarter stuff to read on that in the coming days.

- I was hoping very hard that Amar'e Stoudemire could redeem himself a bit for the fire extinguisher nonsense with a sharp performance in this one, and I'd say he took some big strides in that direction. That heavily padded hand seemed to hinder him a few times-- we saw a couple dropped balls and iffy shot attempts-- but it didn't stop him from playing an uncharacteristically defensive and rebound-hungry game. And yo, even with one hand, I'm positive the big friend drew more and-ones at the basket than he had in any other game this season. He slipped screens and cut to the rim splendidly, riding that right hand to wonderful interior finishes. As someone (probably our friend @netw3rk) said on Twitter, a silver lining to that hand injury is that it prevented Amar'e from trying any funny shit off the dribble. He let his legs do the work and got pretty much everything immediately off the catch or off just one or two bounces. And, as I said, his effort on both backboards and man defense (and even some terrific help plays down the stretch) were much better than usual.

- So, this is weird, but Tyson Chandler had a pretty bad night. The Heat stayed small and made him guard Chris Bosh for a while, which was tough. Aside from some flashes of wonderful help defense, Chandler didn't give the Knicks much. He didn't do his usual good deeds on the offensive glass, didn't get his (very few) finishes to drop, and fouled out. One of those six fouls came Tyson got grouchy and drew an egregious foul on Bosh, followed by a technical for trying to slap the ball out of his hands post-whistle.

- Landry Fields did his familiar "play really aggressively in the first half, then disappear in the second" thing. Obviously, that's easier to do when you get benched to begin the second (which he did). He made some sexy passes off the dribble, though, and put in some great defensive work in crucial possessions.

- Mike Bibby has a nice, comfortable role in this series because Mario Chalmers doesn't make him run around too much on defense (Mario was even kind enough to finally miss his jumpers in this one), and all he has to do on offense is throw some stationary entry passes and hit open threes. In his early minutes off the bench, Bibby didn't do much of the latter, but after Baron went down, he hit two gigantic ones off the catch. One was toward the end of the third to put the Knicks up four, and the second was that momentous tie-breaker down the stretch. I know this would gross both of us out, Mike, but I'd kind of like to kiss you right on top of your slimy-ass scalp.

- Slimy-ass scalp, not slimy ass-scalp.

- J.R. Smith shot 3-15, and I'm pretty sure two of those makes were on impossible fall-away shots. He couldn't get any of his drives, step-backs, or catch-and-shoot jumpers (including two in crunch time that we'd all be pretty upset about if the Knicks lost) to fall. All that said, I don't think I would have denied Smith any of those takes. He, as much as any player ever, is never truly "on" or "off". He's just Earl. And I'll add that, even with a couple bad fouls and a few lapses off the ball, Smith played mostly decent defense on Wade (and sometimes James).

- Jared Jeffries played just four minutes. Josh Harrellson played just ten and spent most of that time fouling people, but he did sink a wonderful driving, contested layup right when Jeff Van Gundy was bemoaning the Knicks' inability to get anything off the dribble.

- Steve Novak still couldn't get open, but he did drill one big corner three at the beginning of the fourth.

There's more to say about this one, and I should have more words and links tomorrow. In the meantime, today was wonderful. I'll fully admit to sitting down for the game ready for the season to just get over with and go away, but I underrated how good it would feel for the Knicks to get their first playoff win since the days when I unabashedly wore zip-off pant-shorts. It felt THE BEST, and even if the win goes on to mean nothing, it will have made a huge difference for my psyche. Of course, we know full well that the win won't go on to mean nothing. Today was just day one of the Most Improbable Legendary Playoff Comeback of All Time. MILPCAT MILPCAT MILPCAT MILPCAT MILPCAT MILPCAT