Oh man, that was a relief. Short-staffed on the second of a back-to-back, the Knicks had every excuse to whiff a fifth time and return from their road trip empty-handed. The old folks wouldn't let that happen. Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith led the Knicks in scoring, but the 35-and-over demographic really carried the night. While Kenyon Martin, Jason Kidd, and Pablo Prigioni each made important contributions, Kurt Thomas stood out as the undisputed totem spirit of the evening's effort. Silly as it was, the 40 year-old anchored and empowered his Knick nephews, just like Tomahawk Stomp commented in the thread.
Kurt's staunch, defiant presence typified the kind of effort New York needed to unearth the Jazz from their home floor. He played a season-high 27 minutes despite bone spurs in the ol' foot, shambling around for some jumpers and dozens of strong defensive possessions. One Utah big after another ran headlong into Kurt's immovable trunk, wilting against its mass on the occasions Kurt didn't fling himself to the floor. And that flopping had to happen, because this wasn't just a defensive stand but a mass trolling. Kurt spent every one of his minutes hurling verbal pitchforks-- and possibly a few actual pitchforks-- at the jeering Utah crowd, feeding off them for his energy. Like, really feeding off them. He ate the head of a child. I don't know where else Kurt Thomas could have gotten the fuel to jump for three blocked shots. The Knicks followed suit (well, besides the crowd-growling and child-eating, as far as I know), walling off backdoor passages and contesting inside shots with a hand up or a hard foul.
The Jazz made it a game the whole way, but, even at home, didn't execute or defend much like a team battling for the eighth seed in the West. They redeemed their 35 percent two-point shooting and 17 turnovers somewhat by hitting 9 of 19 threes and rebounding a substantial share of their own misses against small Knick lineups. The Jazz didn't get enough of that down the stretch, though, as a lineup of Felton, Jason Kidd, Smith, Steve Novak (or Kenyon Martin on a few offense-defense subs) and Thomas shepherded Utah into poor crunch time shots and hit their requisite free throws.
It is late and I am sleepy, but here are some quick additional notes:
- This didn't feel like a good J.R. Smith game. After some early drive-and-kick looks, J.R. got to chucking so very many off-balance shots and careering into the paint without any viable path to the rim. Those wild drives, though, kept drawing fouls. He hit 9 of 10 free throws-- all of them in the second half, yes?-- to score 18 second-half points.
- Raymond Felton, who managed to not get burned by all the open looks he gave Mo Williams, thoroughly outplayed his mark for the first time in what felt like a while. He hit most of his open jumpers over picks and-- even better-- turned the corner over pick-and-roll help on several occasions to drop in some exceptional floaters. My favorite of those-- a hiiiiigh banker off a stutter dribble-- started a flurry of big fourth-quarter plays, both scoring and passing out of picks. 'Twas a splendid night to be a penguin.
- Pablo Prigioni logged his first NBA start and managed the pick-and-roll best of any Knick point guard while racing around to plug holes on defense. He and Chris Copeland got the ol' preseason pick-and-cope working beautifully for a lovely stretch of the second quarter, but then the Jazz started clogging the middle and doubling Copeland in the post and everything kinda went to shit. Things seemed headed irretrievably downhill after Utah really frazzled Cope and went on an 8-0 first-half-ending run.
- Good work on the offensive glass, too, Pablo, and nice job fighting for a d-bounds yourself, Cope. I don't think they're reading this, but if you see them, you can tell them I said that.
- Kenyon Martin didn't play quite the minutes Kurt did, but defended capably as well and made himself nuisance around the offensive glass, particularly early in the game. I love the way he refuses to accept switches a lot of the time and practically shoves teammates out of the way to get back on his man. Kenyon has absolutely no regard for the rules of basketball yet succeeds on defense with remarkable frequency.
- Iman Shumpert's minutes (17) were surprisingly light. He hit two of his three threes and was lucky to have his calamitous fast-break handles overshadowed by...
- ...Steve Novak, who helped space the floor considerably (the Jazz stuck Derrick Favors on Novak for a while, which amounted to stranding their best shot-blocker 20 feet from the rim) but produced very little save for the most wonderful coast-to-coast play of all time. Novak picked a lazy Earl* Watson dribble and, for a second, seemed to have the room and the momentum to drive the length of the floor and maybe dunk. Once that second had expired and Steve had made about half an inch of forward progress, those hopes faded. He ended up spanking the ball down the floor at a deliberate pace, reaching the basket one fortnight later only to get wrapped up by Watson. Earl Watson denied us a Steve Novak dunk attempt, and for that he must suffer, though I guess by that logic gravity, inertia, and the Novak genealogy must suffer as well.
- *I typed "Emma" first, then "Mo". I need to go to bed.
- Jason Kidd did his Jason Kidd things: some disruption as a help defender, some production as an extra passer, and some eruction as a bench-sitter. Probably.
- Kidd reportedly bruised his hand somehow, but X-rays were negative, which is good. Negative is good.
- Marcus Camby played seven minutes and apparently recorded two steals and a block, but those must have all occurred while my eyes were at the cleaners.
- Clyde, who claimed to have been a "safety control" officer or something like that when he was a student, responded to Mike Breen's rehashing of the Deadspin Adrian Dantley story by announcing that he wanted to become a crossing guard in the summertime. Breen quickly upbraided Clyde for neglecting to realize that there's no school in the summer (Clyde: "Summer school"!), and thus very little need for crossing guards. So, Clyde either needs to find a school district with an extremely popular summer school program such that crosswalks need to be guarded on weekdays or he needs to become a traffic cop.
Well played, Knicks. Way to fish a win out of the dregs of that grim road trip. Way to play sounder, hungrier basketball than an opponent that ostensibly had something at stake, and way to hold onto that top spot in the Atlantic Division for the time being. Praise be to Kurt Thomas and the rest of the uncles.