Yeah, I'm with Russ. The Knicks gave us 24 minutes of unmitigated bliss followed by 23 or so minutes of mounting terror. I preferred the former. Thankfully, the magic of the first half provided the Knicks enough cushion to withstand their crash after the break.
Oh, that first half. There was as much joy packed into those opening quarters as anything we enjoyed in the Knicks' big wins over Miami and San Antonio earlier this season. The Grizzlies looked hungover, and that may have been precisely the case, but the Knicks were somewhere else entirely. They couldn't miss if they tried, and they did try. Like, Steve Novak launching a step-back 24-footer off a bootleg crossover dribble is testing the rim for sure, yet that preposterous three dropped right along with the rest of 'em. The Knicks shuttled the ball about the floor with confidence and ease, stringing quick passes around the perimeter, then punching holes to feed open looks and driving lanes off the ball. Early on, the terrific movement and spacing set Iman Shumpert up for a series of open three-point makes (which is a thing he keeps doing), widened paths for J.R. Smith drives (ditto), and gave Carmelo Anthony clearance to stomp in the post. A twelve-point lead at the end of the first felt great, if a little tenuous. Double-digit leads built on 70 percent shooting and blown layups by the opponent are like that. It wasn't time for the collapse yet, though. The Knicks kept piling on buckets, adding Steve Novak's net-splashin stylez to the attack while Memphis switched from botching layups to tossing passes into the stands.
Things waited until the second half to go predictably Chinua Achebe (RIP) The Grizzlies remembered that there was a basketball game and began to 1: Not just grant wide-ass open shots to any Knick who asked. 2. Exploit the fact that New York's defensive strategy was to bum-rush Marc Gasol every time he caught the ball and pray none of the folks they left open were paying attention. Shots stopped falling and Gasol-- while fending off swarms of tiny Knicks gnawing his ankles-- found his friends alone behind the arc or sneaking free through a backdoor lane on one possession after another. Those open looks, combined with so, so many fouls, brought the Grizzlies back. Like, SO many fouls-- 15 free throws' worth in the third quarter alone. A few minutes in the third, Marcus Camby replaced Kenyon Martin (because of foul trouble), tipped the Knicks into the penalty with a couple quick fouls of his own, then huffed and puffed at the refs until they ejected him. Thanks, Marcus! From that point forward, pretty much every bump, brush, or impure thought drew a whistle, and the Grizzlies halved the difference over like five minutes of game time that took roughly 19 hours in real life.
The Knicks-- Chris Copeland, as a matter of fact-- pushed the lead back to 20 for a moment, but the Grizzlies cut that to 16 at the end of the quarter and damn near stole the thing later on. All those Knicks helping in the post left Mike Conley and Carlos Boozer figurine/loathsome pest Jerryd Bayless open for terrifying fourth-quarter threes. The lead crumbled to single digits-- four points in the final minute-- but the Knicks dug in and made some stops, Jason Kidd drilled a humongous three, and the rest of the Knicks hit their free throws (and/or rebounded their own missed free throws) to prevent disaster.
So: brilliant first half, harrowing second half. That nosedive gave us a genuine scare and tempered the triumph a bit-- Memphis might have won a 49-minute game-- but I'm not letting it sully the win. The Grizzlies are an elite defense and a solid road team (though perhaps it depends on the road), and the Knicks dismantled them. They just happened to get all their dismantling out of the way before halftime. That's allowed. New York needed a win to keep their distance in the standings (Indiana, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Boston all won as well), to preserve the win streak (now at six games), and to retaliate for their first loss in Memphis way back in November. I'm glad they got one.
- The Knicks are veterans, almost to a man. These Knicks are what they are, or in some cases, aren't what they used to be. At least on an individual basis, there isn't much left to the imagination. All the excited uncertainty that would in past years get spread out over a few promising youngsters is, in our case, focused on Iman Shumpert alone. That probably puts too much pressure on a 22 year-old still breaking in some new knee ligaments, but yo, when the kid shows up like he's been doing lately, shit gets wild. Lionel Hollins gave Shump the Ronnie Brewer treatment, sticking Zach Randolph on him so Tayshaun Prince could cross-match on Melo. Randolph wasn't too keen on tracking Iman around the perimeter, and unlike Ronnie (sorry, Ronnie. You seem like a great guy), Shump punished him with that flurry of open jumpers and it felt sooooo good. By the time that third three-pointer dropped, I didn't detect a single non-erect nipple in the Garden or the game thread. And I CHECKED. Shump quieted down thereafter and was one of several to get burned backdoor with some frequency, but fuck all that-- HE'S GONNA BE A STAR!
- No, but seriously, Shump's been shooting quite well, especially to open games, and he's just moving more like himself in general. That's all very important.
- Melo played an adequate, unremarkable 40 minutes. I guess the only remarkable part is that he played 40 minutes in a game in which he looked poised to play something closer to 30. His jump-shooting came and went (he did hit a few big ones down the stretch), his play in the paint was strong and perhaps worthy of more free throws than just six, and his passes out of the post were sharp.
- J.R. Smith's play was, for the second night in a row, well above adequate and highly remarkable. He leapt off the bench driving and kicking, then driving and scoring, then driving and drawing fouls. Smith's 13 free throws (he missed just one and still said his mom was "pissed off" afterward) were a season high, and all that driving put him in good position for four offensive rebounds (seven total). Smith added three threes in seven tries to a performance comprised mainly of slashing. That one block on Tony Allen was quite satisfying, too. All that stood between J.R. and an ideal line were some mishandled dribbles that amounted to four turnovers. Wonderful game.
- While going through my J.R. notes, I found the line "GREAT PATIENT FINISH IN TRANS AND ONE OVER BAYLESS FUCK HIM" (I note good things in caps). I don't even remember typing that but I know I said it out loud a lot. I really don't like Jerryd Bayless, which is silly because I once wanted the Knicks to draft him.
- Kenyon Martin played a big role in the silent nights had by Randolph and Gasol (those guys seem to have played big roles in their own silent nights, too, but still). Otherwise his minutes were relatively light (26) and his contributions relatively few.
- And, aside from a couple useful extra passes, Camby didn't provide anything in Martin's stead. All he really did was commit fouls and shout at refs.
- You're allowed to shoot, Pablo. Please shoot when you're open. Your passing was typically wonderful and you made some fine plays on defense, but you also blew some possessions by turning down open threes. I don't know why I'm addressing Pablo Prigioni directly but I hope he reads this.
- Jason Kidd was the roving small person on defense and had some success in that role. He also threw some especially sublime passes. Two were assists-- a transition lob to J.R. and a precise lob in the half-court to a sealed Melo (Kidd's great at those), but the best one went unfulfilled.
- Novak missed that three, but shot 3-8 overall (including the aforementioned crossover step-back). Chris Copeland didn't hit jumpers, but did drive for a couple important finishes in the third quarter. Each of them played spots of good defense and I even saw Steve box out and throw some excellent extra passes.
- I don't know why I saved Raymond Felton for last, but he had another quiet, deferential first quarter followed by more activity later on. Ray hit a couple threes (one during the second-quarter avalanche and one huuuuge run-busting shot in the third), finished some nice drives in the third, and helped force some turnovers as part of that roving band of small people in the fourth.
- I hope this goes online at some point, but MSG showed a shot from 4:30 PM of J.R. Smith shooting jumpers in a pitch-black Garden while the Knicks City Dancers practiced under a spotlight nearby. My mentioning this on Twitter prompted a lot of responses about J.R. being in his element in a darkened room full of scantily clad women and, well...yeah, that's what I was gonna say.
That's it. Very good game. Six straight wins. Still second in the East. Now a day of rest before a visit from the Bobcats.