There was a moment Sunday night that, just a couple weeks ago, would have spelled doom. The Knicks were up 14 on the 76ers, but flagging a bit. Tim Hardaway Jr. picked off a bad pass and galloped up the court, only to slip on some hockey juice, lose his footing, and surrender the ball. The Sixers passed the other way to find a quick James Anderson three and cut the lead to 11. It was exactly the kind of dumb, flukey play that, in 2013, would have snowballed into a New York collapse, probably culminating in a Knick passing up the game-winning layup or some other maximally shameful outcome. But instead of getting utterly undressed, the Knicks responded. Hardaway drew a foul on the next trip down the floor. The Sixers would chip the difference to eight in the final minute or two, but only after the Knicks had beat back the real threats with timely response buckets. That's all it took to secure the victory. New York played comfortably despite holding a lead-- a burgeoning and very welcome trend in 2014. After playing like they hated winning to start the season, the Knicks have been treating leads with respect these days, and like LeopardSuit said, that earned them a nice, easy win Saturday night.
- I wasn't kidding about the hockey juice. Knicks-Sixers typified a night of basketball that harkened back to when the NBA was a niche league scrabbling together an existence. While Washington experienced a rain delay, the MSG broadcast truck had a power outage, which meant we didn't get a normal game-watching experience until the second half. First, we had no eyes on the game, and just watched MSG's studio crew of Bill Pidto, Alan Hahn, and Wally Szczerbiak improvise discussion, Pidto occasionally mentioning the score of the game in Philadelphia. Eventually, MSG was able to borrow the Philadelphia video feed, and we watched that along with the studio crew, almost Mystery Science Theater-style. We didn't really *need* commentary from guys who, like us, were just watching the game on TV, but they did a noble job of filling in. Wally delighted in the fact that "defender" and "blender" rhyme, as well as "mouse" and "house", so we even had a shitty Clyde impression to round out the attempt at play-by-play. We got the full broadcast back in the second half, at which point moisture from the hastily covered hockey rink beneath the court began to seep. Nobody got hurt, thankfully. That was Saturday night's greatest victory. On a night when circumstances invited injury-- either some frantic MSG employee getting zapped or a Knick or Sixer taking a bad fall-- everyone survived.
- When Mike Breen and Walt Frazier did take over, they both joked about how Clyde had been eating throughout the first half. Clyde said he'd gained five pounds by eating popcorn. That's enough for me to theorize that Clyde is actually an insatiable glutton, but he distracts himself by either talking, exercising, or dressing/undressing himself during every waking minute and sleeping like 14 hours a day.
- The best part of the video-less first few minutes: It saved us from watching the Knicks fart away the early minutes of the game. We got our taste, too, because the Knicks kept right on surrendering transition buckets and open threes at the end of the first and early second, but at least we didn't have to witness the ugly start. But yeah, things started poorly. The Knicks let a very bad shooting team hit four of eight threes in the first quarter. The Sixers shot 1-11 behind the arc the rest of the night.
- Carmelo Anthony's two early fouls and Mike Woodson's abrupt emancipation of J.R. Smith made for some unusual second-quarter lineups. The group that started the second quarter and came back by overpowering Philly's impressively nondescript second unit included Melo returning at the four, Amar'e Stoudemire at the five, and a backcourt of J.R., Toure' Murry, and Tim Hardaway Jr. J.R. played point guard, and quite capably. His first play of the game was a sharp drive and across-the-body dish to a big Amar'e finish, and he maintained that level of excellence for the rest of the quarter. For the rest of the time with that group, and for seven more minutes with the starters, J.R. drove and created, made useful extra passes and outlets, and hit his jumpers, open off the catch and contested off the dribble. A 32-12 quarter won the Knicks the game, and a lot of that was J.R.'s doing. His second half was quiet, with just one or two uglier shot attempts, but also the three that put the game away in the final minute. So, that's a nice return. J.R. helps the Knicks when he's focused and following a pattern. It's up to him and Mike Woodson to maintain that.
- Despite the early foul trouble and exit, Melo had a very nice night. He didn't shoot well-- I might be seeing things, but I feel like he and Evan Turner have a bit of a one-on-one rivalry that hurts both of their shot selections-- but he did all the passing out of double teams and creating out of the pick-and-roll and rebounding typical of a winning Melo performance.
- Amar'e Stoudemire dominated Spencer Hawes, which was most enjoyable. Oh, how I loved watching Hawes' entire face furrow every time Amar'e shook him for a baseline dunk. Hawes had some legitimate beeves-- Amar'e got away with a push-off here and a travel there-- but DEAL WITH IT SPENCER THIS ISN'T SOME REFEREE NANNY STATE YOU'VE GOTTA FEND FOR YOURSELF OUT HERE. Sorry. But for real, Amar'e played a terrific game. He scored with back-to-the-basket post moves. He scored facing up and driving. He scored rolling, catching, and finishing out of pick-and-rolls with the guards and-- for a concentrated stretch of the third-quarter-- with Melo. A guy who occasionally looks harried with the ball in his hands played patient, calculated offense punctuated by little explosions. He even moved his feet pretty well on defense. Great, great game.
- I love when Clyde is at a loss for words, if only because the moments are so few and so brief. Breen: "Hawes has had an argumentative night." Clyde: "Heeeeeeeyhah."
- Kenyon Martin has been so great, man. His ball-hawking, aggressive-even-when-switched defense was at its best Saturday night, and that flagrant foul call was hogwash. Martin also pulled down eight rebounds, got himself four buckets by rolling and/or popping and/or locking, and dished a couple of those signature entry-pass assists from up top. I want to watch Kenyon Martin play quarterback for a football team by throwing two-handed overhead bullet passes at receivers running post routes.
- The Sixers didn't really have anyone for Andrea Bargnani to defend, so he didn't.
- It's amazing how (so, so, so) much better Hardaway is than the Knicks' other guards on the break. Iman Shumpert struggles to handle and finish, Toure' Murry doesn't really know when to pass; Timbabwe just glides above it all. I swear he becomes invincible in mid-air.
- Murry and Shumpert both gambled a lot, which made for more easy Sixer baskets than turnovers. Murry couldn't hit a jumper (he missed one quick baseline J by about a month) and Shumpert couldn't score off the dribble. Raymond Felton shot poorly (3-11) as well, though he put together seven quiet assists and floated in a big basket on a nice so-much-ball-movement-it's-kinda-too-much ball-swinging possession out of a Melo double late in the fourth.
That's it. The Knicks played well and beat a worse team. They're now 5-1 in the New Year with a heavy week of games (four in five nights) coming up.