The old baseball adage says, "You can't hit a five-run homer," the point being when you dig yourself a hole, you can only piecemeal your way out of it. There are similar adages. "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step." "Slow and steady wins the race." Cuidado: Piso mojado.
But that's all bollocks and we all know it. Fixing an error feels good; fixing it as quickly as possible feels like the error never occurred in the first place. And isn't that the point of correcting ourselves? To retain our image of our ideal selves? Redemption + rapidity = nnnnnice. So the Knicks can't erase a seven-game losing streak with one win, but they did erase a number of the of negative vibes that'd calcified as the losses mounted.
Iman Shumpert was out with a hip contusion, so JR Smith started in his place. Carmelo Anthony worked the weak-side post on the Knicks' first possession and made a nice hand-off to Smith for the opening bucket, and from then on Melo and JR led a dominant Sunday matinee effort, no small feat given that last year the Knicks treated Sunday day games like grim death marches.
The first quarter was dead even, with both teams prolific on O and profligate on D. The score was 31-31 after one; even though the Knicks hit 10 of their first 15 shots, they were losing for most of the opening quarter thanks to FARTDOT, the Friendly Alliance of Really Terrible Defenders Of Threes. New York entered the game at the bottom of the league defending threes, and Denver was fully aware: 7 of their first 8 shots were from distance, and they hit 6 of their first 9.
Then the Knicks took it up a notch, and the Nuggets responded, "LOL, nah." The perimeter defense of Shane Larkin and Pablo Prigioni improbably kept Ty Lawson from penetrating, for the most part. When Denver did get shots at or near the rim, the Knick D locked them down. Samuel Dalembert played his best 22 minutes as a Knick, blocking one shot officially but altering a dozen, making it look like Denver had five Charles Smiths under the hoop. The wide-open three nonsense ended and the Nuggets couldn't hit a free throw.
Meanwhile the Knicks, moving and grooving, dominated the 2nd, winning the quarter 31-8. 31-8! If Lawson hadn't hit a lay-up as the half ended, Denver would've gone the entire second period without a field goal. Meanwhile, Carmelo finished the half with a beautifully balanced line--17 points on 7-9 FGs-- and the Knicks outshot Denver 62% to 31%, taking twice as many free throws as threes (12-6). Quincy Acy and Amar'e Stoudemire were the only Knicks shooting under 50% at halftime.
The third quarter wasn't quite as rousing, though unless you're playing the 76ers you aren't going to go on a 62-16 run over two quarters. Probability leaned toward Denver looking more like an NBA team and less like the walk-ons at New Jersey Institute of Technology, and they did. But the Knicks held it together the entire second half and were never seriously threatened. A lot of that was because "Denver really sucks," as JR and the Off-Balance Shots noted. But it also stemmed from a coherent approach on defense and an intelligent, patiently aggressive approach on offense. The Knicks next three games are against teams no better than Denver (Milwaukee, Minnesota, Philadelphia). If they repeat this effort the rest of the week, they can be 6-8 and we can all look back and laugh, wondering if we were ever so young as 2-8.
- JR Smith: 28 points, 10-16 from the field. He took more free throws than threes. He channelled his inner Bill Russell, blocking Arron Afflalo in a one-on-one matchup and retaining possession of the block. JR was aggressive throughout on D and kept passing the ball intelligently, and with ease, not settling for the shot that presented itself, or even the second shot. This wasn't good JR. This was great JR.
- Chicken, meet egg: Does Carmelo playing balanced lead to wins? Or does winning lead to Melo playing more balanced? I'm still not sure. Whichever one it was today, more, please.
- You know how you know your fans are awesome? When you're 2-8, you've lost 7 in a row, and the crowd's chanting "MVP" as your $124M signing takes his free throws in the second quarter.
- Late in the third Melo tangled with Kenneth Faried after Faried tried to set a screen on Anthony. Some slight limping for a bit, but he finished looking OK.
- At one point, late in the first half, with the Knicks up 56-37, Derek Fisher called a timeout (canceling a JR step-back jumper) to give the team the business about something. Go, Fish!
- Cleanthony Early did not play. Travis Wear started the second quarter, hitting his first shot and playing Danilo Gallinari tough. Later, Wear swatted a Ty Lawson shot out of bounds, his first career blocked shot (you hear the footsteps, Mark Eaton?). It's increasingly intriguing to wonder when and where these young guys can find a niche, especially on a Knick team that, if it's loaded anywhere, it's at the swingmen spots.
- Acy giveth points away, like when he ended up on his butt after missing a wide-open fast break lay-up off a perfect bounce pass by Pablo Prigioni, And Acy taketh points away, like when he got up off said butt and hustled downcourt to foul Javale McGee on what would've been a gimme-dunk when Denver had numbers in transition.
- In their 11th game of the season, the Knicks had more than one twenty-point scorer for the first time this year (Melo & JR). Can we do a Kickstarter to raise funds for a spotlight that, when shone in the night sky, reveals a black-and-yellow image of a chunk of blue cheese? I wonder when was the last time the Knicks went 11 games into a season without dual 20+ scorers in a game.
- Someone is going to pay Amar'e Stoudemire a market-value contract this offseason, and once his rep sheds the $100,000,000 albatross, someone will realized they've added a very helpful player. When Denver cut the lead early in the fourth, STAT scored a tough basket inside and forced a turnover after to restore equilibrium. Also: loving the STAT mini-hooks!
- Reversing one of the season's least pleasing trends, the Knicks attempted one more free throw than the Nuggets, 27-26. Also helping: Denver shot its free throws like a college team (16-26). So the Knicks have that part of their defense down pat.
- Every time Shane Larkin takes a three, you feel Knick fans everywhere willing the ball in. I don't know Larkin's ceiling. Starter? Backup? Backup-miscast-as-starter (a.k.a. "Living La Vida Duhon")? If he ever learns a floater/tear-drop move, I think he'll be a player.
- The third quarter obligatory run by a team getting blown out led a worried Mike Breen to fret, "The lead's down to 15!" Back in the 1990s, Marv Albert used to lament the Pat Riley Knick teams "letting" big leads they never relinquished whittle down; during the Isiah years, Breen and Co. would compliment the Knicks for "fighting back" after cutting into huge deficits they never overcame. Can we all just agree here and now to be be adults about this and stop acting like a team up 25 at the half should win by 50?
- The Knicks look to have adopted the Kevin Garnett "jump up and catch/block any shot the opponent takes after the whistle's blown." This will not end until someone gets hurt.
- Fisher is clearly from the School Of Letting Guys On The Floor Figure It Out. In this case, it happened late in the third and early in the fourth, when the "guys" didn't include Melo or JR. I like this by FIsher. Feels like short-term investment = long-term gain.
- Great effort by the Knicks. Still, Denver missed a TON of open shots. Especially open 3s.
- Forget the "Third Quarter of Doom." The Knicks gave up 31 points in the first to Utah and Denver. On this homestand, opponents shot over 50% from the field and from downtown against the Knicks in the 1st quarter.
- Melo is spending more and more time in the post. He went at Gallo and Wilson Chandler like they owed him money...when in fact, the Gallo/Chandler trade to DEN led to Melo earning $180M in contracts from the Knicks. Maybe next time he should slip them dudes a twenty or something.
- If the block/charge area was the line of scrimmage, the Knicks won the line of scrimmage today. Not only was Dalembert's presence down low key, but Kenneth Faried showed the dark side of offensive rebounding. With Faried crashing the boards so indiscriminately, the Knicks were often able to get out and run fast breaks, secondary breaks, and short-lived 5-on-4s. Melo really, really excels in 5-on-4s.
- Love Acy and Sam's hustle. Their intensity. Their selflessness. But I'm not sure they have two functional hands between them. Melo made a lovely pass off a double team to Acy, leaving him and Dalembert two-on-one underneath the basket. The ball, predictably, came loose. When Acy and Dalembert scramble for a loose ball, it's like watching torture porn, like something out of Saw.
- Jill Martin's only two "celebrities" today were Gerry Cooney and Edie Falco. I guess 2-8 vs. 2-6 doesn't pack 'em in. She did bust out the little factoid that Clyde once said he'd like to be on Saturday Night Live. Breen could not contain his joy at this prospect. "Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic: Walt Frazier hosting SNL. Discuss."
- Another great moment in Clyde: after Breen mentioned what an illustrious career Lawson had at North Carolina, Frazier replied, "That's ‘cuz they didn't go to class down there, Mike." Breen was both scandalized and in hysterics. I like how much Breen really does seem to like Clyde.
--The Knicks have 3 wins. I have recapped 2 of 'em. Just sayin'...
The journey of a thousand miles' next step is Tuesday in Milwaukee, a place that's always given the Knicks trouble and often results in wild games and outcomes. See ya then.