We've all heard of the "trap game" -- that terrifying moment when your favorite team looks past a mediocre opponent one game before a huge matchup. The favored squad comes out flat, the underdog is surprisingly frisky, and what should have been an easy win turns into a struggle, sometimes even a loss.
Though our New York Knicks may not be a good team, they are certainly not exempt from the siren call of the trap game. Monday's late-afternoon contest against the New Orleans figured to be an easy loss, with the true test of their tanking ability to come two days later in a critical clash with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Clearly this team was looking ahead to losing the Philly game, and forgot that losses all count the same in this league. The Pelicans, without Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, were no (non) pushovers, and the Knicks chose to ignore (or maybe not ignore?) that fact at their own peril.
New York played some shockingly tough D right out of the gate, while Carmelo Anthony (24 points) and Langston Galloway (21 points) paced the offense. The Knicks were on the verge of not only winning, but winning comfortably.
These are the moments when the very worst of the NBA -- the true tankers -- separate the chaff from the wheat. And the Knicks are chock full of tank! They did their best to blow the lead down the stretch -- running iso-Melo plays that probably made Mike Woodson shed a single tear, forgetting to guard Tyreke Evans and various three-point shooters, and general stuff like this:
The refs bailed out the Knicks on that play, however, calling a foul with .03 left on the shot clock. Jose Calderon hit a three on the ensuing possession, and New York stumbled out of MSG with a 99-92 victory. This team has discovered a whole new sports concept: the tanking trap game.
- Melo played his first game at Madison Square Garden since Christmas; apparently he bought the MSG holiday package. What can you say about this guy's performance at this point? He did whatever he wanted against single coverage, made some smart passes when the Pelicans brought doubles, and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. He also showed that he is in no way capable of guarding perimeter players right now. He had a hard time staying with Quincy Pondexter in the fourth quarter, which caused havoc within the Knicks' defense. Even those who believe a healthy Melo can still guard small forwards (and I'm not one of those people) must admit that a hobbled Melo has no shot. Get the danged surgery.
- Langston Galloway played. Did you notice him? He was the guy scoring 11 points in the second quarter after Melo went a bit cold. He was the guy augmenting his 21 points with five rebounds and three assists. And when the Knicks desperately needed a board in the fourth quarter, he was the guy doing this:
Not bad for your first NBA start, Mr. Galloway. You've got moxie.
- The player Galloway replaced in the starting lineup, Tim Hardaway Jr., had his best game in weeks -- 11 points on 4-7 shooting (3-6 from beyond the arc), three rebounds and two assists, including a spectacular dish to Amar'e Stoudemire. He really seemed to be pressing in recent games, and with the Knicks in such desperate need of scoring it was kind of hard to blame him. It makes sense to keep him on the bench for the time being, and I'm quite pleased that he took what could have been viewed as a demotion and turned it into a real positive.
- Amar'e just keeps on doin' his thing this season whenever his knee allows. He made his 20 minutes of playing time count, scoring 14 points on 6-9 shooting (including several crucial second-half buckets with Melo on the bench), six rebounds, an assist and a block. He's been New York's best big all season, and the time off has done nothing to change that. Damn shame about the knees, but we're all pretty much used to it by now.
- Jason Smith and Jose Calderon both helped ice the game -- Calderon with a three, Smith with a block on the next possession. Both of them seemed fully on board with the tank for the first 47 minutes -- despite Smith's career-high six assists -- but when it came to losing time they both buckled under the pressure.
- Over the past two games Derek Fisher's lineups have been more bat-shit crazy than usual. Pablo Prigioni, Quincy Acy and Cole Aldrich all rode the pine Monday, while Travis Wear got four minutes of playing time. Sure, Pablo and Cole have been struggling, but Acy and Wear have been the team's two best forwards of late. It's not a huge deal, but with Jah Smith playing nearly 38 minutes tonight, it's pretty damn strange.
And so the franchise-worst losing streak is history. While I hesitate to call Wednesday's duel in Philly a must-lose game, a victory would put New York one game behind the Sixers in the win column. This simply will not do, Knicks. You had your fun, now get back to business!