Tonight's 107-102 win over a shorthanded Minnesota team was everything the Knicks can be and everything they still have to learn to get past. The opening half was a clockwork masterpiece: Carmelo Anthony setting up teammates and crashing the boards; Arron Afflalo shooting the lights out; Kristaps Porzingis outplaying rookie of the year rival Karl-Anthony Towns; the Knick bench running rampant. The second half was none of those things: Melo was good but not great, Afflalo stopped looking for shots, Towns reminded everyone why everyone (including the Knicks) lusted after him last June, and the Wolves cut a 22-point lead down to three in the closing seconds.
Entertainment-wise, this game was terrific fun, with big runs and roundhouses by both teams. The Knick offense looked pretty from the get-go, and when the bench came in they outscored Minnesota's subs 15-4 in the opening quarter, 25-10 for the first half. An 11-0 Knick run in the second quarter mushroomed into a 29-6 behemoth to close the half up 20. New York was getting the looks they wanted, rather than what the defense was giving them. On 23 first-half baskets, the Knicks had 15 assists and only six turnovers.
In the third quarter Towns hit a couple of threes to ignite a 9-0 Timberwolves run; a second 9-0 run brought the Wolves back to within single digits. In the fourth the Knicks ran off a 7-0 run to go back up 13 and seemingly salt things away, but Andrew Wiggins started Eurostepping everybody and Minnesota was able to cut the lead down to three in the final seconds. Afflalo hit free throws to seal the win.
- Langston Galloway was a real force, especially when the good times were rolling in the first half. He was scoring, he was setting others up, and he was even hitting the offensive boards. 12 points, 6 assists, and zero turnovers. Langston is so easy to like.
- Anthony consistently looked to pass early on. First half Melo: 5 shots, 5 assists, 8 rebounds, plus-21. He looked super self-aware about getting others involved. Every now and then, we see this Melo. I'm not saying it's better or worse than usual Melo. It sure is fun, though. Not quite as demure in the second half, but he was consistently three-dimensional all night scoring, rebounding, and passing.
- Afflalo was the beneficiary of offensive rebounds early on. 29 points on 9 of 14 shooting. Big game for Arron. Also, did you know:
Afflalo came into tonight shooting 69.6% (16-of-23) on post-ups. Highest FG% in the NBA among players w/ 20 shots or more in those scenarios— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 17, 2015
- Talk about breathtaking balance: at one point, up 70-53 midway through the third, the Knicks had fewer guys in double-figures (Afflalo and Melo) than the Wolves (Towns, Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng). Eventually Porzingis, Galloway, and Lance Thomas (14 and 7 rebounds) joined the club too. It all came along pretty organically. A lot of tonight was the Knicks as a fist rather than five fingers.
- Porzingis: 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 blocks. Sometimes you eat the rookie wall, sometimes it eats you. 29 energetic minutes from KP. Nice!
- 25 and 10 for Towns. There really is nothing better than two talented big men matching up, and KAT and KP went at each other for long stretches. Towns is so freaking good, man.
- Wiggins with 23 points, a few coming off a couple nasty Euro-steps. Lost O'Quinn once and Porzingis near the end. What an exciting player to watch evolve.
- Zach LaVine is more impressive than I realized. Led the Wolves bench with 19 points. Makes some difficult moves look easy. That's a good look on a 20-year-old guard. Also, he looks like he stole your girlfriend in eighth grade. And you know he never even liked her. He just did it because. I think it's the capital V.
- In addition to their troika of 20-year-olds, the Wolves still have a decent prospect playing the point. Ricky Rubio came thisclose to a quadruple-double: 9 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists, and 8 steals. Rare indeed is it when a guard approaches quad-dub territory. Alvin Robertson or Fat Lever...those are the only two perimeter players I remember pushing that boundary.
- Aiding Rubio's swipes: the Knicks threw a llllotta slow, looping, rainbow passes, especially when trying to lead someone on the break. The Wolves pounced all over these parabolas.
- Shabazz Muhammad elbowed Sasha Vujacic in the throat early on and somehow, after a freaking ten-minute replay review, was not ejected. Karma ensued. Muhammad endured one Charles Smith moment (under the very same hoop from 1993!) when the Knick defense, led by Porzingis, got all redoutable and kept rebutting and rejecting his weak shit. Later in the game, after a whistle blew, someone shot the ball, and it bounced off the rim and hit Muhammad square in the puss.
- No Kevin Martin or Kevin Garnett for the Wolves tonight.
- No Jerian Grant for the Knicks.
- Watching Melo v. Tayshaun Prince brought to mind one of my favorite NBA What-Ifs? What if Melo had been drafted by the 2003 Pistons, a defensive, veteran team on the verge of its first title? What if he grew up in that system and evolved as a more defensive-oriented player, one who won 2-3 championships early on? And what if while that was happening, LeBron James was winning zero in Cleveland? I wonder how the narratives would have played out if that happened.
Quoth rcnt123: "This team..." Damn right. I suppose that's the reason this year's Knicks are worth watching. Every glimpse of their future ceiling finds its symmetry in the muck of the 2+ years of doldrums they keep trying to leave in the past. Still, a win's a win, and this little two-game winning streak pulled them within two games of second place. Next game is Friday in Philadelphia. They say good things come in threes...