In a season that's divided some Knick fans between "Do we want to win tonight?" and "Is it ever OK to not want to win?", tonight was a rollicking, enjoyable contest and a second straight exhilarating victory. New York led most of the way and made enough big plays down the stretch to beat Toronto 103-98.
Tim Hardaway Jr. donned his chef hat and apron and cooked gumbo throughout the first half, and he wasn't just launching threes. Example: late in the first, the Raptors missed their last shot. There were a few seconds left. Tim drove downcourt and, instead of pulling up, took it to the hoop for a tough lay-in. The Knicks led by seven after the first quarter. There were many signs of good team-wide basketball IQ. The offense was read-and-react, rather than debate-and-dawdle. Lou Amundson made a nice pass out of a Triangle set to assist on a Cleanthony Early jumper. Later, Cle drove strong to the hoop, drawing a second foul on Jonas Valanciunas and forcing him to the bench. In one super-sweet sequence, Cole Aldrich blocked Lou Williams, and when the Knicks came down on offense they waited and waited until he had deep position on Williams underneath the hoop, where they fed Cole and he threw in a short hook. The basketball gods smile upon such offerings. The game was close throughout, with the Knicks usually leading but never pulling away.
The fourth quarter was fun fun fun! The Raptors pushed. The Knicks took punches and stayed standing. Shane Larkin hustled back on defense to strip Greivis Vasquez and prevent what'd looked like an uncontested lay-in. Lou Amundson channeled his inner everybody, with spin moves, dunks, non-dunks, defense...he did it all. After Lou stuffed Valanciunas and left him defeated, on the floor, to be wept over by the women and children of his village, the Knicks had a 5-on-4. Larkin found Amundson for a dunk.
Ahh...but the tank is strong. They tried to blow it, giving Toronto various open threes late. They were up 100-94 with a minute left, with a golden chance to put the game away with a minute left, when...
Alexey Shved coughed up a bad turnover with fortysomething seconds left, but followed with a good strip of DeMar DeRozan on the other end. After Toronto inbounded, DeRozan missed a shot. The rebound was up for grabs, Bargnani...I can only describe what he did as "flailing while attempting to not get a rebound"... and Toronto got the put-back bucket to cut it to 100-98. Still: no tank is stronger than the spirit of Mase. The Knicks needed a hero. In the spirit of the day, how about an unheralded hero? One who, like Mason, wasn't drafted in the 1st or 2nd round. Just a dude with moxie and balls for miles.
- The Knick offense late was a two-man game, often between Bargnani and Schved. And on defense, their floor balance late was lacking. There were a few possessions where, after the Knicks missed, Toronto pushed and there weren't the multiple defenders back you'd think/hope there were. This let Lou Williams score an easy bucket to cut the lead to five. Makes sense. When you're losing 80% of the time, there are lessons to be learned in how to win.
- Hardaway's line: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 8/15 FGs. I don't get the complaints about him being a spoiled rich kid. If he was, wouldn't he have just finished high school and dicked around in life till he got his inheritance? Aren't there easier professions to aspire to than NBA player? His struggles on defense somehow stem from his father having made a lot of money? What's the excuse for all the other NBA players who don't play D and didn't come from money? If his name was Tom Bunsy, and his game was exactly the same, would that change his perception any?
- DeRozan missed a quasi-360 on a break. Never a good look.
- These were the Knicks' first back-to-back wins on consecutive nights this year. The Knicks are like Patton's tanks racing to Germany, when the only thing that stopped their advance was that they advanced so far so fast they ran out of fuel. I don't know where that analogy was going. Too caught up in the rush of victory to think straight.
- Early was drawing fouls tonight. In his first 22 games, he only took 12 free throws; tonight he took six. At this rate, Early will attempt 72 free throws Tuesday vs. Sacramento. LOOK OUT, WILT.
- 15 points and five assists for Shved tonight; three straight double-figure games for him. God, do I love crafty Euro guards. Give that man an extension STAT! (STAT pun intended)
- On his first touch tonight, Bargnani was booed. This after a loud "Let's Go Raptors!" chant after the opening tip. Discuss.
- Is there even a candidate to oppose Langston Galloway for best storyline of this Knick season?
- A night after no Knick played more than 36 minutes in the double-overtime win in Detroit, no Knick exceeded 35 minutes tonight. Derek Fisher's stepped up his minutes-distribution game.
- After committing just 10 turnovers against the Pistons, the Knicks only had 11 tonight. It's exciting to imagine how this offense might look with more talented players after they've been running it a while. The more experience they have with this system, the more they can tweak/mutate as needed.
- You could tell me DeMar DeRozan's been in the league since any year and I'd believe you. 2010? 2004? 1996? Seems like he's been around forever.
- Knicks I'd cast in film versions of books: Cole as Lenny from Of Mice And Men.\
Next game is Tuesday versus the Kings. By then, the Knicks'll have gone nearly a week without a loss. "What is going on?!" numerous commenters asked late in the game. Hey, even Patton's tanks needed a break eventually (THAT'S where that was headed!). Enjoy the here-and-now till then, y'all.