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Knicks 120, Celtics 114: "This is my favorite win of the season"

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On MSG pregame, Al Trautwig called tonight the Knicks' "biggest game in years." Unless 2013 is farther back than I remember, Al was wrong. But tonight's emotional 120-114 home win over the Celtics was their biggest, bestest win in many a moon.

The teams entered the game as shadowy reflections of each other, one game apart in the standings, Boston 10-8 on the road versus New York's 10-8 at home, both teams having split their last 10 games. One difference: the Celtics entered having dropped 5 of 6. New York came in winners of 4 of 5. When a warm front hits a cold front, shit happens. Shit happened.

Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis were dominant in a hot-shooting opening quarter (55% from the field for Boston; 67% for NY) that ended with the Knicks up nine. They were flowing like the Ganges and Derek Fisher rolled with it, altering his substitution pattern and keeping Kristaps' hot hand in the game throughout the first quarter. Everything kept rolling right along. Then with 1:16 left in the half, a gasp ran through the crowd when Anthony went down in a heap and left for the locker room after stepping on a ref's foot. He walked off under his own power and started the second half but left seconds later in obvious discomfort, done for the night. Sprained right ankle. X-rays were negative. Still, the Knicks were still up ten and Kristaps was popping. What? Me worry?

Yeah. Worry. Boston's intensity pulled a 180 and they came out bad-ass, interestingly guarding Porzingis with Marcus Smart. Given that Kristaps can shoot over everybody, you not might as well put a physical, powerful, quicker defender on him. Smart definitely bothered him. You can bet the rest of the league will notice. The Knicks were up eight when Anthony left for good. Three minutes later, they lost Porzingis to foul trouble. Isaiah Thomas exploded for 16 in the quarter and the lead after three was only four.

The fourth was back-and-forth throughout. There were scrums; chaos-inspired, improbable buckets; clutch shots answered by clutcher shots. Jared Sullinger kept hitting; Afflalo kept answering. Porzingis had to sit with his fifth foul with 8:26 left. For four-and-a-half minutes, Robin Lopez, Derrick Williams, Afflalo, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant had one mission: do not surrender this hill. When Porzingis returned at the 4:00 mark, the lead was still two. The hill had held.

There were maaad ties and lead changes! Sullinger drove for an acrobatic totally lucky and-one to put Boston up 102-99. The end of act two was when Porzingis fouled out hitting Jae Crowder on a three-pointer. Two free throws put the Celtics up 107-106.  Then Jerian Grant crowned his best game as a pro so far with a majestic mélange of minutes: a doubleplus good entry pass to Lopez for a hook shot gave the Knicks what'd end up being the lead for good. After a stop on the next possession he found Williams ahead of the field for a dunk. After Amir Johnson cut the lead to one, Grant found Afflalo for a baseline turnaround. An Avery Bradley runner again brought Boston within one, but Grant followed with a runner off the glass. Isaiah Thomas (who is really, really good) drilled a fallback jumper, and the Knicks looked in trouble when Williams picked up his dribble 30 feet from the hoop with no seeming way out. Grant took the ball and drove to the paint with the shot clock running down, drawing a foul and hitting four free throws late. The final nail in the leprechaun's coffin was Grant finding Williams for another breakaway dunk.

Notes:

- Your first-half MVPs: Kristaps (20 points on 7-12 FGs, 5 rebounds) and Carmelo (17 on 7-10, 4 rebounds). 26, 6, and 2 blocks total for KP. He's becoming the focal point on both ends. Carmelo is more aggressive feeding him than I've ever seen with anyone. They're looks they both wear well.

(Twins: A P&T Joint - MMiranda [writer]; Jonathan Stingy Schulman [artist])

- Third quarter MVP: Afflalo. With Anthony out with the ankle injury, Porzingis out with foul trouble, and the Celtics storming back, the Knicks needed someone to step up. 10 in the third kept the Knicks in front and built confidence and experience succeeding (relatively) without their two best players. Afflalo was huge the entire second half. 24 points in 41 minutes. Did you know Kevin Durant leads the league in field goal percentage on post-ups? Did you know Arron Afflalo is second?

- Fourth quarter MVP: Grant. As a prelude to all the plays listed earlier, he ended the third quarter hounded by Smart but still hit a spectacular swish. No one was bigger tonight than Jerian. If his play grows in consistency, this team can do some things.

- Literally seconds before Melo got hurt, I'd just thought to myself, "They've really had an incredible stretch of health for a while now." China Joe Flynn quickly informed me never to think such things. There is no spoon. There is no spoon.

- Lopez was the only starter who didn't play the whole first quarter or a single minute in the second. But in 17 effective second-half minutes he was impactful, finishing with 15 points (6-7 FGs) and 5 rebounds, and on a key late possession he forced a driving Isaiah Thomas into an important miss. Also: Robin Lopez shots look like a D-Day infantryman lobbing grenades on Omaha Beach.

- Thomas is the best point guard finishing high-degree-of-difficulty lay-ups around the basket I've seen since Rod Strickland. He makes the seemingly impossible de rigeur, like watching a ballerina in a phone booth. 34 and eight assists. A joy to watch other than when he's killing your team. If you were to build an NBA player in a laboratory with the explicit purpose of troubling Jose Calderon, you'd end up with Isaiah Thomas. Between the quickness, the midrange game, the finishing skills around the hoop, he's something else. In one sequence he went right at Porzingis - who's like 20 inches taller - and converted the drive while drawing a foul. Ridic.

- 14 points and 7 rebounds for Jared Sullinger. Reading some of the Celtic coverage, it seems some feel Sully's a goner because he doesn't fit with coach Brad Stevens' desire for an up-tempo offense. Just off tonight, if Boston doesn't want him, someone else will.

- 21 and 8 for Jae Crowder. He hit some big threes during the Celtic comeback.

- The Knicks won again when leading after the third quarter.

- It really was striking, in the first half, watching how the Knick offense has evolved to where they are repeatedly getting tremendous looks - the shots they want, the defense be damned. Mike Breen, courtesy of the Knick coaching staff, noted that over the prior five games to tonight, 44% of New York's shots have been uncontested. They hit 63% of those shots.

- Those top of the key Porzingis three-pointers are becoming a thing. He hit three wide-open looks in the opening minutes, including an effortless pull-up from about 30 feet out.

- In the battle of former #2 picks who initially disappointed but seem to have found an NBA niche, Derrick Williams outshone Evan Turner. 15 points and 10 rebounds for DWill; 7 and 2 for Turner. Williams was rebounding, pushing the pace, and drawing fouls. In small-ball lineups, his athleticism makes him surprisingly impactful around the basket.

- I wouldn't say I dislike Even Turner. I would agree he looks unlikable.

- There was an early Kyle O'Quinn sighting, opening the second quarter as part of an all-bench lineup with Williams, Lance Thomas, and the G-Unit backcourt. Not a long run for KOQ, though. Lou Amundson replaced him three minutes later.

- A Kevin Seraphin sighting late in the third.

- If you saw the iso-ball/midrange '90s, it never stops being trippy how the game has evolved into full-on real-life NBA Jam. Guards driving to the hoop, passing to seven-footers popping threes. Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria!

- Extracurriculars after the first half's final whistle. Afflalo and Isaiah had words, Crowder came over and laid a hand on him to guide him away, Afflalo nudged it off, and the refs called the weakest technical foul ever.

- I can type "Antetokounmpo" mad quick, without flinching. And last year, once I confirmed it was "Kristaps" and not "Kirstaps," no sweat. But every time I type "Afflalo," I have to slow down and
v e r y  
d e l i b e r a t e l y
talk myself through it. That spelling - that "f-l-a" bit - just doesn't jive with my headpsace.

Quoth foiegrastyle: "This is my favorite win of the season." Having taken five of their last six, the Knicks are .500 (20-20) and tied for second with the Celtics, one game out of a playoff spot. Wear your best strut tomorrow, friends! Tomorrow night they're in Brooklyn. Are the Knicks good enough to bench a hobbled Carmelo, confident they can handle one of the league's dregs? See you then.