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Knicks 118, Pacers 111: ‘Comeback: Authenticated’

NBA: Indiana Pacers at New York Knicks Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

At one point, in the middle of the third quarter, I started to contemplate the 2017 draft lottery.

The Knicks were down 15 to a mediocre Indiana team, and it was more of the same disheartening product that we saw in spades during the recently concluded road trip. After a strong first quarter on both ends of the floor, it appeared that the entire squad received the basketball equivalent of Order 66; the Knicks simultaneously began to actively sabotage their own efforts to win the game, and they did so with relentless efficiency. They executed this plan by liberally executing the magical Trifecta of Terrible: take a severely disjointed offense, throw in a handful of cringeworthy turnovers, and season with an ample dose of some classic Knickerbockers "defense". It was really freakin' ugly, and worst of all, it was at home, where the Knicks had previously excelled.

To put it bluntly, it was the same old Knicks; I'm sure I'm not the only one who was ready to give up at that point. Fortunately (and I cannot believe I'm typing these words out onto my computer screen), the Knicks aren't as weak-minded as I am.

Led by Carmelo Anthony, who had 26 second-half points, the Knicks came storming back with the kind of vigor and intensity that provided a glimpse into what this team could be. For better or for worse, all of it was sparked by a couple of highlight plays. First, Melo had Thaddeus Young lookin' like an old man who had his cane stolen midstride -- Melo hit Young with a vicious crossover, plopped him on his ass, and popped the J right in his face. Then, Kyle O'Quinn used his freakishly long arms to reach out and steal the rock from Jeff Teague, who is an NBA point guard, in the open court. Fortunately, O'Quinn passed the ball after appearing to briefly consider a dribble drive, and it led to a transition bucket.

From that point forward, it was, as they say, lit. The home crowd got going, the players fed off the energy, and the defensive intensity picked up. Then the Pacers got absolutely steamrolled. As P&T’er Walt Clyde Phraser noted, the fake comeback suddenly got a whole lot realer.

Here's some fun stats that show just how insane this offensive performance was:

  • Rose, KP, and Melo all had 20+ points for the second time this season
  • Kristaps and Rose carried the Knicks to a 14-2 run at one point in the second half
  • Melo had 15 in the third, when the Knicks needed it most. In that span, he shot 6 of 10 from the field and 3 of 4 from 3, with 2 assists to boot
  • The Knicks went on a 21-3 run in the final 4:45 of the 3rd quarter to cut the lead to 3
  • The Knicks went on a 55-27 run in the final 16:45 (!!!)
  • Melo was 6 for 8 from 3 in the 2nd half, with one of those two misses coming when the game was already in hand
  • The Big Three, which is now pretty clearly a thing, combined for 30 of the Knicks 32 points in the actually competitive portion of the 4th quarter
  • The Knicks posted a season-high 17 makes from beyond the arc, and shot 56.5% as a team (led by Melo shooting 7 for 11)
  • Melo had 0 turnovers; he's scored 35+ without a single turnover five times in his New York career. The most noteable instance being, of course, his 62 point massacre of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, which is still incredible
  • Melo only took one shot inside the paint tonight (a miss). Look at this shot chart. He can't finish anymore; he knows it, we know it, and the league knows it. On nights like tonight, it doesn't matter

Most importantly, the Knicks are now 10-4 at home, which is one of the five best home records in the league. The team as a whole leeches energy from the crowd, and it's really fun to watch when they get going.

Other notes:

  • In a pleasant twist, considering his latest series of performances, Joakim Noah had a pretty good game! He made more layups than he missed (which is a disturbingly low bar) and did a nice job protecting the paint in tandem with Lord Kristaps. The Pacers shot just 10 for 23 (43%) when either Porzingis or Noah contested a shot at the rim; despite a lackluster defensive performance overall, the interior defense was not the issue. Jo also performed admirably in spot duty against Al Jefferson, who clowned KOQ and Willy at will (pretty sure he didn't miss a shot until Jo came in to guard him).
  • Brandon Jennings is a complete wildcard. It's beyond a game-to-game basis -- it's a minute-to-minute basis. I was disgusted with his performance in the last few games, and I was disgusted with his performance for large swaths of this game, but sometimes...sometimes he makes things happen. A Pablo Prigioni-esque steal on an inbounds pass led to a massive Porzingis 3 late in the game, and he also managed to draw an offensive foul in the Pacers backcourt earlier in the contest. His shot selection is generally trash, he overdribbles, he's careless with the rock, and he's almost certainly the worst defender on the entire team...but he's just fun as hell. And that's OK. But the next time he chucks up a 20 foot brick with 18 seconds left on the shot clock, I'll still be screaming at my television while my girlfriend contemplates calling the police.
  • Justin Holiday was once again excellent as a glue guy, posting a +16 in only 21 minutes. As usual, his scoring numbers were low (7 points on 3 of 5 shooting, 1 for 2 from behind the arc), but he just keeps doing his thing. Holiday collected 4 rebounds with his Go-Go Gadget arms, and added 3 assists, making the correct decisions almost every time he touched the ball. It's not even really noteable at this point -- guy is just rock solid.
  • Courtney Lee, Melo, Holiday, and...wait for it...Derrick Rose all spent legitimate minutes guarding Paul George, and they were all spectacular. PG13 got his 16 points on 18 shooting possessions, and had a 1:1 assist to turnover ratio. The rotating crew did an excellent job keeping George from getting into an offensive rhythm, and it showed; George made exactly ONE jump shot, from about 10 feet away. Naturally, George also missed plenty of shots that he usually makes, but that tends to happen when you keep a guy out of rhythm.
  • Credit Derrick Rose, who was (mostly) sublime after a rusty opening half. Rose started 1-5, but he finished with 24 points on 9 of 18 shooting. What's most encouraging is the 7 free throws he drew -- he's been slowly trending upwards on that front as the season has progressed. As usual, he scored with an astounding array of finishes and floaters; having studied him this offseason, I can tell you that this aspect of his scoring is sustainable, particularly when he plays with KP. That midrange jumper from 16 feet is coming around as well, although his decision making on those looks can be shaky. Slowly but surely, Rose is rounding into form. He also apparently had 2 blocks, which I don't even remember. Also, Pacers coach Nate McMillan sicced both Paul George and Glenn Robinson onto Rose late in the game. This tactical curveball did just about nothing, as Rose also took advantage of the bigger wings.
  • Leaving Kristaps Porzingis for last after the numbers he put up in this game is the ultimate example of his ascendance into the land of NBA stardom. Before I checked the box score, I thought KP had a pretty bad game; he looked a bit tired, which is a tad worrying, and struggled to assert himself offensively for long stretches of the game. But then I looked, and he's got 21 points on an incredible 63% true shooting percentage to pair with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. He had a 12.6 net rating, and led the Knicks in defensive rating at 98.4 in a game where the Knicks had a collective defensive rating of 107.2. I really thought he didn't play well. That's the sign of a true star. Get this man in the All-Star game.

I'm going to mostly gloss over the terrible performance we saw during the middle of this game; we've all seen that kind of performance too many times. It's still a tad worrying that this team goes through stretches like that (especially when it's juxtaposed between the remarkable defensive performances of the first and fourth quarter), but they're 15-13; I'll take what I can get.

If you want to be an optimist (I'm 50/50), focus on the first six minutes of the first quarter + the final 15 minutes, where you can see the blurry outline of a consistently good basketball team. This is not a contender, and there's obviously a bunch of noteable issues that need to be resolved, but Phil Jackson has put together a team that is truly exciting at the very least.

Keep bringing the effort, and the W's will keep rolling in. The Knicks, at their peak, can earn a spot in the East playoffs. Not as the Cavs whipping boy, either (although that will inevitably come); they can, optimistically, be a pretty big thorn in someone's side in the first round. But they cannot reach that point until they put in the defensive effort. Hopefully, this game is a major step in the right direction.

The lowly Orlando Magic visit MSG next for what will be a very winnable showdown for our Knickerbockers. Enjoy the afterglow of this awesome win, and do it with what is surely one of the greatest Knicks GIFs in all of existence.