Google “NBA standings” and a box appears listing the top five teams in the Eastern Conference. There’s a drop-down arrow you have to click to see the rest of the standings. For as long as I remember, I’ve had to click that damn arrow to see where the Knicks is at. Google the standings. Right now. See that? Look who’s top five after defeating the perennially despised Miami Heat 114-103, New York’s fourth win in a row and ninth victory from 12.
The injury-ravaged Heat were missing Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Jamal Mashburn, Rony Seikaly, Grant Long and Jon Sundvold. Book the easy W, right? LOL, nah. Never has matching up with a bombed out and depleted 7-13 team made me as nervous as this game did. A road game a team “should” win when that team has yet to prove there’s any game they “should” win? With a sexy national matchup at home against the champs pending? Knowing Pat Riley hit up every santeria in a 20-mile radius of American Airlines Arena in search of intervention both divine and diabolical? Nothing “should” about that.
Early on, the Knicks did their part to feed our fears. A million little turnovers let Miami, led by Goran Dragic, get out in transition and take the lead. In the second, the Heat bench took over, thanks to Tyler Johnson, Willie Reed (who, sadly, predictably, inspired multiple bad Willis Reed jokes), and Derrick Williams (OAKAAKUYCO*). The Knicks couldn’t keep Miami out of the paint, either on drives or offensive rebounds. Somehow, despite hitting half their twos, enjoying an advantage at the free throw line, tripling the Heat’s second-chance points and not turning the ball over, New York trailed by nine to a team shooting 40%. How? The Heat outscored the Knicks 18-0 from downtown in the first half.
*Once A Knick Always A Knick Unless You’re Charles Oakley
Joakim Noah was putting back putbacks left and right en route to a double-double. The Heat, with no Winslow to check Carmelo, were throwing Rodney McGruder at him. Rodney McGruder sounds like a villain from Brenda Starr, which made Carmelo Basil St. John. Anthony opened missing six of seven shots but then caught fire, scoring nine late points to pull the Knicks within one at the half. Take your Fatso quips and shove ‘em.
In the third Noah got three fouls super quick, but Kyle O’Quinn was equally stellar in helping the Knick centers offset Hassan Whiteside, and then the threes began to fall. Miami started doubling Melo, who got basketball assists to Courtney Lee and hockey assists to Lance Thomas via Brandon Jennings and who was hitting everything in sight when he wasn’t assisting. A lefty floater high off the glass by Jennings to close the third put the Knicks up seven. It’s a good thing Jennings was there, and playing so well, because Derek Rose had to leave with back spasms. Saw that coming as soon as Frank Isola wrote earlier today on how great the Rose signing has been.
But while these aren’t your father’s Knicks (assuming your dad saw the Knicks in the 1970’s or 1990’s), nor are these your 21st century Knicks. This team was 10-1 when leading entering the fourth, and after tonight you can make that a cool palindromic 11-1. Much of the endgame involved one starter — KP or Melo — alongside Jennings, O’Quinn, Thomas and Justin Holiday. There was no fake comeback. No fake blowout. Just one clearly superior team inexorably asserting itself over an over-matched foe. Nice. Nice.
- What a finish from Anthony! After opening 1 of 7, he hit 12 of his last 20.
- With a jumper to open the fourth, Anthony passed the razor-elbowed Bill Cartwright for 10th place among all-time Knick scorers. Next on the hit list: Dollar Bill Bradley.
- A real nice night for Lance Thomas. 2016 Lance-like. I love me some Kuz, but don’t sleep on how much two-way Lance can bring to the table.
- Not a great shooting night for Kristaps Porzingis, who front-rimmed many of his shots. Still, he pulled down a dozen rebounds, altered mad shots, and on one pretty play took Udonis Haslem off the dribble from behind the arc and finished with what Clyde Frazier labeled a Marbury-esque scoop.
- In the first quarter KP got the ball on the break and went up for a dunk that would have rent the Earth in two. Derrick Williams fouled him, Porzingis went down hard, millions of Knick fans held their breath, millions of dead Knick fans turned over in their grave...but the kid was all right.
- Porzingis picked up a dumb fourth foul with 4:21 left to stop Dragic from getting loose on the break. No mas, son.
- It was a night of dumb fouls for New York. Particularly on Whiteside; particularly when he was within dunking range and nobody had any business trying to foul him.
- Clyde, on Rose in the first: “He knows Dragic is no match for him.” Goran Dragic is a really good NBA point guard. Hearing that a good NBA point guard is no match for the Knicks’ point guard is manna from heaven.
- People always describe Dragic as “crafty.” He’s a southpaw. Ever hear of a right-handed player described as “crafty”?
- According to Mike Breen and Clyde, Rose is averaging four rebounds a game, and the Knicks are third in offensive rebounding. These facts are not related. Nevertheless, these facts are awesome.
- Kyle O’Quinn did all the things. A striking rejection of Whiteside. An even strikier rejection of Reed. Fed Melo for an alley-oop when he was cold early, and a second oop late in the game. Hit 18-footers. Finished a tough lay-in in transition. If he’s this good, how good could this team be?
- They’re not the same players. Not remotely. Still, watching O’Quinn and Brandon Jennings this year reminds me somewhat of watching Anthony Mason and John Starks in 1991-92. A big man who makes a difference on D and brings a multifaceted grace to the offense. A high-energy guard who can pass, score, and antagonize. In this analogy, Mindaugas Kuzminskas is Kiki Vandweghe.
- Jennings utterly shook Dragic one-on-one, then missed the open jumper. I’d love to see a stat on what the FG% is for guys who shake or cross guys up and are wide open. Hypothesis: they shoot a lower percentage than normal because they’re distracted by the spectacle.
- Being a sports fan in 2016 means having so much information available, you can barely enjoy something good before you’re wondering when and how it will end. I’m loving Jennings. Tonight I found myself resigned to losing him in free agency next summer.
- 30 quality minutes for Courtney Lee in his return to action. Depth: it’s a beautiful thing.
- Apparently the new CBA prohibits the refs from calling Whiteside for traveling. Ever.
- Porzingis is an 83% career free throw shooter. Every time I watch him, he misses one of two.
- I’m pretty sure Udonis Haslem is older than Kurt Thomas.
- When Jeff Hornacek is fired in 2019, my money’s on Corey Gaines taking over. The Herb Williams of a new generation.
- Quoth Clyde: “I could not play here [in Miami], man. There’s guys come to practice with thongs and shorts on.” Breen cracked up at this. Thing is...I bet Breen is a thong man. Speedos, at a minimum.
- You know that McDonald’s commercial where the tow truck driver doesn’t charge the girl out of the goodness of his heart? Then later he drives thru Mickey D’s and someone comps him? I’ve seen that ad a million times and only tonight realized the drive-thru girl is the one he helped earlier. Also, his business model sucks if he’s trading tows for fast food.
Quoth prfella: “We never stopped.” The Knicks didn’t stop. They kept pushing and grinding and making the inevitable a reality. Tomorrow night reality takes the form of King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The great thing about winning is that each win sets up the next to be even more meaningful. If this team is 13-9 in 24 hours...