Phil Jackson’s plan of pairing Carmelo Anthony and sophomore sensation Kristaps Porzingis with injury-plagued former NBA MVP Derrick Rose may have been doomed from the start, but at this time two years ago the trio teamed up to lead the Knicks on a couple of thrilling winning streaks that included impressive victories over the Atlanta Hawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Hornets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings and Miami Heat.
As of November 20, 2016, the new-look New York Knicks were sitting at 5-7 on the year (including 1-5 on the road) and coming off a disheartening loss to the struggling Washington Wizards. Over the course of the next two weeks, however, the team gelled, going 7-2 during a stretch that featured miniature winning streaks of three and four straight. Heading into a December 7th matchup against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, the Knicks were 12-9, and as the great Michael Jordan once said, the team’s ceiling was the roof.
The roof would collapse, with the Cavs destroying any goodwill the Knicks had built up by bludgeoning them to the tune of 126-94, and the rest of the season was not pretty, but the two-week period in 2016 between November 20th and December 6th was wonderful.
First up was a matchup against the Hawks, which were 9-3 going into the game and would go on to be the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They were led by a starting lineup of Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard. A pesky Tim Hardaway Jr. came off the bench for the Hawks, scoring 12 points on an efficient 5-8 from the field in about 22 minutes of playing time.
The Knicks stifled the previously soaring Hawks, winning every quarter by at least one point and finishing with a 10-point victory, 104-94. The Knicks were led by Anthony’s 31 points (12-22 shooting, including 4-8 from three), 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals, Porzingis’ 19 points (8-15 shooting) and 11 rebounds, and Rose’s 14 points and 7 assists.
After one day of rest, the Knicks sought to once again defend their home court in a game against the Trail Blazers, which behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum would go on to snag the eighth seed in that year’s Western Conference playoffs.
The Knicks kept the Blazers duo from blazing the way they would have liked, as Lillard and McCollum finished with 22 and 16 points, respectively. For the Knicks, it was Porzingis who took center stage for most of the game. He poured in 31 points (13-23 shooting) and snatched 9 rebounds. Melo posted 17 points and 6 boards, and Rose recorded 18 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals.
Rose secured the 107-103 win with a step-back jumper that rattled in with 6.8 seconds to play.
The Knicks had a couple of days to ruminate in the glory of their back-to-back victories before facing Kemba Walker and the Hornets on Friday, November 25th at MSG. Porzingis and Rose were only okay, putting up respective lines of 16 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks and 16 points and 5 assists.
Anthony, however, was unstoppable, tallying 35 points (14-25 shooting, including 3-6 from three), 14 rebounds and 5 assists. He also added 2 steals and 1 block, the latter of which came during a key possession in overtime. Then, with the score tied at 111 and the clock ticking down, Melo calmly backed down his defender, turned, elevated, and sank a game-winning jumper from the elbow. The shot was so smooth that the ball barely touched the net. The 113-111 victory put the Knicks at 8-7, the first time the team had been above .500 since the previous November.
Melo's game winner for the #Knicks! pic.twitter.com/wz8Oyc7XR5— NBA (@NBA) November 26, 2016
The Knicks then lost two straight, to the Hornets in Charlotte and the Oklahoma City Thunder in MSG, before ripping off a four-game winning streak that started with a 106-104 victory over the Timberwolves in Minnesota. The win came despite a ridiculous 47 point, 18 rebound performance from Karl-Anthony Towns, and thanks to strong play from Porzingis (29 points, 11-20 from the field, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks), plus a game-winning jumper from Anthony with 2.3 seconds to go (he finished the game with 14 points on 5-16 shooting). The game-winner was about as classic a Melo play as possible.
A couple of days later, the Knicks and Timberwolves faced off again, this time at MSG. Anthony and Rose shouldered much of the offensive load for the Knicks, netting 29 and 24, respectively, en route to a 118-114 conquest.
On Sunday, December 4th, the Knicks weathered a 36 point, 13 rebound showing from DeMarcus Cousins, besting the Kings, 106-98, behind 20 points apiece from Anthony and Rose, as well as 15 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks from Porzingis. The Knicks capped off their four-game winning streak with a 114-103 victory over the Heat in Miami, in which Melo dropped in 35 points (13-27 shooting) and Porzingis posted 14 points and 12 rebounds.
During the winning streaks, Anthony was dominant, Rose seemed rejuvenated, and Porzingis was in the early stages of his ascent. Alas, the success was short-lived. By January, the team was in the midst of a meltdown, and today the trio’s triumph feels so very far in the past.
Considering where they were each at in their careers, it’s almost comical now to imagine that the trinity of Melo, Porzingis and Rose could have ever worked, but there’s no doubt that two years ago, for at least a few weeks, they had the Garden buzzing.