Playoffs, here we come! Tonight, the Knicks not only clenched a playoff berth, but enacted a little bit of revenge on the Toronto Raptors, who previously beat the Knicks twice in embarrassing losses. It was an overall uneven performance (especially defensively and at the free throw line), but a high scoring output from Carmelo Anthony and a phenomenal effort from Kenyon Martin kept NY in front for nearly the entire contest.
KNICKS START SOLID: After the Raptors took what would be their largest lead of the game at 6-2, the Knicks warmed up to the game behind some potent outside shooting. Iman Shumper and Raymond Felton had treys, but the best sequence of the opening quarter came courtesy of Pablo Prigioni, who got starting duties at point. Prigioni nailed a 17-foot scoop shot, then promptly stole the inbound pass and found Melo camped out for a three-pointer. The Knicks would take a 10 point lead (25-15), but a quick 7-0 Raptors run made the Knicks settle for a 25-22 lead after one.
2ND QUARTER BRILLIANCE: The Knicks clicked on all cylinders here and got a bit of luck with the Raptors’ best player Rudy Gay being forced to sit with back spasms (he wouldn’t return). Marcus Camby was a strong defensive presence inside, drawing offensive fouls and getting a nice block. The Raptors came out shooting 1-12 in the quarter. With six minutes left, the Knicks had outscored them 12-3 behind Steve Novak’s three-point shooting and JR Smith continuing his recent trend of attacking the rim. JR even drew a charge of his own in the paint. And Melo got to feast with the overmatched Landry Fields attempting to guard him in the paint. When the smoke cleared, the Knicks had a comfortable 50-37 halftime lead.
KENYON MARTIN LIFTS KNICKS OVER SECOND HALF STRUGGLES: The third quarter was a classic Knicks disaster. I don’t know if someone on the Knicks did him wrong in a past life, but Raptors bench player Alan Anderson has had it out for NY every game. He light them up again from the perimeter by draining threes and getting superstar treatment from the refs on fouls. Anderson scored a ridiculous 20 points in the quarter and his team would outscore the Knicks 34-27. The man even got a 4-point play on, guess who, JR Smith.
Although the Raptors would go on to outscore the Knicks 57-49 over the second half, Kenyon Martin was our great equalizer. The man was an animal on the boards (11 rebounds) and a huge physical presence inside that had guards like Kyle Lowry second-guessing their drives. Sure, Martin picked up a few dumb fouls, but it was well worth it because his effort was relentless. Martin had multiple putback slams and when the defense sagged off him, he rolled right to the basket for two key layups in the fourth quarter. Melo put up the big scoring numbers, but the game ball goes to K-Martin for his impressive, well-rounded stat line of 19 points (9/10 shooting), 11 rebounds, 2 steals and a block.
MOMENTUM PLAY: The Raptors were very close to taking over this game after a Demar Derozan three-point play brought them within two points (84-82) with less than six minutes remaining. The two teams had been trading baskets and it would be the Raptors who blinked first, courtesy of an open jumper Derozan missed. Melo would promptly get a three-point play inside, followed by two Martin layups and a Felton trey with the shot clock winding down that pushed the lead to 94-84 with under four minutes remaining. The game should have been iced, but the horrid free throw shooting made this one have a little drama in the final minute.
FREE THROWS: The performance tonight at the line was inexcusable. The Knicks had three different chances to close this one out at the line and each time the player either split the shots (Melo, Kidd) or bricked both (JR). For the game, the Knicks shot a putrid 54% (13/24). This needs to be reigned in as much as possible because this recurrent flaw is highly detrimental to this important stretch for better playoff seeding.
MELO: Normally, Melo hoisting 31 shots is a sign our offense is stagnant. That wasn’t the case tonight. Melo had a very slow start to the game, being 3/10 at one stretch and 5/14 in the first half. But in the second half, he really came alive inside via the abuse he put on Landry Fields and even Alan Anderson at times. And it wasn’t just offense — Melo had six rebounds and two blocks (one being a nice perimeter rejection to stifle Terrence Ross). We needed every bit of his 37 points tonight and the team still shot over 50%.
The Knicks will meet the Raptors one last time on Saturday night to close out the season series. If Rudy Gay remains sidelined and the Knicks, particularly Martin, can bring this same effort, I see no reason why the Knickstape don’t emerge with another victory.[youtube http://youtu.be/XL_-e1kM008]