The Knicks held off would have been an epic collapse in blowing a 23-point second half lead courtesy of a 33-10 run, but held on to defeat a Bulls team missing key starters and preventing another disgraceful home loss. There were some excellent positives in the first half, but the way the game ended had most Knicks fans shaking their heads. Nonetheless, a win is a win, and the Knicks need to take games like this if there’s any hope of this squad repeating as Atlantic Division champs.
MOVING THE BALL, FORCING TURNOVERS: Being that the Knicks went down by 20 in the first quarter of their last two games, it was considered a positive to see the team down by just two (17-15) despite shooting just 26%. With Raymond Felton out with a pulled left hamstring, Pablo Prigioni got the starting call. The quarter was ugly to watch in terms of offensive execution for New York, but there were flashes a good defense on both sides — the Bulls protected the rim with several blocks, and the Knicks forced multiples turnovers to keep it close.
FEED STAT: Playing the second night of a back to back, there was concern among the Knicks staff of what Amar’e Stoudemire could offer. That was quickly silenced with Stat showing his nifty Hakeem Olajuwon post moves and long-lost outside jumper for 10 points in 12 minutes of first half play. His work ignited a 19-0 run that included Beno Udrih giving valuable minutes at point guard, and Tim Hardaway lighting it up from the perimeter. The Bulls, with Mike Dunleavy cooling off from a hot first quarter, didn’t get their first field goal of the second quarter until five minutes were remaining.
Stat’s energy was also contagious. Kenyon Martin had an awesome three-block sequence around the rim that made the Bulls think twice about taking their shots inside. The ball movement and varied offense improved the Knicks shooting to 45% at the half, and they outscored Chicago 31-15 over the final 12 mintues to take 46-32 lead. Melo and Stat were a combined 10-16 from the field for 25 points.
THE TURNING POINT: All was still well early in the third. It wasn’t until a completely idiotic play from Stoudemire that things went south. He missed a pass that went into the backcourt. Instead of picking it immediately for the Over and Back turnover, Stat inexplicably just hovered around it like he was protecting a football punt. Dunleavy promptly picked it up and scored a lay-up.
Suddenly, the Knicks collectively lost their entire IQ. They started turning the ball over on what seemed like every play, and the Bulls attacked the rim for an 8-0 run to pull within 14 (68-54) at the end of the third.
FOURTH QUARTER COMEDY: The Knicks downward spiral continued with the team forgetting everything that got them the lead. The offense became predictable with the ball being constantly dumped into Melo for isolations, sometimes beginning around the three-point line. Melo wasn’t happy with these plays, but Prigioni couldn’t get any plays going and spent too much of the clock dribbling around the perimeter. With Stat on the floor, it made little sense that no plays were run for him.
While the Knicks were blowing layups and bricking jumpers, the Bulls were getting to the rim by breaking down the defense and getting a tip-in from Joakim Noah (which tied it at 74). The Bulls were on a massive 33-10 run, and it took a mid-range Stoudemire jumper to stop the bleeding and get the Knicks back up by 76-74.
NO “CLOSER” BENEFITS THE KNICKS: With the Bulls missing Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler on top of Derrick Rose, there was no one on the floor that could get their own shot consistently to put Chicago over the top. Their plays also degraded into random isolations and shot clock violations, allowing the Knicks to push the lead to five after Melo got to the line twice. In the end, the Knicks were able to hold on.
WOODSON LIVES ANOTHER DAY: If the Knicks would’ve lost this game, everyone would have been calling for Woody’s head (more than they already are now). It’s not all on him — the team has to get stronger mentally. But there’s no excuse why after scoring 10 points in the first half, Stat only ended up with 14 points for the game. Woody has to keep him involved throughout the game if he’s hot. We do not have many scoring options at the moment.
INJURIES: Iman Shumpert left the game in the third with a bruise to his left knee. Considering he was scoreless up until that point, it wasn’t a huge loss. Raymond Felton may have to miss significant due to a left pulled hamstring and didn’t play.
ANOTHER STREAK SNAPPED: The Knicks had lost the previous six games to the Bulls going back two seasons ago. Mentally, it had to be good to get a win considering it’s possible these teams could meet in the first round as fourth and fifth seeds.
The Knicks return to action on Saturday against the Celtics.