The Knicks blew an early 14-point first half lead, but showed the poise and grit that was missing from the first two months of the season to battle back and defeat the Phoenix Suns in overtime, 98-96. It wasn’t pretty and the defensive switching made this one harder than it needed to be, but the squad got the job done despite Melo working on fumes and refs making suspect calls in key moments.
FAST START AND SLACKING: Melo came out strong with 13 points in the opening 12 minutes to give New York a 28-21 lead. They went up by as much as 14 in the second quarter, but bad defense allowed the Suns to pull within four at one point. The Knicks had to settle for a nine-point halftime lead, 52-43, after Goran Dragic hit a three at the buzzer.
WHEN THE PROBLEMS STARTED: The Knicks took a 75-68 lead into the fourth, but Coach Woodson went with the lineup of Toure Murry, Tim Hardaway Jr., JR Smith, K-Mart and Amar’e Stoudemire. Murry uncharacteristically took back to back bad shots and Stat was continually expoited by Leandro Barbosa’s (21 points off the bench) drives to the rim. The lead was erased and Melo was forced to come back at the 9:03 mark, giving him little rest after already working hard to nab over 10 rebounds.
TIC FOR TAC: Even with Melo back in, the ball movement struggled and the teams traded baskets before NY turnovers and horrible help defense allowed for a Dragic open layup and a 88-83 deficit. The Knicks looked dead in the water, but Woody made a key substitution of Andrea Bargnani, who played solid interior man to man defense once paired with Martin. Unfortunately, Melo’s legs were gone on his jumper and he couldn’t deliver a dagger to knock out the Suns, including a missed wide-open mid-range shot. Nonetheless, he made one of the game’s most important plays in driving and kicking out to an open Felton who swished a three-pointer to put the Knicks up 92-90.
FINAL CHANCES: Now with the lead, Melo had to take a shot that would leave roughly 10 seconds on the clock. He was clearly fouled on the arm going up for a jumper, but the refs either missed it or decided to swallow their whistles (Melo had been jawing with the refs earlier, including a brief face to face that almost earned him a technical). Melo was furious and had to be calmed by Woody in the huddle.
Barbosa went for a drive and appeared to have been tied up successfully by Martin for a jump ball. However, the refs deemed this one a foul, and Barbosa hit two foul shots to send the game into overtime after JR missed good inbounds fadeaway (ironically, the same shot that beat the Suns in regulation last season).
MELO GRINDS IT OUT: Melo scored four of the team’s six overtime points to put this one away. One was a nice alley-oop from K-Mart, and the other a tough fadeaway in the post over Gerald Green, who had been giving Melo a tough time all night. The Suns couldn’t convert on open threes. K-Mart got two crucial stops on Dragic at the rim despite being switched off and having to cover him from the perimeter both times.
Although Melo didn’t shoot the ball well in the second half (9/24 overall), he found other ways to lift his team with his rebounding (16) and assists (4). K-Mart was huge on the defensive end in addition to several monster putbacks, contributing 8 points and 9 rebounds. And despite being torched at times by Dragic (28 points), Felton had his own moments with 19 points.
BACK IN THE PLAYOFFS…FOR NOW: This win put the Knicks ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for the final playoff spot in the East. If the Knicks hope to keep it that way, it’ll be important for Tyson Chandler to make his return tonight against the Bobcats since most of the starters will be dead tired.