I remember it like it was yesterday. The Knicks were up three and seemingly well on their way to victory on November 20 in the waning seconds of a home game against the Indiana Pacers. George goes up for a long three, and Shumpert makes a bad error in lightly touching George’s arm, leading to a three-shot foul, overtime, and a crushing home defeat that seemed to start the downward spiral that has been this season. It really didn’t help matters that this loss also occurred on my birthday.
But that was then. Last night, the Knicks team that rolled into Madison Square Garden was a squad riding a six-game win streak predicated on trust, defense and being unselfish with the ball. Outside of a few bad spurts (particularly the third), the Knicks showed their recent run was no fluke in defeating the Pacers 92-86 in Phil Jackson’s first attended game as team president. It was a “fun game” in the sense New York was playing loose, but a “serious game” in the sense the Knicks damn near have to win out to have any chance of making the playoffs.
IS THIS THE 90s???: For most of the night, the hard play and low shooting percentages reminded me of the Ewing-lead Knicks’s battles with the Reggie Miller’s Pacers. New York, despite shooting a wretched 24% in the first quarter and just 36% at the half, still lead most of the way by focusing on offensive rebounding (six in the first half) and forcing six Pacer turnovers.
For the entire game, the Knicks managed to shoot just 39% and a lowly 24% from downtown. When the Knicks don’t hit their threes, a win is normally out of the question. Tonight showed they could grind out a W through defense and getting to the line (24/29).
BROADWAY BIGS DELIVER: Our big three of Melo, Stoudemire and Chandler set the tone for this win with key contributions. Melo kept Paul George in foul trouble and abused him in the post for several crucial baskets, including a spin move and dunk that put New York up 84-77 with under five minutes remaining. For the game, Melo shot 52% (12/23) for 34 points, had 3 steals and 5 assists. The final stat proved decisive with several of them coming in the fourth via quick passes to Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni.
Stoudemire did most of his damage in the second quarter, helping to spark an 8-0 run that put the Knicks up double digits (47-35). His post moves were too strong and quick for the likes of Luis Scola and Roy Hibbert. His outside jumper also kept the floor spread and made his defender come out, allowing Stat to make powerful drives to the rim. Outside a bad defensive lapse in the third (where Lance Stephenson literally flew right by him on a missed assignment), and his jumper starting to fail him late, Stat had a good game with 21 points.
Tyson Chandler’s (7 points, 14 rebounds) best work last night was on the defensive end and the glass. He had six offensive boards, and put Hibbert back in check after Roy abused Cole Aldrich for 14 points in the third quarter. Chandler essentially shut him down for most of the fourth.
POISE DOESN’T FALTER: Despite blowing a 16-point lead, the Knicks never mentally broke. Even when the Pacers pulled within one point in the fourth, the Knicks always had an answer. The biggest one was Felton hitting a bank shot miracle three-pointer with less than 3 seconds on the shot clock.
That’s not to say the Pacers didn’t have their chances. They had a multiple open three-point attempts from George Hill, Chris Copeland and Paul George. In addition, the Knicks were in the foul penalty with over six minutes left in the game. The Pacers just couldn’t execute — the worst blunder came on a fast break where Lance Stephenson tried to get too fancy and whipped a bad pass to a wide open George Hill, resulting a turnover.
DESTINY NOT IN OUR HANDS: While it’s great to see the Knicks play well, it’s also somewhat infuriating it took this long for it to happen. Now they not only have to keep winning, but also have to hope Atlanta, and possibly even Charlotte, get on an extended losing streak.