After two bad blowouts on this West Coast trip to the Lakers and Suns, the Knicks gave themselves a playoff gut check last night against the Warriors in pulling out a critical road game to pull within a game of Atlanta for the last playoff spot. Like most games this season, the Knicks played good basketball in spurts and had an atrocious fourth quarter that nearly lead to the game being stolen in the final minutes. Luckily, New York got defense from a surprising source to keep their post-season hopes alive.
CURRY ON FIRE, BUT NOT WHEN IT MATTERED MOST: Steph Curry lit the Knicks up, going for 32 points (10/21, 6/12 from downtown). Raymond Felton was once again the victim, getting killed on screens and not being able to close out. Pablo Prigioni got ran around in circles during the fourth and couldn’t keep up with the roaming sharp-shooter, allowing for an open three that tied the game at 81 with 2:42 remaining.
The game hung in the balance with both teams exchanging bad fouls and clutch shots that lead to the Knicks clinging to a 87-84 lead after two free throws from Carmelo Anthony. Curry got the ball with five seconds left and went up for a three. Felton closed out well on him, forcing Curry into a bad pass which Shannon Brown picked off for a clear path foul that iced the game. The play was reminiscent of last year at the Garden when Felton forced a late turnover on Curry to spoil Steph’s 54-point effort.
Despite the overall futility of Felton game numbers (2 points, 4 assists), Felton’s game-ending play might be the one that saves our playoff hopes.
MELO THE INEFFICIENT: Whether it was due to Andre Iguodala’s defense or mentally not being engaged, Melo had a struggle-filled night from the field. Foul trouble limited him to 10 minutes in the first half. In the second, he chucked numerous long jumpers completely out of the offensive flow. At one point in the fourth, he was 0/5.
Starting at the 4-minute mark, our leader settled down and made several key plays. The first one was dishing to Tim Hardway Jr. for a three-pointer that made it 81-75. At the 1:23 mark, he nailed a tough mid-range jumper that pushed the Knicks ahead 85-81. And at the 45 second mark, he drew a shooting foul on Iguodala and swished two free throws to make it 87-84. It wasn’t pretty, as New York only managed 15 points in the fourth, but Melo was another catalyst that willed this win through.
JR n STAT: With Melo sitting most of the first half, JR Smith carried the load with a deadly and varied offense. Whether driving to the lane for circus shots or bombing threes, our reigning Sixth Man of the Year couldn’t be stopped. His hot hand sparked a 15-0 run to enter halftime with a 56-44 lead.
While Stoudemire had a seesaw game on the offensive front (5/14, 15 points), but he took full advantage of David Lee’s absence. Stat grabbed 13 rebounds with six of them coming on the offensive glass. He was key in helping the Knicks not blow their lead in the third, and provided strong minutes in the fourth. He was briefly sat for a few minutes in favor of Tyson Chandler, but Coach Woodson quickly realized his error and let Stat close out the game.
DEFENSE AND LUCK: The Knicks had some strong defensive moments in the first half. Their close-outs and help defense limited the Warriors to 35% shooting overall. What’s a little deceiving is that the Warriors had plenty of open shot opportunities in the fourth (particularly Klay Thompson), but just couldn’t covert. The aforementioned Thompson was 3/11 from three.
The Knicks wrap on their West Coast swing tonight at 9 p.m. in Utah. Like all the remaining games, this is one is a “must-win.”