40 years ago, the New York Knicks were the NBA champions. The names of those players still ring out heavy among Knick fans: Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Dick Barnett, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Phil Jackson, Willis Reed, Hawthrone Wingo, Bill Bradley and the late Dave DeBusschere. Tonight, most of that team made it out to the Garden to be honored by a very appreciative Madison Square Garden crowd. The only thing needed to cap a beautiful evening was the Knicks extending their winning streak to 11. There were some bumps in the road, or better yet, bumps over the entire first half, but the current Knicks delivered on their end and then some…
UGLY FIRST HALF: The Knicks played their worst basketball of this winning streak in the first 24 minutes against the Bucks. The Knicks could literally not hit anything, including wide open shots. Most of their three point attempts were uncontested and they still went an atrocious 1-12. Meanwhile, the Bucks went 7-14, anchored by a hot second quarter from J.J. Redick, who sunk four in the quarter to help propel him to 13 points.
With the shots not going down, the offense degraded to predictable post isolations for Melo. Unfortunately, Melo had problems holding onto the ball (5 turnovers) and finishing over Bucks’s big frontcourt, lead by the league’s top shot-blocker in Larry Sanders.
Having shot 34% from the field and down 36-45 at halftime, the only bright spot for the Knicks was that there was no way they could play that horribly over the next 24 minutes.
BRANDON JENNINGS GETS HIS DUE KARMA: The Knicks came out strong in the third and quickly got the deficit to two before making some blunders on Brandon Jennings, who made a four-point swing by turning a missed free throw into a foul and three-point play. Jennings would hit a three later to push the Bucks lead to nine. As usual for him, Jennings was feeling himself way before the game was decided, and shot a smug glare at the Garden faithful.
Wrong move, especially on this night.
The Knicks promptly broke the game open on an absurd 25-2 run, which saw them at one point score 16 straight points. Remember those three-pointers that wouldn’t go down in the first half? JR Smith hit three of them in quarter. Felton added one for three of his nine points in the quarter. Melo had two three-points plays, treys and assorted jumpers for a blistering 18 points in 12 minutes.
What was the icing on the cake to this 42-21 third quarter? On a late Jennings drive, he was smacked right in the face by Tyson Chandler and laid out to no call. While he languished on the floor holding his face, his defensive assignment in Raymond Felton drained a three-pointer. When Jennings tried to hold for the final shot, Felton was all over him and made sure he was denied the ball (causing Brandon to have a short tantrum much to the delight of the crowd).
And for the final cap to the Knicks’s highest scoring quarter of the season, Jason Kidd heaved a three from the opposite three-point line behind halfcourt. The result was a banked-in shot and a 78-66 lead going into the fourth.
MELO EQUALS HIS IDOL: Although the Bucks hung around for most of the fourth and got as close at six, you never got the feeling the Knicks were in trouble with Melo on the floor. The Bucks got three-point happy, and Melo coolly closed the game out on them with back to back long jumpers to put the Knicks up 91-81. From there, Melo was sitting on 38 points and the crowd gave him a standing ovation and “MVP!” chants, hoping he could hit 40 again.
He did it easily on a pull-up three-pointer to push the lead at 96-81.
With his 41 points tonight, Melo equals his idol Bernard King as the only Knick to score 40 points in three straight games. Not only is this Melo eighth 40-plus game this season (the most in the NBA), he’s the first player in 28 years to have 3 straight 40 point games while shooting over 60% from the field.
And finally, let’s not forget another great stat for Melo — 14 rebounds.
CHANDLER SLOWLY COMING BACK: Tyson is far from his usual self yet, but he did well on the rebounding front (10) and like the rest of the team woke up on offense in the second half. With Kenyon Martin resting, it was important Chandler do well on the boards and he stepped up to the challenge.
JR SWISH: This man was key in that 3rd quarter barrage as he couldn’t miss from three. He turned into the old chucking JR for a bit in the fourth, but I couldn’t blame him with how he had been shooting. And more importantly, he kept his head on defense. Off the bench JR gave us 30 points (11/22 shooting) and 10 rebounds.
THE LEGENDS GET A PROPER HOMECOMING: With the 1973 championship team in the house, the Garden wanted a fun win and that’s exactly what they got. I’m sure they imparted some team wisdom to the current Knicks that they’ll hopefully take with them into the playoffs.
Now at 11 straight wins, the streak faces its biggest danger on Sunday when the Knicks meet the Thunder.