By Ryan Schneider
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Can we be done? Is it safe to say that the Knicks have now proven a point? Can they get some of the respect that they actually deserve? The Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs have a combined 75 wins and 24 losses. The argument that the Knicks are only good enough to beat sub .500 teams is ridiculous. Are the Blue and Orange a championship contender? No…not yet, but they can win a playoff series, or maybe two.
Last night’s win over the San Antonio Spurs was nothing short of impressive. Before the ball was tossed at 7:30 all I had heard about was how good the Spurs had been defensively over the last four or five games…Pop’s squad had held the Wizards to 80, the reeling Lakers to 82, the Mavs to 93 and the Thunder to a staggeringly low 74. So what did the Knicks do last night? It’s almost comical…the Knicks only scored 128 points on 55 percent shooting from the field, 87 percent shooting from the line, and got a season high 31 points from Wilson Chandler.
It got so frustrating for Duncan and the Spurs that with more than 3 minutes left in the game, and only a 10-point deficit…the starting five was pulled because they just couldn’t keep up. The Knicks overwhelmed them with their offensive firepower. Inexplicably Tony Parker consistently kept going under screens giving Felton one uncontested jumper after another. Tim Duncan, Antonio Mcdyess, Dejuan Blair…it didn’t matter, nobody could stop Stoudemire. It got repetitive watching one Spur after another fly through the air as Chandler shot faked and drove by for a lay-up. The Knicks put on a show last night and the Spurs had front row seats.
What will go largely unnoticed is how well the Knicks played defensively in the fourth quarter. After a non-existent defensive first half, D’Antoni kept pleading with his guys to lock in and get some stops. In the last 12 minutes they did just that. It was scary to see how good this team can be when they actually dug their heels into the ground. Tim Duncan was surrounded by defenders, one jump shot after another was heavily contested…and before you knew it the best team in the league appeared remarkably average.
On one side of the floor D’Antoni has perfected the game. He has created an offense that by and large, is unstoppable. The problem is that through the first three quarters of the game, the elite teams in the league have the scoring ability to keep up. But when the legs go…as we saw last night…when the Spurs began to slowdown, the Knicks put together the stops they needed to create enough separation. If D’Antoni can get his team to just be better than opponents defensively in the fourth quarter, the Knicks will move up the ranks in the Eastern Conference.
This success against the league’s best comes at a time when the Knicks are about to embark on a challenging four-game west coast swing. The first test comes against the Suns, in what will be an emotionally charged game for Stoudemire. After that it’s on to LA, to face the defending champs, followed by a trip up to Portland, and finally a meeting against the Jazz at one of the toughest home courts in the league.
The media has a short memory, and you can bet, that the second the Knicks start to falter people will be quick to jump in and slam this team. Throughout the league, when teams start to smell weakness, they pounce. Just look at the Lakers. This is another opportunity for STAT and his boys to show that regardless of where the game is played…the Garden, the Forum, the US Airways Center, some outdoor court in Wyoming, the Knicks are a team to fear.
Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season…I apologize for the length in between blogs. I spent some much needed time with the family, before heading back overseas for the second half of my own season. While I have kept up with the play of the Knicks, I have been unable to find the time to get back into the writing flow. But now that I am settled in again, I am ready for a great second half of the season.