By Ryan Schneider
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My thoughts after the first twelve minutes last night…
“Great…the Knicks are on pace to give up 136 points. Which is exactly what they need after embarrassing themselves in Cleveland. Can Donnie Walsh hop in a Delorean with Doc Brown and undo this whole ‘Melo thing? (If anybody saw Galo and Chandler combine for 50 Friday against Portland you know what I’m talking about.) Do ‘Melo and STAT realize they are on the same team? And terrific, Wade and ‘Bron just made another top ten highlight…”
Fortunately for Knick fans everywhere, 36 minutes of inspiring basketball would follow. In only their third game together, we learned a lot about the New Look Knicks. After a head shaking performance in Cleveland Friday night, ‘Melo and Co. responded with a gritty, hard-nosed, defensive-minded victory over the Miami Heat. By today’s NBA standards the game was anything but pretty. To many Knick fans, this is the beautiful basketball we’ve been waiting for.
A high-octane, alley-oop throwing, 115-point scoring team is glamorous. A $100 million dollar contract, or $65 million extension makes you rich and famous…but it doesn’t win championships. Taking charges, diving on the floor for a loose ball, getting a hand in the passing lane, blocking a shot from the weak-side, are the blue-collar elements of this job that need to be emphasized.
Maybe George Karl’s derogatory remarks resounded within Carmelo Anthony…because at the seven-minute mark in the fourth quarter, number 7 took on the responsibility of shutting down LeBron. Was he perfect? No, few people are against James, but he was not going to shy away from a challenge. You all know the defensive possession of the game last night…Miami down one, 12 seconds left, LeBron eyes up ‘Melo…uses his lefty hesitation and explodes down the left lane line…Anthony cut him off just enough so STAT, his newfound buddy in blue, could punch Prince James’ shot against the window.
Let’s take it a step further, after Shawne Williams calmly knocks down a pair from the charity strip, Miami gets a last chance to tie with a three…inbound to James, shot fake, gets ‘Melo off balance, rip-through left, and appears to have an uncontested one dribble pull-up 3…but a remarkable second effort by Anthony, gets a hand up just in time to deter James from a clear look at the basket. Is he the best defender in the game? Far from it, but what Carmelo showed us last night, was that he won’t be backing down from anybody.
Isn’t it amazing how soon Chauncey Billups made you forget about Raymond Felton? 35 of Billups’ 63 points in a Knick uniform have come in the fourth quarter. With the Knicks down 84-80 with 120 seconds left, here is what savvy ‘ole number four did …he grabs a defensive rebound, attacks Mike Miller, non-shooting foul outside the three point line. Ensuing in-bound, attacks from left to right, into the middle of the lane, and makes a tough contested shot. Heat up two…after a gutsy defensive stop, the Knicks come down with a chance to tie or take the lead…Billups settles in on the right wing about 26 feet away, and hits Wade with a “hand-down-man-down” tri-fecta. The Knicks go up one…finally on the next possession, Bosh inexplicably picks up his dribble to pass to Miller…lo and behold Billups steps into the passing lane for an easy steal, sets up Shawne Williams on the break who gets fouled and knocks down two free throws. In a little over a minute of crunch time…Billups’ stat line…5 points, 1 steal, 1 rebound, 1 assist…
Ask yourselves this Knicks fans…could this be the first time since the 70’s that the Knicks have a bona-fide closer on their team? We all suffered through many a Patrick Ewing fourth quarter…we’ve only seen a small sampling, but it sure looks like Donnie Walsh found a guy that is finally going to stick daggers in someone else’s heart for a change?
Last night a team that has been together all but five days showed a lot of character. It was a sign of maturity that maybe resonated from a champion like Billups. Perhaps it was the hard-fought 19 minutes from 11-year vet Anthony Carter, who made Dwyane Wade look as uncomfortable as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Or maybe it was STAT’s emphatic, “I got your back ‘Melo” on that weak-side block of LeBron.
For the last 36 minutes the Knicks morphed into this unrecognizable force. They were in a defensive stance when the ball crossed half-court…Amare and Shawne Williams were pushing guys off their spots…five defenders were helping one another on ball-screens and back-picks…Mike D’Antoni had a defensive minded group on the floor. Walker, Williams, Billups, Stoudemire and Anthony, played with an aggression that made Miami uncomfortable. LeBron couldn’t get free down the lane. Bosh couldn’t get past Amare to the baseline. Wade couldn’t take a shot without fading helplessly away from contact.
Let’s face it, Miami should have won last night…the Knicks were on the road, coming off an embarrassing loss to the Cavs, missed 49 of 80 shots, and found themselves down by as many as 15. But…Billups, Anthony and Stoudemire dug a little deeper and grabbed onto an intangible that the Heat didn’t have…toughness. For a team, in their third game together, forming a new identity, that’s not a bad place to start.
With 12 seconds remaining and 4 on the shot clock, the Knicks need to get something better out of a timeout than Bill Walker falling out of bounds to catch a pass. Hubie Brown was laughing as he pointed out that all 10 guys we standing within 15 feet of the in-bounder.
Credit D’Antoni for extending his rotation tonight. It was nice to see Anthony Carter take advantage of his defensive assignment against Wade. Carter clearly made him uncomfortable with his physicality, so much so that Wade felt the only solution was to lower his shoulder and run right over everyone in his way…3 offensive fouls on the night for Dwyane.
Biggest offensive complaint last night…too many bad three’s. I know it’s D’Antoni’s style, but 30 attempts? At least 5 or 6 were forced, and in close games those bad shots will wind up coming back to haunt you in the end.
Knicks travel to Orlando Tuesday for a match-up against another top tier Eastern Conference team. Biggest concern will be how they handle Dwight Howard’s size and strength in the low post…Amazing that the Knicks SHOULD be 3-0 post all-star break.
Was Sunday’s take down of the Heat the biggest Knicks win this season? Sound off below!