By Ryan Schneider
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Was I getting a cavity pulled? Man, last night was tough to watch…the Knicks have made a habit of faltering late in the fourth quarter. Carmelo Anthony knocked down two free throws with 3:36 left to extend the lead over the Memphis Grizzlies to ten. Like usual Mike D’Antoni needed two or three more stops, a couple of buckets and you could put this thing in the books.
It just will never be that easy for Knick fans…as you know fourth quarters in New York provide the highest level of agitation. More often than not the Knicks find a way to lose that game last night in Memphis. They throw the ball away on an inbounds, take a bad shot, complain about a foul, and then the other team knocks down a seemingly impossible shot to put the nail in the proverbial coffin.
But, this team, this franchise is different now. Carmelo and Amare Stoudemire won’t shy away from a challenge. In the nineties Knick fans would shake with fear at the prospect of Patrick Ewing taking the last shot. ‘Melo is different, even STAT is different. Anthony looked very comfortable with the ball in his hands last night. He has made a career out of being one of the best one on one players in the world, and in the last 14 seconds he was just in another routine situation that he has been in his whole career.
Throughout the year Knick fans have griped at D’Antoni’s late game play calling. Last night I liked the last possession. He put his two best players in a pick ‘n roll situation. Amare slipped to the basket, gave ‘Melo his space and let him go to work. Anthony delivered with his first game winner in a Knick uniform.
It wasn’t pretty…I was pulling my hair out in the fourth quarter watching a 14 point lead slowly evaporate. I couldn’t help but think of last minute collapses the Knicks have had this season. Last night appeared like it would fall into the category of head shaking losses. But, since the trade two weeks ago, the Knicks’ new pieces have knocked down a couple of huge fourth quarter shots…‘Melo against the Bucks, Chauncey against the Heat, and ‘Melo again last night.
The Knicks have an opportunity to extend their winning streak to four games. It won’t be easy…the Mavs are one of the best teams in the West. Tonight, Jared Jeffries will come in handy. He has the ability to match-up defensively against Dirk Nowitzki. It will give Amare an advantage against Tyson Chandler on the offensive side of the floor. A win tonight and the Knicks move to 6 games over .500 and climb within two games of the fifth spot…setting up the first exciting basketball April in a long time.
Big East tournament…
Jim Burr, Tim Higgins and Earl Walton made a mockery of officiating last night. It’s a shame really. Basketball referees have one of the toughest jobs in America. They have to make split second calls in front of 20,000 screaming fans, 2 irate head coaches, 24 players, and countless camera angles that show the slightest mistake. You can’t fault a ref who misses the occasional out of bounds call, or misses a foul. Officials just like coaches and players make mistakes, they are human.
But…what transpired yesterday afternoon was unacceptable. The final 13 seconds were arguably the most poorly officiated conclusion to a game that I have ever seen. It had nothing to do with missing a call, or making a mistake…the three officials had to know something was amiss. You could see Earl Walton with his head turned staring at Justin Brownlee strolling down the sideline with a couple of seconds left. The problem? It wasn’t his call…Jim Burr was in such a hurry to get off the floor and avoid the confrontation with Mike Rice that he scurried into the confines of the Garden locker room.
Was Rutgers going to win the Big East tournament? No. Were they going to make it to the NCAA tournament? No. But the refs aren’t supposed to decide the game, the kids on the floor are. And yesterday that wasn’t the case.
I loved Marquette’s match-up against West Virginia for a reason. Buzz Williams pushed just the right buttons on Darius Johnson-Odom who knocked down the two biggest shots of the game. If you look at Williams’ body of work, he has his kids ready to play in the Big East tournament. They fight very hard, play lock-down defense, can score with anybody, and find a way to grind out tough wins.
The win against West Virginia all but assures the Golden Eagles an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. They have a solid enough resume, and history on their side. Marquette has a match-up tonight against Louisville, a team they almost beat on the road at the Yum! Center in January. The Cardinals have a nice team, but I don’t think they have that “go get a win guard” who can carry them in the last five minutes of a game. It’s why I take Marquette’s squad in another upset win today.
In little under an hour Pitt and Uconn get set for what promises to be a great match-up. Can you really bet against Kemba Walker? I wouldn’t…Pitt, the number one seed in the tournament, and currently ranked third in the country, have a solid mix of good guards and over-powering size that cause problems for any number of teams. Earlier in the season the Panthers handed the Huskies a 15-point loss and made it quite clear they were the team to reckon with in the Big East. I like Jamie Dixon and it would be nice to see Pitt march toward a Big East Championship and solidify themselves as a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
It will be a fun 8 hours of basketball today at Madison Square Garden. The Pitt game is followed by home grown St. Johns matching up with Syracuse. Dwight Hardy is the only member of the Red Storm to knock down more than 50 threes this season. As a team they have only shot 33 percent from deep. Jim Boeheim who is famous for his 2-3, could cause a lot of problems for Steve Lavin and company. But, after watching the conclusion of yesterday’s debacle, you have to think maybe the Johnnies have a little Garden magic on their side.