By John Schmeelk
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For those of you out there that hadn’t seen enough from this Knicks team, now you have it.
There was almost nothing missing from the Knicks’ win in San Antonio on Thursday night.
There is no better win than that.
The Spurs had the best record in the Western Conference, and are one of the best coached teams in the league. They are very hard to beat at home, and played very hard against the Knicks. It was an extremely physical game and the referees let both teams play. From the start, it had the feel and intensity of a playoff game.
In the third quarter and the start of the fourth, it looked like the Knicks weren’t quite ready for that type of game. They let the Spurs get into the paint at will, resulting in an endless number of point-blank shots at the basket for Tiago Splitter. The offense became stagnant as J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony took turns trying to play hero ball. After going down 12 it would have been easy for the Knicks to fold up shop and take their first loss of the season.
They did no such thing.
Instead, the Knicks outscored the Spurs 25-6 for a span in the fourth quarter, and won somewhat comfortably in the final minute. The way they won was even more impressive than the win itself. The Spurs decided that Anthony was not going to beat them, shifting their entire defense and sending double teams to slow him down. The strategy worked until the Knicks decided to win a different way.
Rather than trying to be the “star” and carry the team to victory by forcing contested shots, Anthony stepped aside on offense. He decided to set screens for Raymond Felton and crash the boards.
On defense, he played as hard as I have seen him play, including rotating out on a corner three so hard that it forced a shot-clock violation. At this point last year, I didn’t think Anthony had this type of performance in him. I didn’t think he would ever willfully step aside as a centerpiece of the offense and will the team to a victory, doing all the things that don’t show up on a box score. It showed that he has in fact grown so much over the past few months. This is a different player, and the type of player that can lead the Knicks to a championship.
With Anthony stepping aside, Felton went to work, expertly running the pick-and-roll. He created layups for himself and dunks for Tyson Chandler. He created open threes for Jason Kidd. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought it was Mike D’Antoni’s offense at work in the fourth quarter. It seems like Mike Woodson learned a thing or two coaching under D’Antoni after all.
The Knicks kept their poise, matched the Spurs’ physicality and looked better in crunch time than one of the most experienced teams in the NBA. Their defense turned it up a notch and forced the Spurs into turnovers at critical times. It was the type of performance you would see from a team in the playoffs that would make you exclaim, “Wow, this team can really win this thing.”
Obviously it’s early, and a lot of things can still happen over the course of the next five months, but if the playoffs were starting today I’d think the Knicks would have as good a chance of anyone to win a title.<
I understand that I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s hard not to after a win like that in San Antonio. Honestly, it doesn’t get any better.
– I already gave Anthony the praise he deserved above, but I’ll make it an addendum too. I realize it makes me sound extremely old, but it honestly makes me proud to see how much he has grown, and then watching it show in such a big game. He only took 12 shots!
– As someone who didn’t want to let Jeremy Lin go, and still thinks he should have been re-signed (since it wouldn’t have cost the team anything more than money), give Glen Grunwald credit for creating a stable of so many capable point guards. Kidd and Felton are the two guys that pilot this ship, and I like where they are taking it.
– The Knicks’ performance in the fourth quarter is more evidence of why I don’t think Amar’e Stoudemire’s return will disrupt the Knicks offensively. The ball has moved freely with very few isolations, and Stoudemire should fit right in. He has never been a guy to need isolation touches in the post.
– I will continue to rave about Smith, who, despite playing one of his worst games of the year, still finished with 17 points, five rebounds and two assists on 6-of-13 shooting. His shot selection can still be suspect, but the bad ones come much less frequently. He actually plays like a professional instead of someone on the And1 mix tape tour.
– Rasheed Wallace rebounded with a much better game, and his presence in the paint was felt often with his defense.
– If you would have told me 10 years ago that Kidd would be a knockdown open three-point shooter, I would have told you that you were crazy. I would have been wrong. The way he is leading this team and helping Woodson transform is beautiful to watch.
– Welcome back, Felton. He never shows any fear in taking a big shot. It might not go in all the time, but he has no fear and doesn’t shrink in the moment.
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If they stay healthy, can the Knicks realistically be the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season? Will anything lower than the No. 3 seed be a disappointment? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…