By John Schmeelk
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What happened on Tuesday night was not a typical Knicks win.
Carmelo Anthony shot 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter, and Kristaps Porzingis was glued to the bench to make time for Lance Thomas, who made a lot of the big plays at the end of the game, including converting a layup, grabbing a big defensive rebound and sinking four free throws.
Derek Fisher played all 13 active guys on the roster and seemed to pick his lineups by blindfolding himself and throwing darts at the wall.
But the Knicks still found a way to win. There’s no linking a lot of these issues together, so here’s a few thoughts off the game and what it all meant.
Rotation Roulette: Before I get a critical, here’s a little praise for the head coach. Playing Thomas in the fourth quarter is the reason the Knicks won the game. In addition to his offensive contributions, Thomas — not Anthony — guarded DeMar DeRozan down the stretch. Fisher moved Anthony to power forward where he belongs. It would have been easy to put in Porzingis for Thomas, but given the rookie’s struggles, Fisher took a chance and it paid off.
Fisher likely adjusted his lineup because the Knicks were in the first game of a back to back and wanted to limit minutes, but there have been some red flags early in the season that he still needs to clean up. The great Sasha Vujacic experiment should end with the return of Arron Afflalo. Kevin Seraphin is quickly showing why the Wizards didn’t want him back, with his unwillingness to pass and uninspired defense. The Lou Amundson glass should only be broken in case of emergency.
Once the Knicks gets healthy they should only play Jose Calderon, Langston Galloway, Jerian Grant, Afflalo, Anthony, Derrick Williams, Porzingis, Kyle O’Quinn, and Robin Lopez. Lance Thomas or Cleanthony Early can be the 10th man off the bench if needed on a game-by-game basis. Thats’ more than enough guys for a regular season rotation.
Mama Said There Would Be Days Like This: It was only a matter of time before Porzingis had a game like he did Tuesday. He couldn’t buy a jumper (nor has he been able to most of the early season), shot just 3-for-11, and turned the ball over three times. He did grab six rebounds, but it was definitely his worst game yet. That said, it was bound to happen and is nothing to panic about.
Grant, meanwhile, had a welcome-to-the-NBA-moment in the first half when he had to match up with Kyle Lowry. The veteran guard stole the ball from him a couple of times, and Grant looked out of sorts when he did get towards the basket. He didn’t score or have an assist. He recovered in the second half, finishing with four points, four assists and no turnovers. It was another valuable learning experience for the rookie.
Jose Holding On: Calderon gave the team something offensively for the second straight game, including a big fourth-quarter jumper off a screen and roll. He is still incapable of keeping opposing players in front of him, but if he can shoot to his career averages, he is useful on one end of the floor.
The Mascot Mauler: Lopez harassed the Raptor mascot into submission before the game, and then played what could be considered his best game as a Knick. He fouled out, but scored 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds (five offensive) and blocked four shots. Lowry got into the lane a few times in the fourth quarter, but Lopez was there to meet him. Lopez also had a huge offensive rebound and put-back late in the game off an Anthony miss.
Melo Drama: Anthony singlehandedly kept the Knicks in the game in the second quarter, but he once again struggled in the fourth. Overall, the team has been much better when Melo has not been on the court. A lot of that has to do with Anthony’s teammates, but it also has something to do with his 38 percent shooting. To his credit, Anthony has done a wonderful job moving the ball and involving his teammates, but at some point he is going to have to shoot better.
Sixth Man Of The Year: If one thing has been obvious this season, it’s that Galloway, at least right now, is the second-best player on the roster. He won’t keep hooting the way he is now (leading the league in 3-point percentage) but he plays defense, rebounds, and does all the little things that don’t show up in the box score. He might not start, but he should play starter minutes, a trend we’ve seen begin.
Overall, this Knicks team has played a lot of playoff teams this season and they stand at 4-4, all while their best player has shot poorly. When Afflalo gets back, the roster will be complete for the first time. They’ve caught some breaks with injuries holding out some of their opponents’ best players, but the team still went out and won those games.
Follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk