As lifelong Knicks fans, we are preconditioned to believe that, no matter what appears to be happening, it will ultimately be the same disappointment as it has always been. As we’ve discussed on this blog before, to be a Knick fan is to embrace disappointment, to toil under an owner hell bent on ruining the franchise, and always looking and hoping towards that distant future when we finally have a team worthy of the greatest fan base in basketball. Thru the flurry of text messages last night between our Knicks Bricks starting 5, one thing is clear: None of us believed this year would be any different… but, but the grace of Clyde, it is. The Knicks went into San Antonio last night, shot poorly for much of the game, got a single digit performance from the NBA’s leading scorer, faced a Spurs team that was clicking and doing Spurs things, went down big in the 4th… and refused to roll over. Not only did they refuse to roll over, but down 89-77, the Knicks abused and out executed the Spurs down the stretch (who does that?) to the tune of a 27-11 run to close out the game. On the backs of Ray Felton and Jason Kidd, the Knicks pulled out a 104-100 victory in San Antonio, serving as one of the best wins in recent memory, and notice to the rest of the NBA universe that this team is wholly legit. It’s really the only word to use to describe them: Legit. Your legit New York Knicks. It’s got a great ring, doesn’t it? You’re starting to turn atheists into believers.
The game started out pleasantly enough, as the Knicks got some nice early contributions from the backcourt, notably Felton, Brewer and Kidd. But, the frontcourt struggled, Duncan looks completely rejuvenated (understandable why he is in everyone’s super early MVP discussion) as he finished with an efficient 14 and 14 and Tony Parker (19, 6 and 12) got anywhere he wanted. “Unabated” was the word I used when talking to Mike. After a first half when the offense flowed, the game got extremely physical in the 2nd half and was a back and forth affair… until the dreaded Tiago Splitter struck. Yes, you read that right… Mr. Splitter gashed the Knicks for the Spurs’ first 13 points in the 4th in the greatest 5 minutes of his entire life (seriously, ask the women he dates), giving the Spurs a 12 point lead and all the home court momentum in the world with 7 minutes to go. It looked like any Spurs victory we have seen repeatedly the past 15 years… It was close, they played smart, didn’t turn the ball over, and ultimately would out execute the opponent to death down the stretch.
But the Knicks, the backcourt in particular, had a very, very different plan. Ray Felton drove to the lane, knocked in a lay-up and got fouled. Then Kidd hit a three. And another. Felton scored another hoop. Tyson finished a feed from Melo for a resounding and 1, followed by another Felton lay-in. After the Spurs extended the lead back to 3, JR took over, dropping two buckets including a HUGE 3 to give the Knicks the 2 point lead. The Knicks then forced a shot clock violation (on the SPURS… in crunch time!!!) and Kidd drilled a MONSTER 3 with a minute left to put the finishing touches on an amazing 4th quarter run. It was the type of game the old Knicks never won… and the type of game these Knicks make you believe they’ll never lose.
A lot to discuss here in the bullets:
- Eat your words broadcast crews: We know I’m a sucker for the NBA League pass because I love hearing the other announcers’ perspective on the Bockers. My favorite thing about this year? Listening to the other announce team come into the game with the tired media shtick “It’s the same old Knicks, it’s so early… blah…blah…blah”… And then closing down the game admitting they were very, very wrong, and this team is very, very good. Last night it was Sean Elliott (who, by the way, has turned into a VERY capable color man, I was really impressed… makes you wonder what exactly he said to infuriate DeMarcus Cousins so much); the night before it was Matt Goukas. The Goukas turn around in particular was enjoyable as, when Reddick hit a 3 to go up 11-6 early, Goukas took that as the opportunity to very firmly advocate that this was clear evidence it was too early to be crowing the Knicks (which was particularly ironic because it was, well, 5 minutes into the 1st quarter of a game… kinda early to be throwing dirt on a 5 point lead, huh Matty?). That has to be one of my favorite things about this entire start… the RESPECT from the national media has been overwhelming. Where you at Stephen A.??? We all love JVG, who has been known to be extremely guarded (even critical) with his opinion of the Knicks over the years. To hear him the other night, going on and on about how legitimate of a contender they are was simply beautiful. I still miss him. I know AC does. Passionately. But it’s nice to hear he’s impressed with his old flame.
- The Maturation of Melo: To the untrained eye (or someone that didn’t watch the game) Melo went for 9 points on 3-12. On first glance, it was one hell of a dud of a performance in a huge game. But, man did Melo bring it, in a way 2004 or 2008 or even 2011 Melo would have never been capable of. The Spurs doubled him on the touch all night. They put big old DeJuan Blair on him to beat him up. The stuck emerging defensive extraordinaire Kawhi Leonard on him. They even put Duncan on him for a brief spell. Instead of forcing the issue, Melo expertly passed out of the double over and over, from the 1st to the 4th quarter. I’m convinced if the NBA handed out hockey assists, Melo would have had 15 last night. He made so many passes that led to the pass that led to an open 3. He barely left the floor, racked up 12 huge rebounds (including 5 on the offensive glass) and battled, scrapped and fought with Tim Duncan the Spurs front line ALL night. Melo was the one Knick in the heart of every loose ball battle, a place he wouldn’t have been caught dead a few years ago. Sure, he seriously loafed back on D a couple times, but even when his shot wasn’t falling, Melo made the right play over and over and over last night. The best way I could describe his passing out of double teams last night was “capable and willing”. Great heart, hustle and a heady performance from Melo.
- The Maturation of JR: Look. I can admit when I’m wrong. In the offseason, I prayed JR didn’t have a “wink, wink” deal in place for beyond this year. He was the king of holding an offense hostage with foolish “dribble, dribble, dribble, long 2” after foolish “dribble, dribble, dribble, long 2”. Now? I’m PRAYING we have something under the table in place for JR. Yes, it’s a small sample size, and the guy is as erratic and streaky as they come. You could be laughing hysterically at anything I am about to type in a week. But…. JR is playing so well right now. It’s disorienting. The big news story yesterday was how JR has cut back on the partying and is taking his career more seriously now… well, whatever you’re doing JR, keep it up. Earl has been more aggressive and more under control at the same time, if that’s possible. He’s attacking, not settling for fade away 2’s, and doing it all in the flow of the offense. His sense of timing seems astronomically better. Last year, when you needed a big bucket, you could count on JR making a dumb pass to the 3rd row or shooting a shake and bake long 2 over some opposing center. This year, he’s got a sense of the moment, taking it to the lane for a floater or working to get a “better” shot, not the “first” shot. Huge difference. His ability to create his own offense is invaluable when Melo has nights like this scoring the ball. Keep it up JR.
- Ray Felton… What’s up now Nate McMillan? Ray played his best game of the season last night, dropping 25 and 7 big assists, scoring the ball early and late when the Knicks needed him most. Ray has been huge for this team all year, and you can tell from his interviews he is SO happy to be back in NY. Along with the huge clutch buckets from Kidd, I couldn’t feel more comfortable with the PG position this year. Last year this time we were watching Toney suffer from “Please stop making me bring the ball up, I’m a 2 guard” syndrome and asking if maybe Bibby’s corpse could do better… or if Boom Dizzle would ever get healthy. We legitimately were hoping on Baron being a savior. That’s like PG rock bottom. This year? We have steady, veteran leadership, that takes care of the ball all the time. The Knicks notched only 7 turnovers last night. Which leads me to my next point…
- Turnover differential. You want to win in the NBA, cause more turnovers than your opponent. What are the Knicks doing this year? Destroying the league in that metric. The Knicks are forcing 7.3 more turnovers a game than their opponent. 7.3! The next closest? The Hawks and Raptors at 3.6 more than their opponents. That’s right. The Knicks are winning the turnover battle by more than twice any other team in the league. The Knicks are averaging only 10.2 turnovers a game… Memphis is 2nd a 13.3. They sport an assist to turnover ratio of 1.93… next in the league is Boston at 1.79. Ladies and gentleman, veteran PG play at its finest…
- Bigs off the bench: Not sure I fully understate the big man rotation at the moment. Maybe it has been more due to matchups, but Camby and Kurt have been getting almost no playing time, while Sheed has garnered all of the bench minutes. Sheed had a couple nice buckets last night, but generally, I have been underwhelmed with his shot selection. But, his interior D has been stellar, and we’ve seen little drop off when Tyson has gotten a breather with Sheed quarterbacking the 2nd unit. I’m extremely impressed with that aspect of his game. Still, you have to wonder if maybe we won’t see a heavier dose of Kurt and Camby against the 2 headed Z Bo/Gasol monster tonight.
- No-vak?: Novak is really struggling of late. He is one of those guys whose value is more than the statistic indicates because of how, even standing in the corner (like Ray Allen’s function in Miami), you have to worry about him and it opens up room for JR/Melo to operate. But, you’d like to see him start having some more consistent shooting nights. Last year, Novak hit 5 or more 3s 8 times. This year, I’m not sure he’s gotten more than 2 in a single game outside of the opener against Miami.
- Shoot the J. Shoot it.: The rest of the team is still shooting expertly from deep, knocking down 11 of 25 last night. It’s easy to see why when you watch the game. They force nothing, always make the extra pass and are typically taking wide open 3’s. Even Ronnie Brewer can’t miss. The Knicks perimeter players can’t possible shoot at this rate all season, but the way they are doing it is very sustainable at a high clip. It’s encouraging.
- The Spurs comedy routine: A shout out once again to whoever creates these Spurs commercials. Every year, I find myself more impressed with the Spurs commercials than any other local broadcast and it’s by a “Bron vs. the rest of the league” type margin. The comedic timing by Manu, Parker and even Timmy Duncan is tremendous, and the concepts are dynamite. After ’99, I was conditioned to hate the Spurs, especially Duncan. But man, they make good promotional material. Hats off to whoever is in charge of these spots.
- I love Tyson Chandler: There, I said it. His huge dunks down the stretch of the last two games are the 7,893rd reason I’ve found to love him, but this is for real. He’s my favorite Knick since Oak, and that is saying a lot. I’m sorry Gallo. We’ll never know what might have been, but you were just a boy. And Tyson is a man. A big, scary man. Long live the Beast in the paint.
Bring on Z Bo and Memphis. We’re ready. Go New York, Go New York, Go…