The Knicks made a meal out of a game that looked like it was going to be another ho-hum Sunday matinee blowout today, but ultimately prevailed over the Phoenix Suns to improve their home record this season to 7-0 and 18-1 (!!!!) since Mike Woodson took over the helm from Mike D’Antoni last year. To my never-ending glee, today’s victory runs the Knicks record to 12-4 on the year, where they hold sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division (in December!) and sit one half game behind Miami for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
The first quarter saw the Knicks’ lock down defense hold the Suns scoreless for a 5 minute period in the middle of the quarter, which allowed New York to jump out to a 21-6 lead. The Suns closed the gap to 24-20 before the clock showed all zeroes, but the highlight of the early-going was Rasheed Wallace’s hilariously quick 85-second ejection. Rasheed got the first technical for getting a little frisky with Luis Scola in the low post. He was unhappy about the call and performed the Ritual Rasheed Wallace Referee Following Dance, as Goran Dragic toed the line to take his free throw. Having already seen ‘Sheed get teed up once this year for screaming his trademark “Ball Don’t Lie!” at the top of his lungs once this year, I was really hoping Dragic would miss the shot so we could witness Rasheed’s reaction. He did not disappoint. As the ball careened off the rim, Wallace threw his shoulders back, puffed out his chest, turned his face to the rafters and bellowed “BALL DON’T LIE!!!!” Needless to say, his day was done. It was really pretty awesome.
In the second quarter, the Knicks created some separation from the Suns, thanks in large part to Wallace’s replacement, Chris Copeland. Copeland showed surprising range on his jumper, knocking down a couple of 20-footers before capping off his 8-point quarter with a thunderous follow-up dunk that was truly glorious. Steve Novak provided his share of the offense, banging home 3 shots from the deep end. And, of course, Carmelo Anthony quietly dominated whoever the Suns sacrificed to the defensive gods, pouring in 9 points of his own en route to a 17-point half (and 34 point day). All in all, the ‘Bockers went into the locker room with a 59-42 lead.
Coming out of halftime, it seemed as if both teams sort of agreed not to try super hard and bust each other’s balls. Defense was not exactly a point of emphasis. They mostly traded baskets, and tied the quarter 30-30. Unfortunately, the Knicks continued to suffer from not-give-shit-itis in the 4th quarter. A series of sloppy, lifeless, uninspired possessions (the Knicks made only 1 of their first 9 field goals in the quarter) led to bad jump shots and long rebounds. The Knicks got lazy on the defensive end as well, failing to pick up streakers in transition and going under screens in the halfcourt. All of this led to a slew of wide open three-pointers for the Suns that they happily converted, resulting in a 13-2 run to open the quarter that shrunk the Knicks lead to 6 points. Raymond Felton (this season’s unsung hero) stabilized the team, contributing 3 timely buckets (23 points on 10-17, and 7 assists today), including a surprisingly acrobatic layup where he went right into Marcin Gortat’s chest, to stem the tide and get the Knicks back to a double-digit lead. Ronnie Brewer missed two free throws late, allowing the Suns to get the lead down to 4 points and give everyone a scare, but ultimately the damage was done and the home team was able to ice their free throws down the stretch.
- Carmelo and Felton ran the pick-and-roll from deep in the corner a few times today and had a lot of luck with it. They got two Felton jumpers (a three and a long two) and an Anthony and-1 out of that set. I’d like take a look at that to see what running the play that low does to the opposing defense.
- In the third, Novak poked the ball away from his defender for a split second in the high post and you could just see him dreaming of making up for his slow-motion layup in Milwaukee. The Suns picked the ball back up, so we were not treated to that rarest of shows.
- Carmelo Anthony is a changed man. He was hustling a ton today — diving for two loose balls and getting a chase down block on a Suns fast break. He also sagely went for a 2-for-1 at the end of the third quarter as the Suns were going on a mini-run. He took full advantage, dropping in 5 points in those two possessions and giving the Knicks a 17-point lead going in the last quarter.
- A bad day for Knicks point guards. Sebastian Telfair whacked Prigioni in the face and gave him a bloody nose. Raymond Felton appeared to injure his hand diving into the scorer’s table late in the game (although he returned for the last 90 seconds), and will have an MRI. And Jason Kidd has a case of Old Back.
- At the very end of the game, Suns play-by-play announce Steve Albert (brother of Marv) asked his broadcasting partner “Do you have any insight into why we haven’t seen Jermaine O’Neal?” Ha! It’s probably because he’s Jermaine O’Neal. Apparently he wasn’t even on the bench. That guy makes Vince Carter looks like a gritty gamer.