In an up-and-down game Sunday afternoon, the New York Knicks finally pulled it together to beat the Indiana Pacers, 98-92. While the Pacers haven’t been much of a defensive force the last few years, this year they keep their opponents shooting at the league’s fourth worst percentage. So with the Knicks leading the NBA in scoring, it was a case of the unstoppable object hitting the immovable wall, and who would give.
Oddly, since teams often start sluggishly in afternoon games (with the Knicks particularly egregious in this regard at home), they both came out firing. Even odder, one would think that would favor the Knicks (the Pacers are ranked 24th in offensive efficiency), yet the first stanza ended with us down 30-32. It wasn’t because they shot lights-out, but rather because in a Zydrunas-Ilgauskas-esque nightmarish way they outrebounded us by five boards in that quarter alone.
During the game there were literally like 20+ lead changes. The first quarter had the largest disparity of points (Indiana lead by 9 at one point). In the second quarter, the largest lead was just 6 points, and the half ended tied at 55-all. Then, bizarrely, in the third quarter, no team ever lead by more than just two points, and there were 16 lead changes alone. That’s gotta be some kinda record. The fourth quarter was fairly similar, with no team leading by more than three points until with just 2:14 remaining, Amar’e Stoudemire gave the Knicks a five-point lead with a tough layup around James Posey where he had to pop back up under the basket. Forty seconds later, Indiana’s point guard, Darren Collison hit a twelve-footer to bring it back to three points once again. 59 seconds later, Stoudemire hit a jumper to bring it back to five points, and that was basically the game. In other words, except for 75 seconds, no team lead by more than 3 points the entire second half. Whoa.
Adding even more to the bizarrenosity of it all is that while the Knicks got behind in a first quarter that was their type of game, they won it all in the fourth quarter when the teams played a low shooting Pacer-style game. The Knicks had won the second and third quarter by two points each, but their biggest quarter was the fourth, which was also the lowest scoring quarter. They won it 19-15. And people say the Knicks can’t play defense.
Truth is, this team can play decent defense, but we lack the mental focus to do it for more than random periods here and there. Which is why even against mediocre teams like the Pacers, every game turns into a nail-biter.
Other key points:
-Danilo Gallinari suffered a yucky looking knee injury when a Pacer rolled into his leg. He was helped off the court, limping while leaning on two players, and didn’t return. However, after he got off the court he seemed to limp okay on his own towards the back, with his limp not even looking that bad, so despite the media’s concern, I’m thinking he’s gonna be fine.
-For some reason, Landry Fields played a season low 13 minutes. Dunno why. This after playing only 28 minutes the game before. Is he secretly hurt/sick? Has coach Mike D’Antoni lost some faith in him? Or maybe D’Antoni’s just gaining more faith in Toney Douglas and Shawne Williams? Regardless, to once again repeat this oft-stated but incredibly impressive fact, Fields leads ALL guards (not just rookies) in rebounds. So it may not be a coincidence that two of the games we got killed the worst in rebounding were the last two. Just a thought.
-Raymond Felton had only two assists. Huh? I can deal with him having an awful shooting night (he hit only 5-of-13), but his disappearing assists leaves me troubled. Specifically, as I mentioned earlier, during the Knicks’ road winning stretch, he was finally hitting the roll man for an easy layup/dunk a couple of times a game, but that seems to have vanished. Like now it feels like he’s not even waiting to see if the roller is open, but instead is just quickly swinging it to the outside guy who’s man has slightly pinched in, but isn’t really open. Kinda like what he was doing to open the season. I don’t get why he’s reverted. Like I’d be fine if he was looking for the roll man, decides he can’t make the pass, and then swings it outside, but he’s gotta give a longer look. I mean even if he can’t make the pass, by giving it a longer look that also might make one of the perimeter players lunge towards the middle (rather than pinching in just one step), leaving the swing receiver more open for a real look.
-After playing 22 minutes against Orlando, Shawne Williams played another solid 17 minutes yesterday. He’s showing he deserves those minutes. Not just 5-8 minutes, but a nice 15-25, which is great. And it isn’t just that he’s hitting outside shots at an insane percentage (a ridiculous 64.5% from distance), but he’s also playing good defense and really hustling out there. If I’m gonna pile on D’Antoni for sometimes throwing players into the doghouse and killing their confidence (see Eddy Curry, Darko Milicic, Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph), I then also need to give him praise for nurturing someone like Williams back from the dead.
As impressive as D’Antoni’s been at instilling confidence in Fields, this is even more remarkable. From day one Fields has been given free range and trust, allowing him to build off of the confidence that he gained at Stanford. Williams, by contrast, not only had been beat down and lost his confidence due to other coaches, but he also didn’t even start the season off with D’Antoni’s unbridled trust. Yet D’Antoni’s slowly brought him along so that now he feels- nah, knows, he can contribute. And actually, as reported the other week in that link to Mozgov’s journal, apparently D’Antoni has also kept Timofey feeling like he’s important and will get to contribute shortly, so maybe I’ve misjudged D’Antoni in regards to his doghouse demotions. Maybe it seems harsh to the outsiders (or to players like Larry Hughes who have been in the league a while and don’t want to be “nurtured” into the lineup), but perhaps D’Antoni’s doghousing isn’t so bad from the inside.
-Lastly, the Knicks may be five games over .500, but they still haven’t gotten out of their rough stretch of games, so that may not last long. Tuesday they play the hottest team in the league, the San Antonio Spurs, before heading off on a tough four game road trip against the Suns, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Jazz. Meaning it’s not inconceivable that they could lose them all and be back at .500.
That said, we may be hitting those teams at fortuitous times. The Suns are still adjusting to their new teammates, with Vince Carter still having only played two games for them, plus they just recently are experimenting with starting Mickael Pietrus at power forward instead of ex-Knick Channing Frye. The Lakers, as everyone knows, have also not seemed to be clicking well lately. However, the teams that’ve caused them the most trouble have been solid defensive clubs, not the offensive juggernauts, so we may be in a tough spot there. Up in Portland, the Trail Blazers have decided to sit star Brandon Roy for an indefinite period, although lately they’ve seemed to almost play better without him because his gimpy play can make their offense sluggish. Lastly, although Andrei Kirilenko played on Saturday after missing games due to back injury, he only ended up being on the court for 18 minutes because he looked gimpy. Likewise, recently returned center Mehmet Okur also has been out with a new injury, although both he and AK-47 could easily be back to full health by the time we go up against them.
In other words, while it wouldn’t be surprising for us to lose all five games, we definitely should have a shot to steal a couple on the road.