Since the Melo trade, Mike D’Antoni has preached that it’s all about just getting to the playoffs. I’m sure privately he tells his team differently, but he’s been very careful to maintain a public veneer of being satisfied simply to show his face in mid-April.
Of course, and especially after tonight’s win, we all know better. We know the rest of the regular season isn’t about going with what works – Melo in isolation – to make the playoffs, but about finding a winning process, finding a chemistry, working the new players in and slowly but surely getting everyone accustomed to the D’Antoni offense. And most of all, it’s about hopefully seeing some growth so that when April comes, this team isn’t just the Amar’e and Melo show.
That’s why this win has to be so sweet. It isn’t just that Melo proved his crunch-time chops for the first time as a Knick, and isn’t just that the big two once again looked completely unstoppable both solo and in tandem. Tonight the Knicks played 48 minutes of basketball at playoff intensity against a team fighting for its own playoff life out west. Usually when Breen and Frazier feel compelled to point out the opponents’ defensive intensity, a) the Knicks didn’t just finish putting up 61 points in a half, and b) they’re getting outhustled and run off the floor. Neither happened in this game; the Knicks led nearly the entire game and, despite ten first-half turnovers, looked ready to match intensity from minute one.
As for the game-ending dagger…what can you say? Melo is amazing, we knew he was amazing when he got here, he’d been unconscious all game…he’s the best in the world at winning games in the closing moments, and he plays for our team. This just makes it real.
Again, there’s something to savor here for the short term and the big picture. Don’t let the Melo heroics obfuscate what we learned tonight: this team has a switch to up the intensity – it does exist, and this isn’t January when they could get run off the floor by any old team that came in with a surge of energy. This game easily could’ve been the Sacramento/Cleveland/Clippers redux we all hope we’ll never have to see again, and it wasn’t. They won’t get beat that way anymore – not now, and certainly not come April.
Some other notes I jotted down as they happened:
- Memphis’ crowd looks like a Broadway theater 30 minutes before curtain. I think their attendance problem has something to do with their PA guy, who sounds like he’s working a monster truck rally.
- Very surprised that Shawne Williams (22 minutes, five points) logged more burn than Jared Jeffries (21 minutes, 2 points, 42 missed layups). Williams not only couldn’t defend Zach Randolph but actually let the big guy beat him to spots underneath the basket. It’s one thing to let Z-Bo bully you, but Shawne was straight ignorant on more than one occasion. Jared wasn’t much better – although he deserves praise for being alive to the Grizzlies’ failed alley-oop that ended the game – but I was hoping he would have entered before Memphis’ fourth-quarter run, not after.
- When I see Roger Mason and Anthony Carter check into the game, I feel like Captain Hadley in Shawshank Redemption: I want to storm down to Bill Walker’s and Chauncey Billups’ cells and scream that they’d better be sick or dead in there, so help me God. Obviously, if Mason is shooting it like he was tonight, he can get some time, but I think the ship on Carter has about sailed. He had a stretch tonight where he put up an air ball, for some reason went to double-team Sam Young which allowed an open layup, and then put up a floater that Marc Gasol blocked with what I believe was his armpit. The guy has a terrible track record as a shooter, he’s a turnover machine, and there’s nothing he does defensively that Toney Douglas isn’t doing better.
- Speaking of Toney, not only did he set a career high with ten assists, he never even had ten dimes at Florida State. He’s obviously shooting the lights out, but I like that he’s improved his penetration so that he can suck in the defense to set up teammates. If he’s going to make a bid to be this team’s point guard of the future, that’s the skill that’s going to get him there.
- Landry Fields: 7-8 FG, six rebounds, six assists. Yawn.
- After ten turnovers threw a wet blanket over the Knicks’ 61-point first half, the Knicks were sitting on just two TO’s for much of the second half before the Grizzlies stormed back. They finished with 16 for the game. Not trying to turn 16 turnovers into a positive, but I appreciated that the Knicks were able to tighten themselves up after halftime.
- Once again, the big two was utterly unstoppable. Carmelo forced a couple shots in the third quarter but otherwise worked to find himself quality looks, and kept Memphis honest with six assists. As for Amar’e, honestly I can’t tell if he’s just scorching hot or if the matchups with Melo have left opponents totally unable to deal with him.
- Memphis made two runs in the fourth quarter. The first was an 8-0 run to begin the period – after a timeout the Knicks got a stop, and Shawne Williams buried a three off Douglas’ penetration to swing the momentum. The second run came with a couple minutes left, and Amar’e responded by drawing a double team and throwing up a fadeaway 18-foot brick. So, call it 1-2 on showing poise in the face of a comeback run, tough defense and a home crowd. Not bad, but not great. This is a process, after all.