It’s been seven years of excruciation. 492 games with hardly a meaningful, progressive, or positive moment to be found at any time. Tonight, after a commanding win against the Cleveland Cavaliers (finally) combined with the Washington Wizards picking up their third road win of the season in Charlotte, all of that is washed away; the 38-38 Knicks are guaranteed a playoff spot. The Knicks are 4-6 in their last 10 games, but are beginning to construct something productive together—tonight was their third win in a row.
Now for some thoughts on the victory.
* Amar’e had a game high 28 points on 9-20 shooting, but the Knicks got things going with a Chauncey Billups first quarter that was nothing but vintage. He set the tone from the opening tip with aggression, looking to get himself started early, and putting the team on his back with a 17 point, flawless shooting first quarter. Billups scored just six points in the final three quarters, but his hot start got things rolling and helped prevent the Knicks from slumbering through another crusty eyed early go. His decision to get things going himself was likely predicated on Baron Davis’ two quick fouls. Very smart to attack the Cavs bench the way he did.
* Carmelo was hot in the first half, too. He finished with 19 points on 7-11 shooting and, along with Billups, looked to understand the importance of clinching a playoff berth and allowing D’Antoni to limit his starter’s minutes from here on out. New York headed into halftime with a 67-57 advantage after ballooning their lead up to 20 earlier in the second quarter, and the Cavs did a great job of chipping it down even further in the third quarter. Probably the greatest reason for this was Cavs forward Alonzo Gee briefly turning into Ron Artest whenever Anthony had the ball. Hats off to Gee for stepping up and accepting the tough task of stunting a player who’d scored over 35 in three straight games. No coincidence here that Anthony’s scoreless drought (his first points of the second half came by way of two free throws around the three minute mark of the third quarter) coincided with the Cavs charging comeback, and it’s a little scary how weak the team looks when its superstars don’t match opponents basket for basket.
* On a happier note, it was very nice to see Bill Walker have a game like this one with the playoffs nearing; it was his most productive and noteworthy since the Trade. Walker scored 13 points in 13 minutes and apart from a missed three, was perfect from the floor with an absolutely filthy one handed slam on the head of Samardo Samuels adding to the highlight reel. He was energetic in the lane while also draining two deep balls. Consistent bench production is definitely one of the team’s big question marks heading into the postseason (feels good writing that last part) and an active Walker can quell at least some of the worry.
* If Landry Fields’ struggles are simply a matter of dwindling confidence, tonight did not help in any way possible. He missed a breakaway dunk, was caught for a lane violation on a Shelden Williams free throw, had more turnovers than assists, saw less minutes than Toney Douglas, was one of two Knicks to finish on the negative side of +/- (-8), and scored his only basket on a first quarter layup. It’s difficult to gauge what to expect from Fields in the playoffs, but due to defensive deficiencies and a serious lack of conviction on the offensive end, it might make sense for the Knicks to bring him off the bench come Round 1.
* The Knicks best defense came by putting Cleveland on the free throw line. The Cavs shot 58.3% from the line while New York went 31-33. Games are usually won when this happens.
* Another thing that usually leads to consistent wins is effective three point shooting; the Knicks made 10 of them and shot 41.7%.