Happy New Knicks, that was the roar of the crowd last night at Madison Square Garden as the New York Knicks beat the Phoenix Suns in overtime 98-96. This was not an easy win but they beat a team that is 21-15, seventh in the West.
The Knicks have now won five straight games and five out of six games in 2014. If they can keep this pace they can slowly take their place back on top of the Atlantic Division. Oh, what a difference a year can make.
So what happened?
How could a team go from playing so poor, now play so well, with so many injuries? This year with Pablo Prigioni, Metta World Peace, Tyson Chandler and Beno Udrih out with injuries or illness and J. R. Smith held out for mental mistakes, this team wins in spite of the lineup.
The key word here is team.
They are playing like a team and that is largely due to Carmelo Anthony, who must have had the epiphany, he cannot do it alone. In games where Anthony has four or more assists the Knicks are 11-2. Last night he had four assists, the largest a pass to a wide open 3-pointer by Raymond Felton at games end.
So what changed this year?
It all began with Iman Shumpert finding his game. Shump is no longer worried about being traded, he has had two 25 plus point scoring games. He has played great defense and is one of the best rebounders on the team. His new found shooting confidence has become contagious. Last night coach Mike Woodson made a huge defensive change having Shumpert cover the red hot Goran Dragic. Shumpert shut him down at games end and held him scoreless in overtime. Last night he tied Kenyon Martin with nine rebounds to be the second leading rebounder. He was a plus-13.
Woodson has also given Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire more minutes and their production has increased. Last night, although Bargnani didn’t shoot especially well, yet again he played good team ball and led the Knicks with a plus-22, while scoring 10 points with six rebounds with an important blocked shot.
Smith who was held back a game this year has returned with a renewed focus. He seems far more controlled and serious. Benching Smith one game sent a strong message and a great message to the team. You can see as this team has won their defense has improved and they are starting to get their swagger back. This year Woodson has stepped up his game, he has stopped looking at the shadows and started to make players accountable. This has helped the team intensity.
With five straight wins Woodson needs to continue to reward the hot hand. To reward role players like Tim Hardaway Jr., Stoudemire and Toure’ Murry with minutes has provided depth while others heal. With so many players in and out of the rotation, it is nice to see this team play like a team.
Three players- Shumpert, Bargnani and Stoudemire- who Woodson hasn’t show the love to, have stepped up in a big way. In the last few games Stoudemire, looked like the Amare of hold with not only major scoring, but his lift on many dunks were to be reckoned with. Last night he scored nine points with seven rebounds in only 19 minutes and was a plus-three.
Amare’s play against the Heat and 76ers looked like the same guy who played for the Suns and earned All-Star berths every season. He was that strong, jumped that high, played that good. He said after last night’s game, “I feel good and all the hard work has paid off.”
“I‘ve been feeling pretty good all year,’’ said Stoudemire. “My explosiveness has been there, it’s coming together as a whole. I’m feeling great.’’ His presence offers a rest for Anthony and it makes it more difficult for teams to double team Anthony when he is on the floor.
This is great to see and hear from a player who seems to be getting better stronger each and every game. We need to cross our fingers and hope Amare stays healthy, for if he does, his presence and offensive weaponry makes this a formidable team.
Stoudemire’s brings heart and sturdy defense to the Knicks front line, his play has been an integral part of their 6-1 record in 2014. He has played great off the pick-and-roll with Carmelo Anthony and that makes Anthony happy
When interviewed Anthony stated, “He took it one day at a time. He had so many injuries over the last couple of years that could mess you up mentally. He’s just starting to bounce back and getting confidence in his legs and games.’’
After so many reporters wrote him off early in the year, it is nice to show hard work pays off for this genuine man. His play has sparked Anthony and his teammates.
“When Amare’s in the pick-and-roll with me, there’s a lot of options,’’ Anthony said. “He can go down there in the post. People forget that he was a hell of a roller going to the basket. He still has that — just a matter of his legs getting underneath him. He’s getting his power and confidence back. When we plays like that, and we start believing in him more, he’s only going to get better.’’
Felton who struggled on defense last night had a good offensive game with 19 points making some key plays and shots down the stretch, especially his three at games end. He was a plus-seven.
Although Martin did not have a great game, he was solid with eight points and nine rebounds. His dunks and passes in overtime were key to the win.
Anthony scored 29 points and made some key passes a scored the last basket in overtime. As he was double teamed and beat up most of the second half, he willed this win last night.
Now combine the Knicks newfound defensive intensity with the play of both Shumpert, Stoudemire, Felton, Martin and Tim Hardaway Jr, and you have the beginning of a new year, a new Knick team.
Woodson needs to keep his team and especially Smith focused and continue to find minutes for the players who have taken Woodson from the electric chair in 2013 to the nice recliner he has enjoyed so far in 2014.
This is a talented team when they play like a team. 2014 has been a great year for this Knick team, they just need to continue the momentum that they have started the year with. Maybe 2014 will be the year Knick fans have waited for. With a weak Eastern Conference, the sky is the limit.