The New York Knicks escaped with a 98-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns Monday, and they were lucky to do so. When the Knicks went down five points in the fourth quarter, having blown a double-digit lead, the story arc seemed all too familiar. The Knicks would isolate their way into stagnant, ineffective offensive sets while their defense would continue to surrenders easy pick-and-roll points for the Suns, who to that point, were playing a blistering fourth quarter.
Instead, the Suns, young and a little short-handed, were the ones that lost their composure. The Knicks didn’t totally move away from those qualities mentioned above, but they played well enough at the right times to not only surmount that lead, but regain it. In the tightest of moments, the Knicks swung the ball to get open shots, defended with vigor, denied penetration, and gang-rebounded — all things that helped them build a double-digit lead in the first place — and they came away with the victory, despite nearly blowing it in regulation.
Here’s a look at the individual performances that helped the Knicks secure their fifth straight victory:
Carmelo Anthony – 46 minutes, 29 points, 9-24 FG, 3-6 3FG, 8-9 FT, 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 5 TOs, +2
At one point, Anthony was boiling hot from the field, connecting on several jumpers of the catch-and-shoot variety. When P.J. Tucker, a frisky, sturdy defender buckled in and stopped ‘Melo a couple of times, ‘Melo had to make it personal. From there, Anthony spent a bit too much time going one-on-one, forcing things off the dribble to a 37% shooting night. Still, his contribution on the boards was game-saving, and when the opportunity arose, Anthony whipped the ball around the court to find open teammates (whose missed shots robbed Anthony of three or four more assists). ‘Melo’s open court dish to Kenyon Martin will make the highlights.
Final Grade: A-
Andrea Bargnani – 33 minutes, 10 points, 3-8 FG, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 2 TOs, +22
Just an utterly listless night from Bargnani. He didn’t hurt the team, he didn’t help them; his time on the court featured a lot of aimless floating around. I swear, on several possessions, Bargnani kind of meandered around, trying to set screens for teammates, his back to the ball. His scoring was unremarkable, but to his credit, he came up with some important late-game rebounds.
Final Grade: B-
Raymond Felton – 44 minutes, 19 points, 8-16 FG,1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 TOs, +7
Felton had a decent time scoring the ball, particularly when he wiggled his way into the paint for floaters and layups. Elsewhere, he struggled, though. He didn’t have much consistency to his jumper, and his assist total was low due to his own lacking creativity in the pick-and-roll and some folly from his teammates. On defense, Felton may be the slowest guard when it comes to lateral quickness in the league. Goran Dragic burned Felton from the time the ball was up in the air to when the final buzzer sounded. Even worse, in the fourth quarter, Leandro Barbosa single-handedly put the Suns back in the game by blowing past Felton every time he had the ball. When Felton was switched onto Dragic shortly after, it was rinse-and-repeat. With Felton on the floor, the Knicks just have to hope their offense outscores the opponents’, because opposing guards have a field day when Ray Ray tries to check them.
Final Grade: C
Tim Hardaway Jr. – 15 minutes, 5 points, 1-1 FG, 1 rebound, -10
Hardaway was the first guard off the bench again, and didn’t do much of anything until canning a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter. For as hot as he was in December, Timmy’s averaging just 4.7 points on 36% shooting with 1.7 rebounds per game.
Final Grade: C
Kenyon Martin – 35 minutes, 8 points, 4-9 FG, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, 3 TOs, -10
Martin fouled Barbosa in the final two seconds of regulation to send Barbosa to the line for what ended up being the game-tying free throws. It was a tough call, but a foolish, over-aggressive blunder. He made up for it in OT by tossing a lovely alley-oop to Carmelo Anthony, then throwing down a putback slam off a Felton miss, all the while playing sturdy, commanding defense in the paint for the Knicks. If at 36-years old, Martin’s giving me 8 points, 9 rebounds in 35 minutes, I ain’t complaining. (Somebody should check if Martin is still alive after playing 35 minutes in an overtime affair).
Final Grade: B+
Toure’ Murry – 9 minutes, 2 points, 1-2 FG, 1 rebound, 1 TO, -2
Murry got the playing time over an activated Beno Udrih. Murry struggled to maintain any kind of offensive rhythm for the team (though he did have one beautiful Euro-step for a layup in transition) and didn’t have much more success tracking Phoenix’s guards.
Final Grade: C
Iman Shumpert – 38 minutes, 6 points, 2-5 FG, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 TOs, +13
Shump’s hot shooting has slowly fallen off, and he missed some lovely looks from the perimeter in this one. Nonetheless, he’s rebounding at an astounding rate, and continues to help facilitate the perimeter passing. Credit, too, for making things tough on Dragic late in the game, despite the fact that Shumpert should’ve been guarding from tip-off.
Final Grade: B-
J.R. Smith – 25 minutes, 10 points, 5-11 FG, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, -15
Felt like I hardly noticed Smith on the floor in this one, which is strange, because J.R. Smith usually stands out. His shot selection is always iffy, but he’s maintained control over it, and you can’t ask for much better than 45% from him, despite a lower point total. Did throw one gorgeous drive-and-kick pass over his shoulder for a ‘Melo three.
Final Grade: B-
Amar’e Stoudemire – 19 minutes, 9 points, 2-5 FG, 7 rebounds, 3 TOs, +3
Stoudemire maintained some of that offensive rhythm he displayed in Philly the other night, but to a lesser extent. What really stuck out was just how badly he got burned when forced to cover guards that had just burned Felton. STAT can always be counted upon to foul a guard and let them get the and-one after said guard has blown by him to the basket. Happened twice in this one.
Final Grade: C+
The Knicks go to Charlotte tomorrow night to take on the Bobcats.
Follow Scott Davis on Twitter.