9:49 am Mar. 13, 2012
Under other circumstances, New York's 104-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls on the road Monday night would be considered perfectly acceptable, or even mildly encouraging. The Knicks forced league M.V.P. Derrick Rose to take 29 shots to get his 32 points. They held Chicago to 43-percent shooting, blocked 13 of their shots, and took a team that has lost three games at home all season down to the final minute.
Ultimately, however, this loss does little to provide emotional sustenance for a team that needs it, and more important, it puts another loss on New York's ledger at a time the team can no longer afford them.
Chicago essentially won by exploiting something it does better than anyone else in the league, gathering offensive rebounds. The Bulls had 22 offensive rebounds, nine in the fourth quarter alone. The Knicks had nine for the game.
The next couple of games will determine whether this one was a turning point—a good effort foiled by a simple, correctable inability to protect the boards—or another wasted night.
The loss moves the Knicks into a tie with Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff spot. New York now trails the Celtics by four games for the seventh spot in the playoffs; even still 7-8 is just a battle to face either Chicago or Miami, the two best teams in the conference by miles. The division lead, held by the Sixers, is now seven games away with 24 games left to play.
The Cavaliers are just a half-game behind New York, in tenth place, and out of the playoffs altogether. In fact, New York is significantly closer to 6-34 Charlotte at the very bottom of the Eastern Conference than they are to 35-9 Chicago at the top of the conference.
Last night, the reality of New York's season record wasn't evident. Jeremy Lin battled foul trouble to give the Knicks 15 points, eight assists, three steals and three blocks. Tyson Chandler looked far healthier than he had on Sunday against Philadelphia, tallying 13 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks as well.
And the two centerpieces of the New York offense did much of what they were supposed to. Carmelo Anthony shot just 8-for-21, but did so largely within the context of the offense. He hustled, adding eight rebounds and two steals and had three assists, and he epeatedly sharing the ball rather than forcing his own shot. He's still a career 46-percent shooter whose percentage this season is down around 40, but he's going the right away about fixing it.
Amar'e Stoudemire didn't put together the kind of complete games he's been good for in some of New York's recent contests, tallying just three rebounds. But he did shoot 7-for-12 from the field, including a scorching 7-for-10 start before the Knicks basically forgot about him down the stretch. He's certainly not been the problem for this team in March: He's at 19.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game this month, and is shooting better than 54 percent from the field. Only the fact that every game this month has been a loss has kept the Return of Amar'e from becoming a main media storyline.
If the Knicks can build on this close loss, they still have slim hopes of catching Boston, if not the Sixers, who would really need to collapse to make things interesting. But if they make it to the post-season, the Knicks will need to play like this, or better, if their first-round playoff series is anything more than ritual sacrifice for Chicago or Miami.