10:30 am Apr. 23, 2012
Sunday afternoon's 113-112 victory over the Atlanta Hawks did more than keep the New York Knicks mathematically alive for a six seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It provided additional evidence of some basic truths about this team, with just days left in the regular season.
Foremost among these is the reality that having both Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire in the lineup is, contrary to concerns about how the two might work together, a good thing. Have two healthy, elite scorers on the floor at the same time presents the kind of problems for an opposing defense that having just one, even if it is Anthony playing the best basketball of his career, simply cannot.
On Sunday, Anthony scored 39 points on 14-for-32 shooting, added 10 rebounds, and was every bit as dominant as he'd been prior to Stoudemire's return. And Stoudemire, playing 34 minutes, scored 22 points on an efficient 9-for-13 shooting day, pulled down 12 rebounds, and gave a solid effort on the defensive end as well.
This was perhaps not quite the breakthrough event it was made out to be. Remember, the Knicks were 6-1 immediately after Mike Woodson took over, before Stoudemire's back put him out of action for several weeks. And Stoudemire and Anthony had co-existed offensively as far back as the first game of the season, combining for 58 points in New York's win over the Boston Celtics on Christmas Day.
Really, the primary difference between Friday night's loss in Cleveland and Sunday's victory in Atlanta was the presence of a healthy and effective Baron Davis at point guard. (This says as much about what the Knicks lack when Mike Bibby is in the game than it does about anything else.)
Davis, who had missed the past two games with the stomach flu, appeared to be rejuvenated by the time off. He played 31 minutes, scored 13 points, and added 10 assists. It was precisely the kind of game the Knicks hadn't gotten from Davis since he returned from his back injury in late February, and provided hope that the Knicks could have a point guard to do more than simply limit mistakes at the position, which was Bibby's selling point. A healthy Davis will only serve to maximize what the Knicks can get from Anthony and Stoudemire offensively.
Significantly, the Knicks succeeded without Tyson Chandler. The Knicks have now played three games without their defensive-star center, who asked for a rest on Sunday to help get himself ready for the playoffs. In those three games, New York, a top-five defense, has given up 118, 119 and 112 points. Even on the heart-stopping final play of the game, a Marvin Williams drive to the basket for a dunk attempt that came just after the buzzer sounded, Chandler's absence was notable. Had he been in the game, Williams would probably never have gotten close to the basket, and in all likelihood, the Hawks would simply have run a different play.
The good news for New York is that Chandler should be back, while the team has just two games, Wednesday and Thursday, before the playoffs start next weekend. That allows the team maximum flexibility to get Stoudemire and Anthony more in sync, the chance to get Davis rested for the playoffs, and another two chances to remind people that two scorers are better than one.