11:12 am Dec. 6, 2012
The New York Knicks are off to a 13-4 start, which is impressive enough on its own. But it's the varied ways they've collected their victories that bodes so well for the future of this team.
On Wednesday night, the Knicks beat the Charlotte Bobcats, 100-98. It was a road win against a middling team. How they got there, however, was a different path than their previous 12 wins.
The Knicks received a very strong first half from Carmelo Anthony, who scored 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting. But the Bobcats totally collapsed on Anthony in the second half, holding him to 1-for-11 shooting. Then, with just over two minutes to go, Anthony dove into the stands for a loose ball, and lacerated his non-shooting hand, knocking him out for the remainder of the game, and possibly longer.
For most of that second half, the collapsing on Anthony meant wide-open threes for the Knicks. But those weren't falling either, and the Knicks shot just 6-for-22 from deep in the second half.
The Knicks were outrebounded for the game, 50-36, and 24-18 in the second half. Their top three shooters in attempts, Anthony, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith, finished 21-for-57 for the game, or less than 37 percent. Only Tyson Chandler's 8-for-10 shooting and 17 rebounds stood out as even an average performance among the most important Knicks.
So exactly how did the Knicks win this one?
A few things happened.
In the fourth quarter, they did not commit a turnover. Jason Kidd played all but 36 seconds of that fourth quarter, and as has been the case all season, when the Knicks go to a multi-point guard set featuring Kidd and Felton, or for part of the fourth last night, Kidd and Pablo Prigioni, the turnovers disappear and the shot opportunities get much better. The defense also forced a pair of key turnovers late, one on an almost-unheard-of five-second call.
For another, J.R. Smith did not let his poor shooting night get him down. Smith made a huge steal with less than ten seconds to go, though he inexplicably backed away from a two-on-one break that appeared destined to produce a game-winning layup for either Smith or Felton.
Out of a timeout, Smith got a much tougher shot, fading away from the basket, but he made it.
That sequence showed everything that J.R. Smith has been for the Knicks this season. He's unafraid to take shots as needed, which is nothing new. But his defense has been vital, and the effort constant. Moreover, he's still learning how to make consistently good decisions with the ball, and that effort is, at times, producing too much caution, a departure from his prior proclivity to shoot too much.
This kind of win, stealing one on the road when all the stats say you should lose, is the hallmark of a very good team. The Knicks have won games due primarily to Anthony, to Felton, to Smith, to Chandler, even to Rasheed Wallace.
This one can be chalked up to the team doing just enough to win. Learning how to do that in December is likely to pay dividends in May.