Huge win for the Knicks tonight to kick off a difficult stretch of the schedule, as they won for the first time this season when trailing after three quarters (1-21 now. Yes!). Not only did they beat yet another good team, but they did so with grit and precision, two qualities they’ve lacked down the homestretch of many of their losses this season. Here’s some highlights and other observations:
— The swap-in of Al Harrington for Wilson Chandler in the starting lineup did in fact go down and it turned out to be a positive for the team even though Harrington was only so-so tonight. The starters got off to a fast start as the Knicks took an early lead (the Knicks got their typical dose of strong and heady play from David Lee and Chris Duhon) and Harrington was a big part of that. The team’s production was much more balanced between the starters and the reserves and neither unit was especially exploited or shown to be a weak link (though the Rockets bench was excellent-more on that in a minute).
— Likewise, the move to the bench went swimmingly for Chandler. After a stretch of pretty lackluster play, Chandler came back strong with one of those great all-around games (18 pts on 6-10, 7 rebs, 3 assists, 1 blk) he puts together sometimes that get us fans so excited. Moreover, true to form, once Chandler got it going in the second half, D’Antoni rode him to the finish line (along with Lee and Duhon). One of the best things about Coach D is that he’s equal opportunity (unless your name is Steph – then he’s no opportunity) and strong play is almost always rewarded with more minutes.
— Nate Robinson played well off the bench yet again (with the exception of one absolutely horrific shot late in the 4th quarter) – his fourth terrific game in a row – as he continued to shoot the ball better and executed some really nifty back door cuts for layups and some clever dishes to guys flashing and diving to the rim.
The bench, in general, was solid once again. In addition to Chandler and Robinson, Tim Thomas made a nice contribution and Gallinari played more smart, solid basketball though the stats weren’t gaudy tonight.
— Even though the reserves played a good game, the Knicks really got worked over by the Rockets bench. Von Wafer, and yes, Carl Landry were particularly impressive as they brought hustle and energy. Landry especially had a stretch at the end of the first half where he just took over showing power, athleticism and a soft touch on the 15 footer. He notched 16 points and got to the line 6 times in just 19 (!) minutes. And I’m not just pointing this out because it proves my point…wait no, that is why I’m pointing this out.
That and because, if the Rockets had won the game, it would have been because their bench outplayed the Rockets’ starters and both units on the Knicks. In fact, they really only lost because Landry, Brooks and Wafer played too few minutes and T-Mac, Alston and Battier played too many.
— How frustrating was it to watch Knicks players defend T-Mac tonight? They kept giving him all this space. It’s like they got ready for the game by watching a Mcgrady highlight reel from 2002 and were terrified that he was going to blow past them and dunk on their heads. Meanwhile the poor guy just kept faking and jabbing over and over and over until somebody (anybody!) would jump in the air so he could lean in and beg for a foul. D’Antoni must have said something after that phantom call on Chandler because after that they finally started to crowd him and let him try to pop his contested j.
Anyway, another great win by the Knicks as they inch their way, little-by-little beyond mere competitiveness to quite possibly qualifying for the playoffs.