For a devout Knicks hater like yours truly, having a trip to Madison Square Garden trip result in the Knicks' play last night represents a gross misfortune. For lovers of the game of basketball, it was as refreshing as the situation will get in the Big Apple this season.
Yes, we're going with one more Knicks column this week. But only because, as anyone who witnessed it can tell you, last night was a very rare testament to what a team -- any team, especially if this Knicks group could do it -- can do when all falls into place.
The Knicks did just about everything right last night in shellacking the Cavaliers at home, 108-90. Their offense was extremely effective, as they shot 56.2 percent from the field. Quentin Richardson looked rejuvenated and stretched the floor by bombing early and often, hitting three treys in the first quarter en route to a 4-for-6 performance from deep and a 16-point night. Jamal Crawford added three treys and had the midrange game going very well. The result was great looks for everyone. Zach Randolph (7-for-13) and Eddy Curry (4-for-5) both shot high percentages and had their way inside. David Lee had what was for sure a career night with 22 points and 11 boards on 9-for-12 shooting, and most of those points came on dunks, lay-ups and free throws caused by easy opportunities around the rim. The Knicks spread the ball beautifully, with six players going for double figures, and they played what really looked like sound, fundamental and -- dare I say it -- smart team basketball on the offensive end all night.
After an inexplicable DNP-CD on Monday night, Nate Robinson added his own dimension to that offense last night, serving as the epitome of a sparkplug off the bench. He flew past Cleveland defenders for acrobatic lay-ups and made the 'effort play' of the game for the Knicks. After a 'Bocker basket stretched the lead, Sasha Pavlovic received an inbounds pass from Devin Brown and softly and nonchalantly slapped it back toward Brown and turned in the other direction. The next thing Brown knew, he was standing under the basket avoiding a descending Nate Robinson, who had sprinted up the floor, intercepted Pavlovic's weak pass and dunked it. It was the type of play the Knicks so rarely make, the type of play that gets made simply by one player possessing greater desire than his opponents. Virtually every night, that isn't the case for the Knicks. No matter how little their opponents care, they seem to care less. Robinson's play represented a departure from that line of thinking, which is the type of thing that must continue for the Knicks to have any shot at success in the future.
Perhaps of greatest significance last night was the Knicks' apparent comprehension of the concept of defense. Or at least the understanding by Isiah Thomas that he needed to put a lineup on the floor that would make an effort in that regard. Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry both had effective offensive performances, but be wary not to mistake them for good all-around games. Neither moves at all well defensively, and both routinely get beat in the post and fail to step out on their men for midrange and perimeter jumpers, and those trends continued last night. It is no coincidence that, of the nine players who played significant minutes in this game for the Knicks, Curry and Randolph had two of the three lowest plus-minus ratings, at plus-2 and plus-6 respectively. Simply put, the game changed with David Lee and Malik Rose in it. While neither is a defensive mastermind, both work hard and will force opponents to work to beat them. Lee plays a tough game down low, and Rose will battle all night and resort to hard fouls if necessary before he will give up an easy bucket. With those two on the floor, the Cavs had to earn baskets against the Knicks inside, and for the most part they couldn't do so. Their energy was contagious, with Crawford and Richardson both picking up their work ethics as well and even the oft-maligned and often useless Jared Jeffries coming in and making at least a moderate impact on both ends of the floor.
I'm no Knicks fan, and I realize that most of this readership falls into the same category. It hurts to have to write this, but, especially as someone who is all too happy to revel in this team's misery, it seems only fair to point out when the 'Bockers do the job right. Last night, they didn't just do the job right. They did it nearly perfectly. Yes, they had a couple of rough stretches, and they allowed LeBron James to go for what qualifies as a good night by his standards: 12-for-21 shooting, 32 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals. But it wasn't an otherworldly night, and it wasn't enough to give the Knicks a run for their money. For one night, the New York Knicks played efficient offense, stifling defense and simply beautiful team basketball overall. And they did it without their disgruntled so-called star point guard ever taking the floor.
No matter who the Knicks beat and how they beat them over the course of the rest of the season, they won't replicate what they did last night. Last night, a very flawed basketball team played a nearly flawless game of basketball. For one night -- as vomit-inducing as this is to say -- they deserve all the credit in the world.