For the 2nd time in less than a week Knicks fans woke up and pinched themselves to make sure they weren’t still dreaming. Last night, the Knicks brought their newly compiled talent to South Beach and pretty much shutdown The Big 2 and Chris Bosh (let’s be honest people, there’s no “Big 3” if Chris “1-18” Bosh is involved). It was a tremendous win for a team on the rise and should provide the necessary injection of confidence heading into a marquee matchup with the Magic and pending 2012 free agent (a.k.a. Future Laker) Dwight Howard on Tuesday night in Orlando. For now, let’s just revel in a tremendous victory in part one of the ‘Florida 2-Step’.
First off, unexpectedly, let’s talk about defense. Yup, defense. Arguably the signature win of the season for the ‘Bockers was due largely to the fact that they played terrific defense against one of the 10 most prolific offensive teams in the land. It would seem that they are starting to get the picture. Between George Karl publically bashing Melo’s defensive effort, or lack thereof, and the shellacking they received from the Cleveland Cav-Nots the other night, maybe the reality is starting to sink in they are going to have to come together as a defensive unit. Last night, not only was the 1-on-1 D more than passable, the rotations and help D looked as on point as it ever has in the D’antoniball era. If the Knicks can sustain that kind of defensive effort on a night in, night out basis, then the rest of the Eastern Conference can officially be put on notice. This team is a real threat come playoff time.
Defensive effort is contagious and when you have 2 superstars playing hard on the defensive end, hustling, and rotating cleanly and effectively, every other member of the team follows suit. Melo and Amar’e have been constantly knocked by fans, scouts, and the media for their putrid defensive showings. The fact is, they earned it. They both had the tendency to get lazy, to lose their man, to not jump out on open shooters, etc. But defense is not a skill thing, it’s an effort thing, and they both now seem to know that if their effort is there, then the results will follow. Exhibit A was last night. Exhibit B could be made Tuesday night against the Magic, a team that may even be harder for the Knicks to guard then the Heat were (double, triple, quadruple teaming Dwight Howard while trying to rotate fast enough to stay with all of those shooters…tough matchup…VERY tough).
While the defense was tremendous last night in holding the Heat to under 90 points for only the 6th time all season, it was Mr. Big Shot himself dropping the 2 biggest buckets of the night. Yes folks, Chauncey Billups is at it again; making big plays on both ends of the floor, bringing veteran savvy and calm to pressure packed situations, and, of course, knocking down the big shot. Chauncey’s 25 ft 3 over Dwyane Wade’s outstretched arm, with just over one minute left in the game, put the Knicks ahead for good. It was a tremendous make and the type of shot that fans in Denver and Detroit came to expect Chauncey to make on a nightly basis…Knicks fans soon to follow.
It was also impressive to see Amar’e play within the flow of the game, not force his shot too much, and not get down when he wasn’t getting his looks. Against the Bucks, in Melo’s Garden debut, Amar’e looked a bit lost not being the number 1 option on offense. His body language was not good and he played a poor game defensively, fouling out late in the 4th quarter. Last night, he took what shots came to him, made a tough layup in traffic (should have been an and-1) in crunchtime, hit the boards hard, and made the game winning defensive stop by blocking LeBron’s layup in the final seconds (good D by Melo on that play as well, he forced James into a weak, contested shot).
Last night was a great indicator of what this team can do in the playoffs. It was a hard-fought, physical game that was won on the defensive end. Games like this are what define playoff basketball and, as Mike D’antoni and co. know, if you can’t win these types of games, you will never reach the promised land. Maybe these Knicks aren’t going to end up as the Phoenix Suns East, as many suspected they would. Maybe this team is going to have what it takes to make a serious playoff run THIS SEASON. Maybe, just maybe, the Knicks are closer to ‘elite’ status then I thought.
Hey, at least it’s finally ok to dream big.
-by Max Joice