I’m not yet convinced that I gave up too soon on the New York Knicks after yet another of their head-scratching losses last week.
New York still has a lot of work to do to reach the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the road ahead — both in terms of home/road splits and strength of schedule — favors the Atlanta Hawks.
The Knicks have four games left at home, the same number on the road and each of their last seven games against teams that will be in the playoffs. The Hawks, meanwhile, have 10 games left, seven of which will be at home, and they’ll face just four playoff teams the rest of the way.
Ultimately, I still think inexcusable home losses to three of worst teams in the league (Cleveland, Philadelphia and Sacramento) will cost New York the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
But who knows? And to the Knicks’ credit, they showed some character, guts and in a way that’s been very rare for them (or the Hawks) down the stretch of the season, grinded out a huge win, 89-84, at Golden State on Sunday night.
Just when things looked predictably bleak yet again for New York — after Golden State scored the first two points of the second quarter, to lead, 34-22 — the Knicks’ bench led helped lead a huge surge. And despite some offensive trouble in the second half, New York found enough intensity on defense to pull out a big victory that tied the Knicks with the Hawks in the win column (at 31 wins apiece), while moving them just two losses (43) behind Atlanta (41).
With the Hawks in a free fall (having lost six straight games and 20 of their past 26), the Knicks took advantage of a small Warriors small lineup which lacked ex-Knick David Lee and Andrew Bogut, and even with Carmelo Anthony suffering through a 19-point, 7-for-21 shooting performance, New York showed the type of fight and focus which had been missing on far too many occasions this season.
Anthony was benched for almost all of the second quarter, with three fouls. Still, the Knicks closed the first half on a 34-10 run, while scoring the last 15 points of the half, to lead, 56-44. Tim Hardaway, Jr. and J.R. Smith led that charge for New York.
Later, point guard Pablo Prigioni, in the same way that departed veterans Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas or Marcus Camby provided such needed leadership last year, began to bark some instructions during some heated timeouts. Not excluded from those directives were team leaders Anthony and Tyson Chandler. And the Knicks responded as a group.
Despite scoring just 33 second-half points, New York did enough to keep everyone on Golden State, besides Stephen Curry (32 points), in check.
Even when Curry led the Warriors back and tied the game, 81-81, on an open right-corner 3-pointer with 2:42 left, the Knicks buckled down and only allowed a Klay Thompson trey thereafter. And when Curry tried to tie the game again, in the final seconds, point guard Raymond Felton bothered Curry enough to forced the ball out of his hands for a turnover that iced the game for New York.
Had the Knicks showed that type of fortitude many other times this season, especially in that home loss to Cleveland last week, they’d be in a better position now.
Seeing the current East leaders, the Indiana Pacers, struggling to just a 6-9 mark over their past 15 games (a stretch that includes a recent loss in New York) gives hope that perhaps the Knicks could actually compete with Indiana in a possible first-round playoff series should the Knicks get there and the Pacers hold off Miami (which is one game back of Indiana) for the one seed.
Much still has to go right for New York to think of that scenario.
However, as the Knicks get ready to close out an important five-game road trip and the month of March in Utah on Monday night, their solid effort and ability to grab a win that few thought they could, at Golden State, suddenly makes April look a bit more hopeful.
Tags: New York Knicks