As they had done several times before this season, the New York Knicks managed to put it all together during an impressive 100-89 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
And once again, it was the kind of victory that made Knicks (35-45) fans wonder why such high levels of effort and execution occurred on such an inconsistent basis this season with a team for which so much more was expected.
If anything, it was the Bulls (47-33) who should have performed that way.
Chicago came to the Garden with a better road record (now 21-19) than New York’s disappointing home mark (now 18-22). And while the Knicks were simply playing out the string after being eliminated from postseason contention a night earlier, the Bulls needed to win to avoid falling into a tie with Toronto (47-33) for the third seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
The Bulls are also the team that generally brings intensity each game while the Knicks have been known to take a lot of nights off this year.
Yet New York played defense and moved the basketball better than it had most of the season, leading to six Knicks scoring in double figures (with good balance, ranging from 10 to 20 points) as the home team recorded nine of the game’s 13 steals and five of the contest’s six blocks.
New York led for the entire second half, and even after Chicago cut a 17-point deficit to just six points with under three minutes left, the Knicks made all of the winning plays they had to down the stretch.
Point guard D.J. Augustin was held in check, with just 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting, three assists and four turnovers in 30 minutes off the bench, unlike past times he and many other opposing point guards gave New York fits.
Iman Shumpert shot the ball well (going 5-for-11), Raymond Felton had seven assists and just one turnover and in an 11-point game, the Knicks held a 21-6 advantage in points off turnovers — none of which have been consistent staples for New York this year.
Yes, it was all great yet maddening for Knicks Nation to witness from a team that is far from your typical 35-45 club — the same team that this season won in places like San Antonio, Brooklyn (by 30 points), Dallas (by 12 points) and at Golden State, while losing at home to the likes of Boston (by 41 points), Sacramento, Philadelphia and Cleveland.
It’s the same squad that right after winning in Brooklyn by those 30 points, came home to beat Orlando by 38, only to suffer that 41-point loss to Boston less than 48 hours later. That’s right, from victory to defeat, via a 79-point turnaround, over consecutive games.
Yup, those are this year’s Knicks.
Later, New York would lose in double overtime in Orlando, but beat Boston by 26 and 24 points in two later meetings.
Nine straight losses to close November and start December; then a five-game wining streak in January, immediately followed by five consecutive losses, then four straight wins and finally, three more defeats in a row.
In February, it was seven consecutive losses and right after that, eight straight wins.
As the Knicks battled back from a 6.5-game deficit to lead Atlanta by .002 percentage points, through Sunday night’s game, New York has gone 14-5 in its past 19 contests.
That stretch simultaneously included wins over playoff-bound teams like Indiana, Golden State, Brooklyn, Toronto and Chicago, along with losses to non-playoff teams such as Cleveland (after leading by 17 points) and the Los Angeles Lakers (after leading by eight points and allowing 14 points in the first quarter, and then a franchise-worst 51 points two periods later).
This year’s Knicks are also the same group that won by at least 17 points on 10 different occasions this season, yet lost by five points or less 15 times this year.
And while New York is actually four games better (17-23) than Atlanta on the road (13-27), the Knicks lost the eight spot in the Eastern playoff race to the Hawks because they’re six games worse (18-22) than Atlanta (24-16) at home — a place where New York was a dominant 31-10 (six games better than the Hawks’ 25-16 home record) last year.
None of it makes a lot of sense, except that the Knicks have simply thought they were better than they were too often for their own good — something that is symbolized by the “16 To Win” and Larry O’Brien Trophy stickers that even after New York was ousted from playoff contention on Saturday night, remained above each of the Knicks’ lockers, just as they have since last season.
And yet it all makes perfect sense, because only in a season such as the 2013-14 Knicks’ campaign, one in which New York was an erratic enigma wrapped in a riddle, could the Knicks (54-28 last year), for just the second time in their long history, fail to reach the playoffs after winning 50 games the year before.
The last time that occurred was back in 1981-82, when New York went just 33-49 in the legendary Red Holzman‘s final year as a head coach, after he guided the Knicks to a 50-32 record the year before.
Fittingly, New York will mercifully close its season this week with games against Brooklyn and Toronto — the two division rivals the Knicks were expected to beat out for their second straight Atlantic Division crown.
And New York will probably defeat each, to finish the season on an unlikely four-game winning streak, simply because it doesn’t matter anymore — just to agonize their loyal fan base even more during a head-scratching season that Knicks fans would like to forget.
Tags: New York Knicks