The Boys are Back in Town!
The Knicks opened up their season on Wednesday night with me glued to my television set, ignoring Game 7 of a wild back-and-forth World Series to cheer on my boys. Screw the Royals, their improbable Cinderella-Story playoff run, and the chance of ending a 29 year championship draught. Ours has been much longer.
To be clear, I was not excited about this matchup for opening night. The Melo-era Knicks have had a tremendous amount of difficulty playing against the Bulls. I remember an amazing Easter Sunday matinee game where Melo hit two godly triples, the first to take the game into overtime, and the second to win it, that actually happened on my birthday (BEST PRESENT EVER). Other than that, its been ugly, ugly defeats. The Bulls are just too well-coached, too big, too tough and in-your-face for the Knicks to deal with. We’re a finesse team, not the Detroit Bad Boys and Wednesday played out exactly like a middle school bully having his way with the shy, sensitive glasses kid. Somewhere out there, Michael Jordan is reliving all those classic ’90s matchups and reminiscing about putting Patrick Ewing on a poster all over again.
We did have an excellent start to this game where the triangle was actually utilized, the ball zipped around, and we took advantage of a couple of Bulls’ turnovers and missed shots to jump ahead to an 8 point lead. Even then, I refused to let myself get excited, refraining from sending a smack-text to my Bulls-fan friend or a smiley face to another of my friends who happened to be at the Garden. Because Thibs called a timeout and the Bulls came out of that huddle FIRED UP. And the game pretty much disappeared from there.
A couple of things. One, the Bulls played an excellent game, but the Knicks also did a great job of shooting themselves in the collective foot. We came out of that timeout with the same lineup that started the game. Feeling good about ourselves up 8 points and had immediately gave the ball away on a silly turnover leading to a runaway layup. Maybe a more disciplined team shakes that off, but we turned it over on the next possession as well, cutting our lead in half and causing pretty much every player to throw their confidence out the window. Bricking shots, not getting back on defense, ball-stopping, grinding offense, it was like everything that we had done correctly in the first couple of minutes evaporated after a few simple miscues. Rough to watch.
I’d also like to say that the Bulls’ reserves looked AWESOME. Taj Gibson was invincible that entire game. Offensive rebounding, putbacks, knocking down jump shots from all over the floor. If Pau starts getting a little more confident on the offensive end, I would seriously consider starting Gibson and letting Pau come off the bench for some scoring punch. (not to mention having a ridiculous defensive starting 5) Also, shoutout to the homie Aaron Brooks who did a superb job in backing up Derrick Rose and making me realize why the Bulls neglected to retain DJ Augustin over the summer. Geez. You know we played a bad game when I’m just shamelessly complimenting the other team…
BUT ANYWAY, CLEVELAND DOEEE????
Yeah that’s right. Second night of a back-to-back (against the two best teams in the Conference no less) the Knicks bounced back in a BIG way, spoiling Lebron’s coming home extravaganza and pulling out a huge win in “one of the biggest sporting events…ever”. You ever hear of the Super Bowl, Lebron?
Seriously, though, looking back at the night with the marquee performances, the stadium full of shining red lights, Lebron’s trademark chalk throw, all the hype and the magazine covers that these Cavs posed for, what a great fucking win.
The night did not begin well at all. Love showed off his outlet passes and three point shooting only a couple of minutes into the game. Lebron shrugged off Carmelo for what looked like the easiest And-1 ever (he followed it up by kissing his bicep, which would’ve just constituted garden-variety obnoxiousness, except Kevin Love also kissed his bicep after throwing the assist. Something weird goin’ on there…) And Kyrie Irving basically made mincemeat of whatever poor Knicks guard had to defend him, knifing his way in and out of the lane at will.
Then something happened and the Knicks got back in this game. Sure, Lebron’s 8 turnovers and terrible shooting night (started 1-9) went a long way towards getting us that W. But a lot of those misses came because the Knicks were doing a good job of bottling him up and forcing him into some really tough shots. Going back and looking at it, the only one that stands out is him bricking an open wing 3 pointer. It’s also worth noting that the Cavs’ bench is scaring absolutely no one. If Matthew Dalledova is playing serious minutes as your backup PG and you claim to have championship aspirations there is a serious problem. I’m gonna guess that David Blatt realizes Dion Waiters is going to have to play a 6th man role and can’t be in the starting lineup like he was Thursday.
But this wasn’t just a win because the Cavs played some subpar ball. The Knicks did a killer job all night long of making that extra pass (Stat had a great feed for a Melo dunk), letting their system work, and MAKING OPEN SHOTS. I can’t stress enough how important the role players are on this squad. Its like two different teams when guys like Shump and JR are making their jumpers. It gives Melo the freedom to avoid double teams and lets the ball move on offense. These guys looked lost on Wednesday against the Bulls, but last night everyone was getting in on the party from Larkin to Hardaway to Quincy Acy with a nasty putback dunk.
Still the Cavs are the Cavs and have scoring for days so this one was always close. The whole fourth quarter up 5, up 7, up 5 again I was nervously watching the clock, willing the seconds to move faster, wanting this game to be over. It certainly didn’t help that even as Lebron struggled and Kevin Love turned into more of a passive jump shooter, Kyrie remained aggressive and kept beating Larkin and Prigioni for easy lay-ins. But then, before you know it, less than a minute, the Knicks up 3, and Carmelo gets his baseline ISO. I’ve watched Melo nail game winners before but something about that one, with the King in his face, the ball rattling around not-so-cleanly before falling through… Beautiful. I’m not even the least bit ashamed to say I watched this game with a friend from Ohio and was basically jumping up and down screaming in her face. HUGE win for the Knicks. Even Lebron had a smile and a longer-than-usual hug for Melo at the end. He knows his team is going to figure it out and make their postseason run, sometimes you just gotta shout out a friend for a great game.
This guy is way more excited than he should be. Let’s go Knicks!!