Knicks 121, Timberwolves 114

A win’s a win, no matter how ugly it is. The Knicks held off a Timberwolves team that couldn’t miss in the first half. Lead by another stellar performance from Amar’e (34 points, 5 rebounds) and Felton (18 points, 11 assists), the Knicks have won their 5th straight and continue to beat the teams that we need to beat.

The Wolves took early control by dominating offensively, shooting almost 80% in the first quarter and around 70% towards the end of the second. Michael Beasley continued to play at a high level (25 points, 6 rebounds). He was downright quicker than even the normally-lockdown Chandler, beating him on a lightning first step and draining mid-range jumpers when people gave him space. Kevin Love tried his best to replicate his last performance against the Knicks and was downright dominant (33 points, 15 rebounds). He showed that he could hit open threes, which pulled out Stoudemire from the paint and allowed Minnesota to get offensive boards. He also drove hard to the lane and played a great post-up game. The Knicks weren’t playing tight defense early in the game. But even when they did, Minnesota made tough shots which forced New York to double. That left players like Ridnour and Telfair wideopen for threes, which they  made.

That dynamic changed with about 3 minutes left in the 1st half as the Knicks really stepped up their pressure defense and forced turnovers. It culminated in a monster block by Turiaf alone 1 on 1 in transition to deny the last points of the half. The Knicks confined to play tough “D” throughout the game, and let Amar’e, Felton, and Chandler take over the “O.” The flop-tastic Love kept them in the game, until a clutch 3 by Gallo turned it into a free throw contest. New York has relied on Amar’e and Felton to play outstanding through this winning stretch. I’m scared to see what will happen when/if their production falls down from superhuman level. But for now, Knick fans should be happy that Amar’e has been the best player in the East for over two weeks now, combined with Felton’s outstanding play.

Thoughts on the game:

– The Wolves have a very talented, young frontcourt in Beasley and Love that I think will be great some day. Love is a tough worker who showed that he’s multifaceted, and Beasley was draining shots and beating people to the basket. Darko is making the case to be the starting center on the Isiah All-Stars (people like Ariza and Frye who start performing the second the Knicks trade them). I’ll be honest with you, I don’t see New York winning that game with him in to grab boards and defend Amar’e (who used his length to score at will on Love). At the very least, the T-Wolves owner looks like less of an idiot for using the term “manna from heaven” to describe picking up Darko, and Minnesota has something to look forward to in the future (aside from a lottery pick).

– The Knicks defense in the first half sometimes looked atrocious, but other times they defended well and Minnesota just made fortunate shots when driving to the rack. My cousin Zach (who wrote the post-game for Sunday’s Raptor’s game) brought up the following point: why are they not fouling players hard? The refs were giving them calls on soft D that led to and-1s. New York should send more of a message to people like Beasley and Love to show them how small they are. Remember on Riley’s Bruisers in the early 90’s? Charles Oakley wouldn’t just foul, he’d knock a player on their ass and make them think twice about coming into the paint again.

– Wilson Chandler played an excellent game, scoring 21 points on 12 shots with 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a block. He was one of the big reasons, along with TD, for their defensive resurgence in the second and third quarters. My big gripe with Chandler is that I don’t think he drives to the lane enough [Ed’s note – I think most people here have been saying that for a few years now]. He goes hard to the rim and is typically and excellent finisher in the low post. Chandler settles too much for jump shots and threes (only hitting 2 of 6 from downtown, though the two kept us in the game early on), when he really should be driving (and creating open opportunities for our other three point shooters).

– Despite going 1-11 from the field, Landry contributed with 10 rebounds, an area that he’s excelled at this year. The kid just hustles – D’Antoni’s system doesn’t allow for too many offensive rebounds (SSOL doesn’t allow for the positioning that is typically required), but he is the only guy on the floor who consistently runs into the paint the second someone else on our team shoots. His game could be monstrous if he develops any shooting range, but for now we’re lucky enough that he’s playing as well as he has been.

– Here is where I will draw the most angry responses of the entire post, but I don’t care. It needs to be said: Danilo Gallinari DOES NOT deserve the minutes D’Antoni gives him. He is a massive defensive liability, moving through tar guarding Beasley (who D’Antoni eventually gave to Chandler to handle) and getting blown past by every quick guard when he gets stuck in a switch. He doesn’t rebound. His offensive game (building a campsite outside the arc usually) prevents him from getting position on offensive rebounds (not like he hustles for those anyway). But the guy is 6’10’’ and hardly gets any defensive boards, only nabbing 2 today. So why do we have him? Because he’s lethal from downtown [Ed’s note – I’d say his free throws are another big strength – he’s second on the team in FTA/36]. At least, that’s what many Knickerblogger posters have you believe, but he badly clanged two wide-open attempts and another pick-and-pop where he was given plenty of room. He hasn’t used his length to shoot over people, despite people saying that’s one of his big strengths. He never utilizes his height advantage in the low-post, — seemingly a part of the game foreign to him. His drives are weak and meant to mainly draw fouls (did you see that ugly reverse layup attempt?! The refs bailed him out big time on that call.). That’s why you’ll rarely see him get an and-1, because he doesn’t go up strong enough to control himself to make the bucket (unlike, say, Chandler).

Take for instance Gallinari’s 3 pointer in the last minute with his defender all over him. For the rest of that possession before he took that shot, he wasted 6 seconds standing looking dumbfounded while Amar’e was begging for the ball on the wing with a huge mismatch. His lack of confidence, as this interview alludes to, shows in other plays too, like where he received the ball on the outside with 8 seconds on the shot clock, and instead of driving to the rack in an open lane, he wasted 5 seconds before dumping the ball to Amare and making him force a bad shot.

Don’t get me wrong. I see his potential. I know he has huge games and can make big shots. I love his pro-New York attitude and his team spirit. But he needs less minutes because HE’S INCONSISTENT. I’m not saying he won’t improve to become much better, but he’s not earning it right now.

– SHAWNE WILLIAMS! Who is this guy?!?!?!? He’s done exactly what I wanted Gallinari to do – punish the defense for helping too early on Ama’re, Felton, or Chandler’s drives to the rim. He drilled 3’s, he went for rebounds, he played decent defense…there’s no way he can continue this high of a 3pt%, but I love the fact that we’re finding hidden gems in our lineup on a daily basis.

– One last note, just because I want the guy to be good so badly – Timofey Mozgov. It’s like he shows you how good he could be one second, and then makes you regret thinking that the next. He had a beautiful assist in the second period [Ed’s note – That bounce pass was nice!] and showed you that he’s not the stranger to the game that Hollinger would have you believe in yesterday’s PER Diem. But then he goes up soft to the rim right beforehand – come on! You’re a 7’2’’ Russian Colossus! He needs to grip the ball and power it to the basket. And just having his frame in the low-post makes the Wolves think twice about driving (their points in the paint though were simply replaced by not missing jump shots). But every time he plays good defense, the next time down the court he makes a stupid foul. I hope he gets over these tendencies, because I can see him becoming a solid piece of this team in the future.

PS: I was at the game tonight, and as a dedicated fan through the Isiah era, it’s so refreshing to see the electricity back in the Garden. Even DURING Chandler taking free throws at the end, Gallo couldn’t help himself and encouraged the crowd to get louder with their “LET’S GO KNICKS!” chant. We’re on our way to showing the world that we’ve still got the best place to play basketball.

Also I am wearing my MOZGOV ** OBEY Knickerblogger t-shirt as I write this. I suggest you head on over to the Knickerblogger store and get yourself one – they’re awesome!