NEW YORK – Even if they don’t admit it, the Knicks seemed to have a little more fire in their step last night versus head coach Mike D’Antoni’s former team. A combination of double-double machine David Lee and the New York bench sent Madison Square Garden home happy on Wednesday night as the Knicks defeated the Phoenix Suns 114-109. Lee brought down 16 rebounds and scored 25 points, while bench recorded a whopping 57 points. Nate Robinson led the way scoring 20, followed by Al Harrington’s 17 and both Tim Thomas and Danilo Gallinari neeting 10 points each.
The game did not start off well for the Knicks. They were down ten points at the 3:34 mark in the first quarter. Through persistence, taking smart shots and a number of balls being stripped away from Shaquille O’Neal, they came back valiantly. Three-pointers allowed the Knicks to storm back and play even with Phoenix until halftime. Harrington, Robinson, Thomas and Gallinari all had two three-pointers each.
With a team like the Suns, whose record now stands at 23-17 following the loss, a complete team effort is required. D’Antoni knew that coming into the game.
“To beat a team like this, it takes all of the guys and they did it tonight,” D’Antoni said in his post-game conference.
The team wanted this win badly. Their body language demonstrated it. Their adrenaline-fueled emotions also led to two technical fouls caused by Robinson and Thomas. They played a great game against the Bulls in Monday’s matinee and now with this exhilarating win against the Suns, New York may start planting the idea of sneaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed in people’s heads. Sure it’s only half way through the season, but if the Knicks play like they did last night – with everybody contributing something – they are at least going to give themselves a very good chance at surprising teams.
It was comical seeing Lee try to defend O’Neal at times. The Diesel would just wait for the ball to come to him, and with his back turned to Lee, dribble a couple of times and put up a basket. Lee was clearly overmatched, but he said he had a plan against Shaq going into the game.
“We just had to make him not shoot a great percentage. Every time they’re going to him at least it’s going to be two points rather than three,” Lee said. “In the second half, I think he got a little worn down.”
Gallinari continues to impress on the court and continues to wow his teammates. Every time he touches the ball fans want him to take the shot, especially behind the arc. In just his third game back from injury, he is beginning to look like a three-pointer specialist. He also looks much more comfortable on the floor, specifically on one play where he took the initiative to dribble out past a defender and hit a fade-away jumper.
On Phoenix’s end, Steve Nash dished out a ridiculous 19 assists. Jason Richardson had 27 points and O’Neal recorded a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
The last quarter was undoubtedly the most thrilling. With 9:45 left in the fourth, Jason Richardson completed a vital three-point play as he tied the game at 87. A couple of minutes later, Robinson invigorated the crowd with completing a three-point play that caused him to beat his chest like a battle warrior. Another example of how these Knicks wear their emotions on their sleeves. Point guard Chris Duhon nailed a clutch three-pointer with two minutes remaining in regulation that D’Antoni called “probably the biggest shot of the game.” That trey increased New York’s lead to 106-99.
O’Neal’s inability to hit free throws really hurt Phoenix late as he missed one of two with 1:39 remaining in the fourth quarter. He also missed another pair of foul shots with 53.1 seconds left. Jason Richardson picked him up, though as he hit a three-pointer with 23 seconds remaining, trimming the Knicks lead to four. After New York tacked on a few more points, Phoenix made it a closer than it ever should have been.
Nash and Jason Richardson hit back-to-back threes to pull the Suns to within three points with 11 seconds remaining. However, Harrington hit a jump-shot, which sealed the victory for good.
I know there is another 41 games left, and the Knicks still have much to improve on, but fans don’t give up on this team just yet. Harrington has proven to be a terrific pickup and Gallinari has been a mid-season sparkplug. With Lee’s consistent play every night and Duhon’s ability to lead his team down the floor, there should be no doubt that the Knicks, currently at 17-24, can’t get back to playing .500 basketball.
There is one intangible that is more valuable than any player obtained via trade, and that’s confidence. The Knicks are starting to exude confidence. A few more games like this and that eighth seed will start looking more and more possible.