NEW YORK- This is what the New York Knicks, with its 3-14 record, and 28th-ranked defense, faced at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. A team that had won four consecutive games to overtake the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA’s top spot; a team that scored 112 points per game and shot 50.7%, both league-bests, and had reached the century mark in every game; and a team that has fared even better during its current run, with 119 ppg on 57.5 percent shooting.
But, according to Nate Robinson, there was reason to believe the Knicks would not lose its sixth straight.
“[The Phoenix Suns] run the same stuff we run,” he told MSG’s Tina Cervasio during a pre-game chat.
Except the results are usually different.
Three hours later, after New York’s 126-99 surprise victory before a sellout crowd, Robinson was vindicated.
The Knicks, which led by double-digits at intermission, used a 29-18 third quarter to claim their fourth win of the season. Danilo Gallinari led the assault with 27 points and 10 rebounds. David Lee contributed 24 points, eight boards and four steals. Al Harrington added another 22 and eight. Larry Hughes shined with 12 assists, 11 points [including the 10,000th of his career] and four steals, and Jared Jeffries boasted a team-high +30 rating and four blocked shots.
Mike D’Antoni, who entered with a 35-64 record [.354] in one-plus seasons in New York after a very successful run in the desert [253-136/.650], knew all too well how good the Suns are. Not too long ago, D’Antoni was the architect of the vaunted ‘:07 Seconds or Less’ offense, an attack that was engineered by Steve Nash, twice an NBA MVP.
In return, Nash helped D’Antoni win Coach of the Year following the 2004-05 season. Nash, the league’s assist leader at 12.1, already has six games of 16 assists or better, after just five such outbursts in 2008-09. Consequently, Phoenix missed the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
“After last year’s disappointment, the strong start was really important to all of us,” the 14-year veteran stated before the game. “It has been a lot of fun for us to turn it around, but we have a lot of work to do.”
It looked so simple on paper. The defensive-poor Knicks had yielded 117.7 points on 50.8 percent shooting over the last three games, and Sunday’s loss to the Orlando Magic was its 11th in 13 games.
However, New York opened with a season-high 39 point quarter, without the benefit of Robinson, who had sparkled with 22 fourth-quarter points against Orlando; in fact, Robinson remained scoreless during his 10-minute stint. In his place, Wilson Chandler tallied 12 of his 14 points and Hughes had eight assists, as the Knicks hit nearly 61% of its shots.
With 9:33 remaining in the second, the New York produced its largest lead of the season, at 48-32 on Gallinari’s bank shot. By that point, Hughes had 10 assists and the Knicks had four players in double-figure points.
After Phoenix used a 10-1 run to get within six, D’Antoni used a timeout to show his displeasure.
“Do you want this?” he bellowed to his team. “We’re three and fourteen. You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“New York -led by Gallinari’s 20 points [four-of-five from beyond the arc] and seven boards- regained control of the game, and walked off the court with a 71-58 halftime lead. It was the first time they had a 71-point half since the third and fourth quarters of this season’s home opening-loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on October 31. The franchise record for most first-half points at the current Garden was established on November 29, 2008 with 82 against the Golden State Warriors.
The last half-minute of the third quarter provided the most excitement, as Lee stole Jared Dudley’s crosscourt pass and subsequently converted Chris Duhon’s smart left-handed pass for an easy jam. Then, Gallinari swatted Louis Amundson’s attempted dunk, leading to Harrington’s buzzer-beater, which lifted the home team to the century mark and a 24-point cushion entering the fourth.
Alvin Gentry, the Suns’ coach, also knew the score. Phoenix had arrived in New York after Sunday’s victory against the Toronto Raptors, which proved to be far too much free time.
Thus, in consideration of moving on to Cleveland for Wednesday’s clash with LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and the rest of the Cavaliers, Gentry benched all his starters [supersub Leandro Barbosa was already nursing an injured left ankle] before the first minute of the final stanza was over.
Nash did finish with 20 points and eight assists, but was not a factor after the first few minutes of the third quarter.