NEW YORK — The Philadelphia 76ers proved once again that they’re the perfect cure for what may ail any other NBA team.
After losing nine of their previous 10 games, the New York Knicks (4-10) handed the 76ers their 13th straight loss to start the season, in a 91-83 victory at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
While the win was encouraging for the moment, it marked something far more important in the larger picture for New York — the long-awaited debut of starting point guard Jose Calderon, even if he was rusty in his return from a preseason calf injury.
Although Calderon missed five of his six shots from the field and scored just three points, while recording only three assists and a turnover in 21 minutes (before sitting out the fourth quarter), his presence gave the Knicks hope for turning around their season.
“Jose was good tonight,” rookie head coach and former long-time NBA point guard himself, Derek Fisher said. “Those were 21 good minutes. He was available [in the fourth quarter] if it was necessary, but I think it was still smart to keep him around 20 minutes tonight and allow him to build up his endurance and his base.”
After missing a short baseline jumper on the game’s first possession, Calderon quickly stripped Michael Carter-Williams (nine points) and passed ahead to Quincy Acy (10 points, five rebounds) for a layup that tied the game, 2-2. Moments later, Calderon then hit his first 3-point attempt of the season, to put the Knicks up for good, 5-2.
Acquired by New York in an offseason trade with Dallas, Calderon was happy to get his first game with his new teammates out of the way, so they can focus on gelling together.
“I’m happy it’s over with,” he said. “I’m healthy, I’m just excited that I was finally able to play. We won, that’s the most important part. It’s always good to get a win in your first game back… some rustiness out there, as expected, but it’s good to be back… better things are coming, for sure.”
Behind a quarter-high nine points from start forward Carmelo Anthony (game-high 25 points, seven rebounds), the Knicks ran out to leads of 14-6 and 25-10 before the hapless 76ers scored the final points of the period on a 3-pointer by rookie guard K.J. McDaniels (eight points).
“Jose’s a smart point guard, he’s a smart guy. He’s been around, he’s played a lot of games. He knows how to run a team, he knows how to run an offense. He can shoot the ball, he can spread the court. But most important, his IQ out there on the basketball court, I think is very high. That’s something that, at that position, we’ve been missing… I love it. I don’t think there’s anything like playing with great PG’s… Jose is our point guard now. We’re just trying to build something here.”
Philadelphia started the second quarter on a 14-8 run to get within 35-29, but a dunk by reserve forward Amar’e Stoudemire (16 points, team-high 11 rebounds in just under 20 minutes) and a left-wing 3-pointer by Anthony (off of a mid-court steal and an assist by Calderon) pushed New York’s lead to 40-29, with 5:11 left in the half.
A jumper by Anthony gave him 14 points and had the Knicks shooting 60 percent from the floor, but it only put the New York up, 44-34. Despite holding the NBA’s lowest-scoring and worst-shooting team to just 39 points on 35.9 percent shooting, the Knicks — who go to the foul line the least in the league — were up by just seven points at halftime after taking just six first-half free throw attempts.
New York scored eight of the first 10 points to start the second half, to open a 54-41 lead, and twice built a 21-point advantage, before settling for a healthy 71-54 edge after three periods.
However, the 76ers wouldn’t go away quietly, as second-year forward Robert Covington (who played just 2½ minutes over the first three quarters), made all four of his 3-point tries and scored all of his 14 points in the final period to keep Philadelphia in the game.
Covington’s third trey capped a 23-10 spurt that brought the 76ers to within 85-77, with 1:59 remaining. But consecutive jumpers by Anthony gave New York some breathing room, 89-77, with 1:13 to go.
A final 3-pointer by Covington made it 89-80, with 1:01 left, but that was followed an emphatic slam by Stoudemire with 27.8 remaining.
On his team’s struggles to finally put away the NBA’s worst team, Fisher said, “We just had to keep playing on and find a way to win. When we look back on this season, we won’t overanalyze which game we won by how many. It’ll just be a win. So we’ll take it.”
Equally thankful for the win, Calderon candidly added, “It’s not like we are playing that great… a win is a win.”
With Calderon now running the Knicks’ new triangle offense, New York will embark on a three-game road trip through Houston, Dallas and Oklahoma City, while trying to improve on its 1-5 record away from home.