(Neil Miller / Sportsday Wire)
The month of November for the Knicks was about the emergence of their future franchise player Kristaps Porzingis, and it ended with a focus on the importance of their current superstar, Carmelo Anthony.
Despite all the attention on Porzingis, the fresh face (literally, since he’s 20 years old) of the Knicks, it is Anthony who has been a bigger part of the team’s success.
Anthony leads the Knicks this season with 22.1 points per game, along with 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Porzingis has put up 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, a great contribution for a rookie, but they can’t win games on his efforts alone.
The Knicks finish November with an 8-10 record and are in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Though November overall was positive, it ended on a down note as they lost four straight – twice to the Miami Heat, the Orlando Magic, and the Houston Rockets – to close the month
The final two games of the month, Friday’s loss to Miami and Sunday’s to Houston at The Garden, were impacted by Anthony in some way.
Anthony scored 11 points in the first quarter on Friday night and did not have a point over the final three quarters as the Knicks lost 97-78.
On Sunday night, he was a late scratch due to illness. Knicks Head Coach Derek Fisher said of Anthony’s absence on Sunday, “We found out right before the game before we went onto the floor. We have our meeting as a team around 40 (minutes) on the clock, that’s about 7 pm. That’s when word came in that he definitely wasn’t going to be able to play. H was in the building. At the last minute basically, medical staff decided that it wasn’t good for him to play and sent him home to get some rest.”
One big improvement of the Knicks this season is the starting five surrounding Anthony. In addition to Porzingis, new additions Robin Lopez at center and Arron Afflalo at shooting guard, along with returning point guard Jose Calderon, have rounded out a strong starting lineup.
On Sunday, they all picked up the slack without Anthony in there. Afflalo had a big night with 31 points on 13-for-19 from the field, 2-4 on threes, seven rebound, and four assists. Porzingis had 20 points on 6-10 from the field, 1-2 on threes, and 13 rebounds. Lance Thomas, who took Anthony’s spot, had 15 points (6-10 FG, -2 on threes) and three rebounds.
Kevin Seraphin had 14 points (7-10 FG), seven rebounds, and four assists off the bench. Fisher said of Seraphin, “Kevin did a lot of really good things for us tonight. I think he’s getting more comfortable being on this team and understanding what it is we’re asking our big men to do offensively and defensively. To me, the minutes distribution, is a nightly thing. The plan wasn’t to play Robin (Lopez) 14 minutes and Kevin 31, but that’s what the game dictated and that was the decision.”
The Knicks came out firing, and opened up a 15-point lead, at 54-39, late in the second quarter.
Houston trailed by eight points, 77-69, entering the fourth, and were down as much as 14, at 91-77 on a Derrick Williams’ three pointer with 8:05 left.
The loss of Anthony could be felt from that point on, as the Knicks did not score for just around three minutes, and in that time Houston went on a 12-0 run to make it a game.
The Rockets kept chipping away, and a Marcus Thornton three, which was the result of an offensive rebound, tied it up at 101 with 32.2 seconds left.
The Knicks had the ball wit plenty of time, and they set up a play for Thomas, who took a 23-foot jumper that rimmed out with 18.9 seconds left.
If Anthony were in there, there’s no doubt he takes that shot, or if he’s double-teamed, he finds the open man. Without him on the floor, Houston did not have to double up on anybody.
Fisher said of the fourth quarter, “Just the momentum of the game changed. NBA games are long and we had some untimely turnovers that led to transition opportunities. We couldn’t get our defense back and set and they really started to attack us in transition and getting to the foul line and getting points. We just couldn’t stop that in the fourth quarter.”
The game went into overtime, and the game-winning three came from Trevor Ariza with 1:14 left in overtime to help Houston win 116-111.
Fisher said of the Ariza three, “Yeah, they gave me no explanation (on the screen). We went right into timeout. I had to get the guys back into the huddle and ready for the next play. The tendency is to focus on things that happen at the end and understandably so as it is an exciting part of the game. But, as you said, we were up 14 in the fourth quarter and we shouldn’t have been in that position where we were relying on close plays like that.”
If the Knicks are to keep up the momentum from this big first month of the season, they need Anthony to be the anchor. Their fate is tied to how he players, basically they go as he goes.