We’ve seen Knicks teams of the past jump out to huge leads before. We’ve seen them play with gusto and make crisp passes and nail open threes. Usually, though, they begin to let up and the opponent manages to make a run and make it close, or even end up winning.
That wasn’t the case Friday night against the defending champion Miami Heat.
The Knicks were able to overcome third and fourth quarter surges by Miami and midway through the final period, it was academic. Many people would have predicted that the game would be in hand by the halfway point in the fourth quarter coming into Friday night; they just never would have thought the Knicks would be the team bringing guys in for garbage time minutes with that lead.
The Knicks did all the right things Friday night, but a big reason for this win was their attitude, their demeanor. You can’t say enough about the play of New York – Ray Felton looked dynamic, Jason Kidd was making all the smart plays, Steve Novak was making un-makeable shots, Carmelo Anthony was on fire – but mentally, the Knicks played better and differently than they have in the past.
Throughout the game, the Knicks played as though it was a close contest. They didn’t slack, which is a testament to the makeup of this roster and the veteran presence of guys like Tyson Chandler and new addition Jason Kidd. Even when the Knicks were up by more than 15 points, it never felt like a blowout. A lot of that probably has to do with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh being on the opposing team, but the Knicks never made “blowout game” plays. No poor alley-oops, no ill-advised passes or shots, no showboating.
Obviously, if the Knicks don’t hit shots and play defense, they won’t beat anybody. They were taking smart shots, making smart passes, and making good decisions. The spacing on the court was perfect all night and Carmelo Anthony is fitting right in at the four.
While we await the return of Amar’e Stoudemire and wonder what his assimilation will do to that spacing, we can at least rest assured that they know how to make it work with the pieces they have. Whether they’ll do that every game is unpredictable but Mike Woodson seems to have found his blueprint. If everybody follows the plan, the Knicks will be a very good team this season.
The Knicks have the talent to be great. They have for the past few seasons, but that’s not all it takes. For these Knicks, playing smart and playing hard – as they did Friday against Miami – will almost assuredly equate to playing well.