After pulling out a win that felt so many times throughout the night like an impending loss, it was Kristaps Porzingis who put it in the best perspective:
“We’ll win a game like this, but we have to figure it out from the beginning . . . We won’t be able to win every game like this.”
It took spontaneous combustion of Carmelo Anthony, who scored 15 of his 35 points in the third quarter, just as the Knicks had fallen behind by 15 points. The excuses were already in place as the Knicks were home for the first time after a five-game West Coast trip. But it’s amazing how one player’s performance can inject life into a team that seemed on the verge of a fourth straight loss.
“The defense,” Jeff Hornacek noted, “picked up.”
Melo’s shooting got the Knicks within three after the third quarter. He then left it to Porzingis and Derrick Rose to take it from there, as they continued the push in a 23-6 run in the fourth to take the lead. Melo and Porzingis combined to shoot 6-for-8 from downtown in the final quarter as the Knicks put up 34 points and locked down the win in the final minutes.
Melo had 35 points, Rose had 24 points and Porzingis added 21 points. It was only the second time this season that the Knicks’ “Big 3” each scored over 20 points in the same game. The Pacers were in the second game of a back-to-back and third in four nights and it showed in the end.
The Knicks (15-13) ended their three-game losing streak and also improved to 10-4 at home, which is one of the best home records in the NBA. There were smiles in the locker room after the game, but also voices of concern about they way the team is winning.
“Lets not get too excited,” said Joakim Noah, who had one of his best games of the season with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. “They still scored 111 points. That’s a lot of points.”
Sure, Noah and the Knicks held their opponent under 30 points in the first quarter for the first time in seven games, but the defense was still extremely loose — Indiana had 30 points in the paint in the first half — and the offense looked disjointed at times. “We made some goofy passes,” Hornacek said. He recalled several occasions saying exactly what the rest of us were thinking as the Knicks threw the ball away in an 11-turnover first half: “Why would you make that pass?”
Rose’s return after missing two-plus games with a back injury was certainly noticed. Not only was he back to attacking the rim with ferocity, which opened up the perimeter for the Knicks shooters, he also played defense on Paul George (16 points) in the fourth quarter.
Melo was a difference-maker with his shooting and a lot of it was catch-and-shoot situations on kick-outs. He was 7-for-11 from three-point range. Of the many notable statistics to highlight on this night, the one that tops the list is the Knicks are 5-1 when he scores over 30 points this season.
There should be no false sense of security with these games or even this record. The Knicks may only be a game behind the Celtics (16-12) for third in the Eastern Conference, but they’re also just a game ahead of the Pacers (15-15) for ninth. This was an important win to stay above the fray in the East, where there is a jumble of teams hovering around the .500 mark between 3rd and 10th place.
Remember last season? The Knicks were 22-22 after 44 games and in the playoff hunt with a less talented roster. Two injuries (Melo and Lance Thomas) later, they went into a tailspin and into the lottery. But 22-22 might have been as good as that team was going to be. This year’s group has the potential to be better, but after 28 games it’s clear they’re still trying to find themselves.
“We’re not there yet,” Porzingis said. “We can still grow so much as a team.”
You always take the win, no matter how you get them. But the good sign here is that the team did not sound at all satisfied with it.
The holiday homestand continues Thursday night against the Orlando Magic. We’ll have Knicks Game Night at 7 p.m. on MSG.