Carmelo Anthony returns to Madison Square Garden Saturday night for the first time since he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason.
He has enough self-awareness to know what’s going on in New York. He has friends there telling him that Knicks fans are having fun watching their team without him. He sees the Knicks are 15-13 after an 111-104 victory against the Nets Thursday night at Barclays Center.
He is going to see why the Knicks are different from years past firsthand on Saturday. Unlike his tenure, they play for each other, and they are resilient. He is going to find out the Knicks have certain toughness that was lacking throughout his failed tenure. All of this showed on Thursday night.
Go back to the third quarter with 9:33 remaining. Kristaps Porzingis’ left knee was acting up as soon as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a layup to cut the Nets’ deficit to 65-57. The Knicks star left the game with a sore knee, and the Nets knew they could get on a run if they hang in there, trailing 71-62 three minutes after the Knicks star had his knee checked out. From there, the Nets went on a 15-2 run to take a 77-73 lead on Allen Crabbe’s three-pointer, Spencer Dinwiddie’s three-pointer, couple of Hollis-Jefferson’s jumpers, DeMarre Carroll’s three-pointer and Dinwiddie’s jumper.
The Knicks were reeling, and they needed someone who can provide answers for them as in giving them instant offense to offset the Nets’ run.
Enter Michael Beasley. He made couple of shots to tie the game at 77, and when the Nets took the lead again at 79-77, he came through with another jumper to tie the game. He came through with a three-point play to give the Knicks an 84-82 lead that helped set the stage for Courtney Lee to shoot a three-pointer, giving the Knicks an 87-82 lead to finish the third quarter. He scored 11 of his 15 points in that quarter.
This is what Beasley has done so far for the Knicks. When they need instant offense, they go to him, and he gives it to them. He has been one of the reasons why the Knicks have stayed afloat in the standings. His shot selection can drive people nuts, but give him this: he is not afraid to fail in taking a big shot, and that has helped him to do well. That’s the type of toughness he brings that the Knicks lacked for years.
New Knicks executive Scott Perry decided he had nothing to lose in signing Beasley to an one-year deal. He knew that former No. 2 overall 2008 draft pick could provide value with his offense, and he has certainly give them some.
The Knicks showed gumption on defense in the fourth quarter. They created turnovers, and they grabbed rebounds. Case in point was with 1:30 remaining in regulation and the Knicks were holding on to a 103-97 lead, Kyle O’Quinn and Ron Baker made sure Dinwiddie and Hollis-Jefferson were not getting second chance opportunities to score by getting rebounds and fighting for the loose ball. Plus, Baker blocked Caris Levert’s layup that had him hustling to the loose ball created a jump ball between the Knicks and Nets. That play was a game-changer since if the Nets had the ball and make that shot, who knows how that game would turn? Instead, it was Lance Thomas shooting a three-pointer, giving the Knicks the lead for good at 106-97.
It’s been forever the Knicks created hustle plays on defense to help them win a game. No one could have said that during Anthony’s time with the Knicks. Shoot, no one could have said that for a decade or so. In a way, this win was refreshing because of how assertive the Knicks had to work defensively to hold on to this lead.
It remains to be seen if the Knicks make the playoffs or if they keep up this good play all the way to March, but there’s a different feel about them unlike in years past. They have guys who can help the Knicks be resilient in Beasley and Enes Kanter, and they tend to give a good effort on defense. It’s those attributes that helped them be 15-13, and it’s why they can make it interesting during the cold days of winter in the tri-state area.
It was easy to be cynical in recent years when the Knicks got off to a good start because they featured a roster of awful shooters and guys who have deficiencies on defense. This year’s team comes nowhere like that.
I am not saying they are a playoff team. I am not even saying they are a winning team. But the Knicks could be an interesting team that will keep the fans interested until spring training and March Madness start. That would be an improvement after the last few years.
This is what Anthony is missing out as he is trying to figure things out with the Thunder.
When he makes his Garden appearance as a visitor Saturday night, he will find out Knicks fans have moved on quickly.
Thursday night’s win and the Knicks’ modest start have made it easy for Knicks fans to enjoy this Melo-less team.