Sam SpiegelmanFirst and foremost, a win is a win, so the New York Knicks’ defeat of the Sacramento Kings to move within two games of the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth seed in the East should ultimately be considered a triumph.
But how they earned the win — this can’t be the blueprint going forward.
After building up a 15-point lead at the half and being ahead by as much as 24 in the third quarter, the Knicks were outscored 51-44 in the second half Wednesday night and nearly surrendered the lead in a must-win game.
DeMarcus Cousins was a thorn in the Knicks’ side throughout, but in the third quarter the much-maligned big man turned it up. With the Kings facing their largest deficit midway through the frame, Cousins scored seven unanswered to put his team within 14. Then in the fourth, Cousins nailed the jumper to cut within five and completed the three-point play to make it a two-point game with 4:30 to go.
Thankfully for the Knicks, J.R. Smith was red-hot from beyond the arc, especially when it counted. Smith nailed his record-tying ninth 3-pointer right after Cousins’ and-one to push the Knicks’ lead back up to five, jump-starting a 7-0 that allows the team to close out the 107-99 victory.
The win was critical, as it allowed the team to inch even closer to the Hawks for the final playoff spot, but it’s still a cause for concern. Sacramento has won 25 games and a center nearly engineered a late comeback against a potential playoff-bound team. Last night, a Los Angeles Lakers team minus Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steven Nash went on an early run to upset New York. If lighting had struck twice, you could have taken a Sharpie and essentially crossed the Knicks out of contention.
The road ahead includes the two best teams on the Knicks’ West Coast swing, beginning with the Phoenix Suns Friday night and the Golden State Warriors Sunday. And not to be overlooked are the Utah Jazz on Monday on a back-to-back. Both the Suns and Warriors have prolific offenses and are fully capable of making big-time runs at any point in a game, so the Knicks have to learn their lesson from the past two games and come ready to anchor down defensively. Smith can’t shoot the lights out of the gym night in and night out, Tyson Chandler can’t be the one player trying defensively and Carmelo Anthony has shown he cannot single-handedly win games.
If the Knicks want to be a playoff team, then play like a playoff team. Play defense. Weather storms. Close out ball games.