The transition defense, the turnovers, the dependence on the three-pointer, etc.
But this team is developing the knack to close out wins; especially on the road — which is a very impressive sign for a young team.
The Knicks — who compiled only 11 wins in 41 road games last season — are 6-4 away from MSG this year after last night’s 99-95 win at Charlotte to complete a sweep of the home-and-home. Mike D’Antoni can thank the leadership of Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton for that drastic improvement.
Wednesday night’s win was a prime example. The offensive lift down the stretch came from the guy feeling the most pressure of anyone in the building. The Knick lead was dwindling. The Charlotte crowd was invigorated. That “panic mode” feeling was in full effect, as it had been in each of New York’s previous five road wins this season.
But Felton, the hometown kid, playing in front of hundreds of his closest friends and family members at Time Warner Cable Arena, silenced his former team for the second straight night — this time by draining two consecutive floaters in the lane with less than four minutes to go. That was big time.
Were they high percentage shots? Not exactly, but Felton drove the lane in both instances like he was on a mission to stop the bleeding and will the Knicks to victory. He finished with 23 points and a season-high 13 assists. His confidence is sky high these days. He is averaging 22 points and 8.6 assists per game in the Knicks’ current 5-game win streak. For now, we can put any Chris Duhon comparisons to rest.
This same display of grit was also evident in the form of Stoudemire’s help defense in the 2nd half. Last night, Charlotte’s Tyrus Thomas played as well as I have seen him play at the NBA level. Thomas, along with many of his fellow teammates, were aggressive in the 4th by making a concerted effort to attack the Knicks in the paint. Kudos to Larry Brown, because the strategy worked, and it nearly helped his pesky Bobcats rally past the Knicks.
The Knicks’ interior defense in the second half, outside of Amar’e, was unacceptable. The Bobcats converted on 11 field goals in the 4th quarter, all of which came in the form of lay-ups or dunks.
But on a few key occasions, when the lack of urgency from the Knicks D was prevalent, Amar’e took a stand — and proved his true worth. Those key stops helped New York hold on.
He provided that killer instinct with six emphatic blocks, five coming in the second half, to help guide the Knicks back to the .500 mark. The Knicks totaled 11 blocks on the night — and remain the NBA’s leader in that category this season. And as far as Amar’e on the other end, he was efficient, shooting 8-15 FG (4-4 FT) with 20 points and no turnovers.
The Knicks won ugly again, but any Knick fan will take it in stride.
And make no mistake, this knack for victory in the clutch is rubbing off on the leftovers from the losing culture. Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Toney Douglas and even Bill Walker (10 pts, 2-4 from 3pt at Charlotte) came through with big shots Wednesday night. All four of them have struggled with consistency this year, but each of them is lending a helping hand in the resurgence of the Knicks.
Chandler dropped 21 points off the bench and looked unfazed as he attempted a huge three with just under three minutes to go. Sure enough, it fell.
Gallinari, the league’s hottest free throw shooter, had one of his typical setback nights from the field. But when he went to the line with a chance to seal the deal in the final seconds after a huge Felton offensive board, his free throws were silk. The ability to grind through adversity is becoming a trend for this team.
Landry Fields as well. He had seven of 11 Knick points during a key 1st quarter stretch. Then he cooled down, but the rookie went on to notch his fourth 10+ rebound performance of the season. The experience around him is allowing him to blossom — in a number of areas — before our eyes.
Last year, the Knicks biggest pitfall in late game scenarios was its lack of a go-to-guy in the clutch. Early this season, New York continued to lack poise down the stretch in narrow losses to Portland, Philly and Minnesota. But the adjustments that Felton and Stoudemire have made over the last two weeks, from a confidence standpoint, have paid tremendous dividends in this team’s recent surge. D’Antoni now has a group of players he can rely on to buckle down and churn out a victory.
It takes a certain toughness to win on the road in the NBA. Last season, the team struggled finding rhythm away from the Garden. But this season has been different. The intensity and drive of Stoudemire and Felton to take the initiative in leading this young group is the reason why the Knicks have turned their season around. A winning attitude is contagious.