And other times, you get out to such a huge lead that you can trip, stumble, fall on your face, roll over three times before getting up, dust yourself off and still pull off a win.
Or, in this case, an 89-85 win.
That’s what the Knicks did on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. After playing the Detroit Pistons to a 41-all tie through the game’s first 24 minutes, they rode a spirited and engaged third quarter to an eventual win. They nearly gift-wrapped the game for the Pistons, but in the end, Detroit could not get out of its own way and the Knicks, to their credit, did not hang their heads when they themselves failed to execute.
Neither did Raymond Felton.
After missing the past six games, Felton return to action on Tuesday night and turned in a respectable 12-point, six-assist effort. Over the course of the game’s first three quarters, his performance was a microcosm of what he is capable of bringing to a team that has struggled to find consistency from its point guard platoon.
“It’s a new year now,” Felton said after the Knicks third win in four games.
And with that, he and his team will attempt to make the last three months of 2013 a distant memory.
On Tuesday night, all things considered, Felton performed admirably. From getting into the paint, to knocking down an open three-pointer to finding Kenyon Martin for an alley-oop, he showed some of his strengths—at least until the game’s final eight minutes.
After re-entering the game with 7:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, Felton seemed to run out of gas down the stretch and some of the rust from his most recent absence showed. But with him back, for this team, things may be looking up.
With the Pistons surging and the Knicks clinging to a three-point lead, Felton committed two critical turnovers in the game’s final 1:26. Fortunately for the Knicks, the Pistons were unable to capitalize, as Andre Drummond and Charlie Villanueva each split a pair of free-throws before Josh Smith shot an airball on what would have been the game’s go-ahead shot with 9.9 seconds remaining.
Under normal circumstances, a player returning to the lineup after a six-game absence would not play extended minutes, but Felton had to out of necessity. With Beno Udrih held out of the game’s second half, Mike Woodson opted to lean on Felton down the stretch instead of playing rookie Toure’ Murry in the game’s most critical juncture.
“[Felton] played 30 minutes and I thought he was very fatigued coming down the stretch,” Woodson said. “But Beno couldn’t go, his knee was bothering him and that’s why we didn’t play him in the second half.”
“I didn’t feel really comfortable playing Toure’ and putting him in that position in crunch time, so we just have to live with this,” Woodson added. “We’ll give Raymond a little more game shape and go from there.”
Udrih originally tweaked his knee back on January 5 in Dallas and will undergo what he called a precautionary MRI on Wednesday.
How quickly Felton can regain form, though, will go a long way toward helping the Knicks maintain their newfound momentum. Before his fatigue became a factor and especially in the game’s third quarter, the Knicks offense clicked. Anthony benefitted from playing without the ball and the Knicks’ offense opened up when Felton was able to penetrate into the teeth of the Pistons’ interior defense.
Though his play and health have left something to be desired thus far this season, Felton is the Knicks' best point guard and consistency from him could go a long way toward helping the team dig out of the 12-22 hole in which they find themselves.
After the game, an obviously fatigued Felton took an abnormally long time getting dressed, moving gingerly and sighing often.
“My legs are fine,” Felton said when asked about his six game absence. “I’m just weak, tired and still stick,” he said, sniffling.
The win may help his condition improve, though, and the Knicks will need it to—quickly, as the Miami HEAT will visit Madison Square Garden for the first time this season on Thursday night. A win over the defending champions would indicate that the Knicks have truly turned a corner. If Felton is close to full strength by then, he could obviously play a major role in what could be a big win for the Knicks, who, despite being 10 games below .500, suddenly find themselves just two games out of the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re happy to have [Felton] back,” Anthony said on Tuesday. “The way he can play the pick-and-roll, the way he can get to the paint, create for others, create for the big guys, we can just sit out there, he’ll find us and he trusts us to make shots.”
“He has the ball, he’s the point guard, he facilitates, he gets in the paint and makes things happen for himself, for the bigs and he’s finding us out there on the perimeter.”
In some ways, Anthony’s referring to Felton as the point guard seems self-serving. Though he has clearly been playing a more motivated, all-around brand of basketball over the past four games, Anthony’s greatest attribute remains his scoring. He benefitted from playing off of the ball and off of Felton on Tuesday night, and as Felton’s health improves, so shall his productivity. And so will Anthony's.
Amazingly, the Knicks are still relevant. Salvaging their season remains within grasp. And with a healthy Felton, more importantly, it remains possible.
Moke Hamilton is the NBA Analyst for SNY.tv and, along with Lead Writer Harris Decker, hosts the Knicks Blog Podcast each and every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton