VIDEO: Knicks handled the Hawks at Philips Arena in a “must-win” game
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Is this what passes for pressure these days in the NBA? This is desperation mode?
You couldn’t tell from watching the New York Knicks in the lead up to their “must-win” victory over the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night at Philips Arena, a game that was overshadowed by loads of off-court drama and the guarantee from Knicks owner Jim Dolan that his team would prevail on this night.
Not when the rookies, led by Tim Hardaway Jr., show up with a chocolate cake (lit candles and all) for Metta World Peace on his birthday at the post-shootaround team luncheon in a hotel ballroom. (That rousing rendition of Happy Birthday won’t get any of the Knicks’ youngsters or veterans on The Voice, by the way.)
Not when your current trade rumors swirl around Iman Shumpert and he and his coach, Mike Woodson, brush them aside and move on to the business at hand like nothing’s going on.
It’s not that the Knicks weren’t smarting from their sluggish start to this season or their humiliating home loss to the San Antonio Spurs Sunday at MSG. They were and they still are and will continue to do so with another test tonight against the Houston Rockets at the Garden (8 p.m. ET, TNT).
But they’re not going to let the drama consume them. They issued their own guarantee with their win over the Hawks, a game they led at one time by 17 points, only to have to come back in the fourth quarter to secure the win. They’ll find a way out of this current rut, even if it takes a little longer than the outside world (mainly Knicks fans and Knicks haters) can stomach, guarantee from the owner or not.
“He said what he said but we had to come out here and play,” Carmelo Anthony said after leading the Knicks with 25 points, which included a six-point spurt in the fourth quarter that helped preserve the win. “We had to win for ourselves first and foremost. But now that we’ve won, we can give him that satisfaction.”
The Knicks are taking their cues from Woodson, who has spent as much time in the pressure cooker this season as any coach in the league. But Woodson has done some of the best work under pressure at Philips Arena over the past decade (including his six seasons as the Hawks’ coach) than most any coach anywhere.
There’s no sense in driving his team to the brink when everyone outside of it assumes they are already there. Sure, he tweaked his starting lineup, inserting J.R. Smith in just his second game back from a five-game suspension. His lineup tweak also served Andrea Bargnani well. Bargnani will never be able to replace the defensive presence that Tyson Chandler (broken fibula) is for the Knicks. But Bargnani played well, finishing with 20 points and a season-high 11 rebounds while knocking down two critical fourth-quarter 3-pointers.
Anthony, in particular, seemed surprisingly at ease after the game.
“This was a great way to kind of get back on track,” he said. “Anytime you can win on the road, it’s always a big win. We came through with a much better effort than we had against San Antonio. I’m glad to see how we responded and put that game behind us.”
The drama won’t go away, of course. It never does in New York. The trade rumors, the overreaction after every stumble, the seemingly never-ending speculation about Woodson’s job security, it’ll all be there again in the next 24-hour cycle of panic.
It’s how they handle it that matters.
The Knicks’ renewed focus on defense and a return to their low turnover ways (just three against the Hawks) plus Woodson’s unwavering approach will help the Knicks find a way.
“Bottom line,” Woodson said, “we’re here to win. And when we step on the floor I expect guys to play to help us win.”