Late in the fourth quarter, something happened at Madison Square Garden that we hadn't seen in a long, long time. With the Knicks holding a comfortable double-digit lead, Mike D'Antoni subbed out Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton on successive whistles simply so they could receive a standing ovation. It was an important night for the Knicks. They beat the Nets 111–100, and they did it without needing a late surge or something crazy to happen. They pasted a team they're clearly better than, in front of a home crowd who appreciated, for once, their patience and optimism being rewarded. Something's going on, folks.
D'Antoni, in his postgame press conference, could barely contain his glee. He has cautioned against putting too much stock in these early games, particularly considering how difficult the schedule is in December. (November was the Knicks' second winning month in a year; they were 9–6 last December.) The Knicks need these wins now, in case they don't come later. But boy, did D'Antoni — who has looked alternately crazed and exhausted over the last two years — ever look giddy talking about the Knicks last night.
He was most giddy — giddiest? — about Amar'e Stoudemire, who has played at an All-NBA level the last two weeks. He was ferocious in the third quarter last night, the quarter that clinched the win, and the pick-and-roll with Raymond Felton is starting to actually flow now. This is a team that has won seven of its last eight games and currently has — time for these again — a 52 percent chance of making the playoffs. But mostly: It's a team that is getting better every game, and when have we been able to say that recently?
This all might go away or collapse: The last decade has given us many reasons to think so. But last night, the Garden felt alive and electric and important again. That it was over a lousy team is beside the point. The Knicks are inching toward relevance again. The disaster of the team's first fortnight has been forgotten, the bullet dodged. The Knicks have a tough road game against New Orleans on Friday and will probably fall back to .500 soon. But for now, they're a winning team, in front of a crowd that knows it.