You know President Obama took British Prime Minister David Cameron to what might have been the most poorly played high-profile basketball game imaginable, the NCAA Tournament play-in game? It was a close game, and it was an important game, but it sure wasn't the most ideal way to introduce a foreign dignitary to the great game. That it was often grotesque to watch, though, didn't lessen its importance, and it sure didn't make Western Kentucky feel less happy to win. That's sort of how Knicks fans feel this morning. If you watched them last night, you feel gross, like it was a bastardization of the game of basketball you love. You're still ecstatic.
The Knicks beat the 76ers 82–79 last night to win their fifth straight game, all under interim coach Mike Woodson. It was a huge road victory over the Atlantic Division leader, a team that's now only three games ahead of the Knicks for that much-desired No. 4 playoff seed. It was perhaps the biggest win since the levitating Sunday afternoon win over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks during the height of Linsanity. And it had the optics of oxen dragging broken down bulldozers through a swamp.
The 76ers started the game 0-for-11, and yet they were still only down six when they hit their first field goal. It was that kind of night, sloppy offense, wretched shooting, and lots of people attacking the opposition's elbows with their faces. Carmelo Anthony was 5-for-15. Baron Davis went 2-for-7. Jeremy Lin was 1-for-11 for the first three quarters. The 76ers were somehow even worse. We will say that the Celtics, the other team battling for the Atlantic Division crown (they're a game behind the 76ers and two ahead of the Knicks), couldn't have looked too scared.
But the Knicks ultimately out-slogged the 76ers, in large part because of Lin, who scored 16 fourth-quarter points, 10 of them on free throws. Little parts of what thrilled us about Linsanity keep returning each night, and last night, it was Lin's fearlessness in the fourth quarter. That's supposed to be Carmelo Anthony's time, but everyone on the Knicks felt comfortable with Lin taking control late. They were rewarded for their comfort. The real breakthrough last night might have been Amar'e Stoudemire, though, who, hey, check it out, really does look like he has his legs back. He consistently attacked the basket and exploded, and it sure is nice seeing that somewhat-obnoxious-but-still-pretty-awesome Amar'e post-dunk scream back again. He even had an I'm A Man! block of Elton Brand on a sure dunk in the fourth quarter. It was all really quite exciting, particularly because at times, it felt like there were more Knicks fans in the 76ers' home gym than there were Sixers fans. That's an excellent sign.
It was far from a perfect night. Jared Jeffries left with a knee injury, the severity of which we won't know until later today, if then. Landry Fields appears to have decided to disappear again. Coach Woodson made the bizarre decision to sit Tyson Chandler almost the entire fourth quarter, sticking, inexplicably, with J.R. Smith. (Woodson has a thing for Smith that we'll confess we don't quite understand.) But the Knicks won. They now have the tiebreaker over the 76ers, if perchance they need it, and yes, they're still in the honeymoon period, but a five-game win streak is a five-game win streak. They have two very winnable games this weekend, at Toronto and at home against Detroit, which, if they can pull them off, would finally get them back over .500 just in time for a home matchup against Milwaukee next Monday. The Knicks have won plenty since Mike Woodson, but none of them were uglier, and more impressive, than last night's. This run is starting to turn into something.