The Knicks fell behind to the 76ers 9-0 last night, and those of us who have watched this team for the last decade couldn't help but steel ourselves: Here it comes. The Knicks had been too good, too smart, too efficient, too together for their first two games, and the other shoe would have to drop soon. This was as good a time as any: on the road, the back half of a back-to-back against a talented team embarrassed at the Garden the night before. This is when the Knicks would inevitably relax. And then: Coach Mike Woodson called a time-out, and when the Knicks returned to the court, they proceeded to wipe out the 76ers even more thoroughly than the night before. So, there's that.
The final tally ended at Knicks 110, 76ers 88, the third consecutive rout of a team to reach the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. (That rarified air the Knicks haven't breathed since the 1999-2000 season, also the last time they started 3-0.) It was, to put it mildly, a laugher: Once Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton decided to turn it on in the first quarter, the Knicks took over the game. By the end, Chris Copeland and James White were getting minutes, and Rasheed Wallace — who was more popular with the Philly fans than any of their own players — was scoring in double digits. The Knicks actually had seven players in double figures, which is an excellent way to win games.
Once again, the key was the defense, which has been fantastic for three games even though returning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler has been stricken with the flu and was barely standing for the last two games. There's an undeniable tenacity to the Knicks on defense, from Carmelo on down, that is unlike anything Knicks fans have seen in a few years; everybody's helping everybody else out. The Knicks scored 110 points last night on some more hot shooting — 40 percent from three-point land again — but they didn't really have to. Some nights the shots won't fall, but when the defense is playing like it is right now, it might not matter.
It is worth pointing out, as ESPN's Grantland's Zack Lowe did, that matters have been a little easier for the Knicks because they've been playing smaller teams to start the year. This allows Carmelo to comfortably park himself at the 4 and then either create himself or find the consortium of fellows on the perimeter, ready to whip the ball around to the best available shooter. The Knicks won't be able to do this against larger teams — or, say, a 76ers team that has Andrew Bynum healthy — and they won't be able to do it with Carmelo and Amar'e Stoudemire in the lineup at the same time. (And if the Knicks stay this hot until Amar'e gets healthy, well, won't that be a fun subplot?) Legitimate points from Lowe (pretty much the smartest basketball writer working right now), but then again, it's not like the NBA is this huge league stacked with post players. Most teams are small, including most of the Knicks' Eastern Conference foes. The Knicks can pulls this off right now. They might be able to keep pulling it off.
The Knicks are so enjoyable right now that it's almost a shame they have the rest of the week off. They only play one game in the next seven days, at home against Dallas on Friday, before heading out to play six out of seven on the road. But this will allow some older folks' bones to heal, including Marcus Camby, who should be ready to make his season debut versus the Mavericks (who will be missing Dirk Nowitzki). The Knicks are 3-0 and playing like they haven't in two decades. We might spend the rest of the week off just watching these last three games over and over. Maybe after we've seen them a few times, we'll actually believe it.