As ESPN’s Chris Sheridan pointed out, the Knicks’ 98-93 opening win over the Toronto Raptors last night marks the first time they have been over .500 since November 22, 2008. (They were 7-6 and then lost five of their six, and twelve of their next sixteen.) So this is rarefied air, people. This is new territory.
All right, let’s not get carried away: The Knicks beat a Raptors team that’s clearly going to be pretty terrible, and they didn’t do it in particularly impressive fashion. After a roaring first quarter-and-a-half in which they shot over 50 percent and looked terrific, the offense bogged down and a sixteen-point lead vanished. For all the excitement about Amar’e Stoudemire, he didn’t have a particularly dominant game: ninteen points, ten rebounds, an extremely quiet double-double mitigated by nine turnovers. Stoudemire was harassed by notorious cheap-shot artist Reggie Evans all night, and he never seemed to quite get in a flow with the rest of the offense, particularly point guard Raymond Felton (who otherwise played well). But Amar’e did have two huge, give-it-to-the-star-to-take-this-home baskets late in the fourth quarter, when the team needed them most. It’s going to be an adjustment, though.
Timofey Mozgov picked up three fouls almost the second he stepped on the floor, and if you didn’t see him at all, it’s completely understood. (Ronny Turiaf, who is going to be an extremely popular Knick this year, more than picked up Mozgov’s slack.) Mike D’Antoni took the rotation ten-deep — Andy Rautins and Shawne Williams were the only players on the active roster who didn’t get in — but Mozgov, Roger Mason Jr. (who looks awful, for what it’s worth), and Bill Walker barely registered a blip. It also wasn’t a terrific game for Danilo Gallinari or Toney Douglas, and the interior defense definitely needs work; the Knicks don’t have a lot of beef.
But the heroes of the game were Wilson Chandler and Landry Fields. Chandler, about whom we’ve been awfully skeptical, was the perfect guy off the bench, scoring a team-high 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He’s a match-up nightmare when he’s on, and he was on last night. As for Fields, the surprise starter is clearly a dynamo; everywhere you turned, there was Fields, grabbing something, getting in someone’s way, leaping into the stands. We’re not sure the Knicks are quite good enough to afford a “glue guy,” but Fields, whose second-round selection was widely mocked, obviously belongs on the team and is going to make lots of friends this year. For a second-round pick playing his first-ever NBA game, he often looked like the most composed guy on the court.
So the Knicks won, and that’s great, but they didn’t play well, and they barely sneaked past a team that might have the worst record in the NBA this year. So what? This game wasn’t a referendum on the Knicks, win or lose: It was just a game, 1 out of 82, a chance to look different and figure some things out and hopefully, if the bottom doesn’t fall out, win the darned thing. That they did. Their next four games are against Boston, Portland, Orlando, and Chicago, and it’s very possible they could lose all four. It’s a work in progress. Fortunately, last night, the Under Construction sign didn’t preclude the Knicks from actually winning.