At one point in the first half of the Knicks 92–79 road win over the Atlanta Hawks last night, Hawks swingman Joe Johnson, one of the free agents the Knicks were eyeing this off-season, rose up for a jumper from about twenty feet out. The ball left his hand and landed about nineteen and three quarter feet away from him, missing the rim and net entirely. The crowd, in Atlanta, where the Hawks play, the supposed home fans, started chanting, “AIR-BALL! AIR-BALL! AIR-BALL!” That has to be demoralizing. It was certainly surreal to watch, like everything else with the Knicks these days.
Let us not forget, let us never forget: The Knicks lost again to the Cavaliers (at home!) on Friday night, which means that they are personally responsible for one quarter of Cleveland’s wins this year. (Including two since Carmelo Anthony got here.) In that game, they gave up 119 points. Last night, they beat the playoff-bound Atlanta Hawks — the same team they beat before the All-Star break, with that entirely different pre-Carmelo team — on the road, without Chauncey Billups, Ronny Turiaf, and Bill Walker … and gave up only 79 points. They also had Roger Mason Jr., who has been a punchline for the Knicks all season, hitting key threes in the fourth quarter.
One person they didn’t have doing anything in the fourth quarter: Carmelo. Anthony was taken out with ten minutes left in the quarter, and the team took off, launching into an 11–0 run and an 8–0 run. Carmelo never reentered the game. That’s right: The Knicks put a playoff-caliber team away in the fourth quarter without Carmelo ever seeing the floor. That’s thanks to Mason, Landry Fields, Shawn Williams, and of course Amar’e Stoudemire, who had perhaps his best game since the Carmelo trade.
So, yeah, weird. The win kept the Knicks in the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference — Philadelphia is right behind them — which would have them playing the cryin’ and collapsin’ Heat. That’ll probably change, though, just the Knicks, who are so different every game that you’d think these guys just met each other. The Knicks don’t have enough time to figure themselves out before the playoffs begin, but nights like last night, a dominating win over a good team on the road without Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, make you think they’ll at least have a puncher’s chance against anybody. Especially if every road game seems like a home game.