The New York Knicks came into Philadelphia, and for the first three quarters, ran the 76ers out of their own gym. With the Knicks, though, the game isn’t over until there’s three zeros on the clock, and that was the case tonight, even with a 19-point lead in the third quarter. The Knicks held on, desperately, for a 97-92 victory, even trailing by a point with under two minutes left in the game. Toney Douglas and Carmelo Anthony both hit clutch three-point shots, as the Knicks passed the Sixers in the Eastern Conference, taking over the six seed for now.
Sixers swingman Thaddeus Young catapulted the Sixers back into the game in the fourth quarter, making five field goals. The Sixers finally took a one point lead on Jody Meeks’ fast break layup, and it looked like the Knicks would lose a heartbreaker. But on the next possession, Douglas came around a screen and pulled up for a deep three from the left elbow, knocking it down. With the Knicks up one point with under 30 seconds left after an Andre Iguodala three pointer, Anthony hit his only shot of the fourth quarter. Anthony’s dagger three-pointer gave the Knicks a dramatic victory, their 40th of the year; it’s the first time the Knicks have reached the 40-win plateau since the 2000-01 season. Anthony finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, the night did not end perfectly. Chauncey Billups reinjured his thigh, the one that sidelined him earlier this season, and did not return. The Knicks were able to hold on this time without ‘Mr. Big Shot", but his status cast a shadow over the victory. It didn’t look as serious as his last one when it happened, but it remains to be seen how long Billups could be sidelined.
As of now, the Knicks are back in sixth place and have won five games in a row. Next up is a trip to another Atlantic Division rival, the New Jersey Nets on Friday.
Finally, a New York-Philadelphia basketball game that actually means something. It's been a while since the Knicks and 76ers have played anything resembling an important game against each other, and while tonight's game isn't crucial, it should be a good test for both teams. Although there isn't much difference between finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference or seventh, both teams would like to finish ahead of the other. Tonight, the Knicks come in just a half game behind the Sixers for the sixth seed, with the teams tied in the loss column as the Knicks come in at 39-38, with the Sixers at 40-38.
A win total in the forties isn't something to write home about, especially in the devoid of quality Eastern Conference. But it's been exactly a decade since a Knicks team reached that plateau, when they went 48-34 in 2000-01 under Jeff Van Gundy. A small step for the franchise yes, but it is a testament to the work General Manager Donnie Walsh has done in rebuilding the Knicks. Getting that 40th victory against the 76ers and leapfrogging them in the standings could give the Knicks a good bit of confidence, as they already come in on a four game winning streak.
Yet tonight will be a different test for the Knicks than the past three games have been. Doug Collins has done a spectacular job with Philadelphia this year, and while he won't win the award, deserves to be in the discussion for NBA Coach of the Year. It'd be hard to find someone who predicted the Sixers could finish above .500 this season, and they looked primed to do so. Despite being one of the league's youngest teams, they're one of the most balanced, with six players averaging double figures in scoring this season. A win at the Wells Fargo Center for the Knicks would be a rare occurrence, as the Sixers are 25-12 at home this season.
It will be interesting to see if Mike D'Antoni treats this game any differently than last night's given the circumstances and impact on the standings. Last night, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups sat the entire fourth quarter, even when it got a little too close for fans' liking. It was the prudent move. Will Amare Stoudemire be the one to sit extended minutes tonight? If the game is close throughout, how will D'Antoni manage the minutes of his superstars? Would he rather keep the team on a roll, or make sure they're in tip-top shape come the postseason? Tonight's game, with some implications, should provide a peek into the mind of the Knicks' head coach.