Knicks 103, Timberwolves 95: Smooth Carmelo
My wife and I welcomed our second baby boy on January 8th. It’s great and wonderful and we’re lucky – really, I cannot believe how blessed I am – but until Saturday night, I hadn’t ventured down to Target Center since we welcomed our new arrival. Since my wife is a saint, she agreed to watch our rambunctious two year old and six-week-old poop machine all by her lonesome so I could sneak away to catch the game.
As I skipped along the skyway from C Ramp to the Target Center, happy to cover my first NBA game in a month and a half, I had one thought:
Covering my first NBA game in 2 months – Porzingis v. Towns. This does not suck.
— William Bohl (@BreakTheHuddle) February 21, 2016
I’m not sure there are two players in the league I enjoy watching more than the first and fourth overall picks in the 2015 draft. Towns and Porzingis are the front-runners to win Rookie of the Year, have yet to turn 21, and encapsulate the future of big men in the NBA. They can step out to the three point line, protect the rim, and have ball-handling skills most centers only dream of.
All I wanted was to watch KAT and 3-6 Latvia battle it out for 30-to-36 minutes, like so:
— SI NBA (@si_nba) February 21, 2016
But that’s not what happened. Porzingis got into foul trouble and only logged 11:51 of playing time on the night. Towns held up his end of the bargain and was terrific, putting up 24 points, pulling out 8 rebounds, and dishing out 4 assists in 41 minutes, but the majority of his teammates left him hanging, as evidenced by the egregious conduct of Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad below:
Like, what the hell, Wiggs and Bazzy? Their one job on the first of two free throws, when they’re standing along the paint like that, is to slap hands with their teammate at the charity stripe. That’s it. That is literally it.
The letdown was fitting, because it set the tone for the rest of the game. Ricky Rubio was pretty good, racking up 16 assists and 3 steals in his 35 minutes, and Shabazz Muhammad (absent-minded failures to high-five teammates aside) tried his damndest off the bench, scoring 20 points on 11 shots in 32 minutes, but it didn’t help much in the end (more on him later). Gorgui couldn’t box out Robin Lopez to save his life; the Knicks’ center set the tone early by destroying the Wolves’ front line in the opening period, scoring 16 of his 26 points, 6 of which came on offensive rebounds. Zach LaVine was completely lost on defense, with one particularly funny example. An inadvertent whistle blew as New York began to ran a baseline out of bounds play, but the ball hadn’t been inbounded, so they were able to re-set. As the Knicks set up for their second attempt to inbound the ball, they ran the exact same action, and LaVine, although he’d seen the play once already, still didn’t figure it out, giving up a wide open shot at the top of the key. Andrew Wiggins started woefully slow, and his solid-looking final line (24 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals) was fluffed up by garbage time heroics. Kevin Martin and Tayshaun Prince were more or less invisible. Damjan Rudez communicated well on defense and even stuck close to ‘Melo for a few possessions, but in the end was more or less inconsequential in his 3:53 of action.
What kept the game from being a total dud (which would have been disappointing, because like I said, I just had a baby and I don’t get out much, so when I escape the house it has to COUNT, DAMMIT) were the theatrics of Carmelo Kyam Anthony. Playing him 41 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back probably wasn’t wise (way to go, Chief Ramdangle), but selfishly speaking, I was happy to see so much of ‘Melo. I’ve written before about LeBron’s sheer power, and how watching him dribble at the top of the key before attacking the rim is like listening to that moment of silence before a tornado strikes. I’ve written about the awe-insipiring, lightning-quick, jaw-dropping speed and agility of Russell Westbrook. Watching Carmelo when he’s locked in is a different experience. He sizes up opponents with an endless series of jab steps, triple threat positions, and hesitation dribbles, all to ease his defender onto his heels (fearing the drive). Once he’s gained enough space, he quickly glides into the air, gently snapping off one of the prettiest jump shots in basketball. Check his shot chart for where he did the majority of his damage:
Minnesota threw Tayshaun Prince, Andrew Wiggins, Damjan Rudez, and Shabazz Muhammad at ‘Melo. Prince was okay, Wiggins was up and down, Rudez handled it fine for the few possessions he was asked to do it, but Bazzy got worked. As Anthony backpedaled back to his defensive spot after a few of his makes over Muhammad, he seemed to smirk at the Wolves’ bench, as if to let them know the gentleman assigned to guard him really wasn’t up to the task.
Watching Carmelo come down the floor and isolate against his man got me thinking – it wasn’t wrong to be excited to see Towns and Porzingis, two players who going to be big parts of the future of the league, just like it isn’t wrong to wish the Wolves would shoot more threes (12 for the night) or know the mathematical reality that isolation possessions are some of the least efficient in basketball. But the lesson I learned is that the future is still the future, and no matter what anyone thinks of Carmelo Anthony, watching him in the present, when he is locked in, is pretty damn fun, even if (especially when?) he’s sizing up his man and finessing his way into a nylon-tickling jumper or slithering to the hoop.
One final thing – Jim and Dave, I’d like to hear some more stories about the two of you clubbing back in the day. This an acceptable replacement for “yard work” talk. Thank you.
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) February 21, 2016