Knicks playoff-bound for first time since '04
Led by their own version of the “Big 3” the Knicks [38-38] won their third-straight game, finally climbed back to .500, and also clinched their first playoff berth since the 2003-04 season.
The Knicks finally realized they should be beating the also-rans and did so with fervor in a convincing 123-107 win over their nemesis, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Led by their own version of the “Big 3” the Knicks [38-38] won their third-straight game, finally climbed back to .500, and also clinched their first playoff berth since the 2003-04 season. Amar’e Stoudemire led the Knicks with 28 points, while the other two-thirds of that trio, Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, finished with 23 and 25 points, respectively. Stoudemire also added seven rebounds and two blocks, while Anthony, who netted 19 of his points in the first half, added five boards, and Billups had seven assists.
The Cavs [15-61] made things interesting from the second quarter-on, however, but couldn’t get over the hump, as the Knicks finally clamped down in the fourth quarter. New York once held a 22-point lead midway through the second quarter but saw it dwindle to as low as two late in the third quarter. During a 10-minute stretch that spanned the late second quarter into the third, the Cavs outscored the Knicks 36-16. But the Knicks showed their mettle, held firm, closed out the third period with a slight five point lead, and finally put away Cleveland with a strong fourth – outscoring the Cavs 30-19.
The win – along with a loss by the Charlotte Bobcats – sent the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. The Knicks finally surged ahead of the Cavs with a strong fourth quarter showing, including a 10-0 run, but were in a battle most of the game. Although the Knicks’ triplets had strong performances, the supporting cast had an up-and-down evening, save for Shelden Williams who posted solid numbers of nine points and six rebounds. Williams made his third-straight start at center for the banged-up Ronny Turiaf. Toney Douglas got off to a very slow start, missing six of his first seven shots, but finished much better, scoring 11points, including 3-of-6 shooting from 3. Bill Walker was dusted off from the bench and made his first solid contributions in weeks, registering 13 points in 13 minutes.
Stoudemire declared that “the Knicks are back” upon his free-agent signing last July, now it’ll be up to him and his cohorts to make sure the seventh-seeded squad continue their winning ways with a Tuesday matchup against the lowly Toronto Raptors and a pivotal duel in Philly, Wednesday night, against the sixth-seeded 76ers.
WHAT WE SAW:
1. The Knicks got off to a torrid start, scoring 36 points in the first quarter. It was the most first-quarter points scored by the Knicks since March 7 against Utah. Chauncey Billups was the catalyst, as he registered 17 of his 23 points in the opening stanza. He also knocked down his first three 3s in the first quarter to set the tempo. New York also forced nine turnovers in the half and shot 57 percent, including 7-of-12 [58 percent] shooting from 3. So dominant were the Knicks to start that they built a 22-point lead midway through the first half.
2. Of course that being said, the Knicks couldn’t stand prosperity as they allowed the Cavs to cut that 22-point deficit to as little as two. During a 10 minute stretch, the Cavs outscored the Knicks 36-16 and silenced the Garden faithful. The second quarter featured Baron Davis and J.J. Hickson getting to the rim at ease, as they finished with 22 and 23 points, respectively. The outside-inside duo finished the half with 15 and 16 points, respectively. The Knicks suddenly couldn’t stop the usually suspect Cavs’ offense, as Cleveland finished the half shooting 58 percent from the field, including 50 percent from 3.
3. New York’s own “Big 3” showed their mettle, combining for 76 points, as Amar’e Stoudemire led the team with 28 points. Billups and Carmelo Anthony chipped in with 23 and 25 points, respectively. But the supporting cast – save for Shelden Williams – was an up-and-down entity. Usual contributors Landry Fields and Toney Douglas both struggled from the field, only netting 13 combined points. Fields was the least effective as he shot 1-of-6 and had two points. Douglas also started off slowly but rebounded with an improved third quarter and finished with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-6 shooting from 3.
4. The Cavs actually had a very good offensive game but were plagued by turnovers  and poor free-throw shooting [14-of-24]. Conversely, the Knicks only committed 10 turnovers and shot well from the stripe [31-of-33]. The Cavs were also doomed by New York’s “Big 3”, as the trio netted 20 points apiece for the fifth time this season. Cleveland came into the game averaging 114 points per game against New York in its three wins and were a plus-9 in the rebounding department. However, they were held below their benchmark points and allowed the Knicks to hang with them on the glass [slight 38-36 advantage for the Cavs].