After a bitter ending to a comeback attempt against the Kings towards the end of December, there's no doubt that Knicks fans all over had a bad taste in their mouths for the West Conference squad.
Apparently, so did the Knicks themselves.
Saturday night's matchup against the Kings began in an eerily similar fashion with the Knicks falling behind by double-digits as they looked rusty out the gate. Luckily for them, their secret (or not so secret weapon) changed the complexity of the game.
Amar'e Stoudemire has been a menacing force on offense for opposing teams off the bench as of late. STAT righted the Knicks' ship in the proper direction on Saturday night, giving them the boost necessary to pull ahead. Unlike the failed comeback attempt in late December, New York was sure not to fall short in this one. Once the team got in front, there was no turning back.
That's because Stoudemire's key second unit mates happened to follow suit, as a handful of them each had arguably their best individual outings of the season. With 21 points of his own, complete with a 10 for 10 shooting performance from the field, it's easy to see STAT is quickly getting back to his old ways. He's a force to be reckoned with off the bench, and with the Knicks rolling, that appears where he'll stay. Clearly not a negative connotation with regard to the way he's been playing, STAT's been able to succeed by hitting opposing team's second units really hard.
He may not have hit all his field goals like Stoudemire, but J.R. Smith's own respective outing was good enough to make him go dancing and prancing all around the court on Saturday evening as well. Undoubtedly a game where the swingman was feeling it, Smith drained three-point field goals all night long. He knocked down 7 from deep with ease on his way to 25 points.
As good as the pair was for the Knicks, it wasn't just the STAT and Smith show. Steve Novak came to play as well, undeniably in a big way, too. With rumors swirling that the sharpshooter will compete in the Three-Point Contest during NBA All-Star Weekend, perhaps Novak figured he had to remind everybody why. The forward broke out of quite the shooting slump, getting open as his teammates fed him the ball. In one of his better outings this season, Novak poured in 15 points. His scoring seemed to come beautifully within the flow of the offense.
The Knicks' starters could have taken the night off. After struggling to begin the contest, it was clear this was the bench's game. While the second unit propelled the Knicks' efforts and set a team-record with 82 points, the starters could sit back and relax. The most notable contribution, however, came from Tyson Chandler, who pulled down a season-high 20 rebounds for the second night in a row.
But with such a victory is surely to come a little fun as well. With what could be considered the Knicks' third unit on the floor to run out the clock in the fourth quarter, elder statesman Kurt Thomas put on a shooting display of his own. The NBA's true old-timer knocked down just the ninth three-point field goal of his career (much to the excitement of his teammates) and excitedly scored a season-high 11 points in the win.
The Knicks clearly wanted to do their part to ensure Coach Mike Woodson had a shot to coach the NBA All-Star Game later this month, but what else did this game prove? New York is going to remember their tough loses and look to avenge them later on. What's more, Woodson's use of all his talented players is proving to have a beautiful balance to it. Not assigning too much negativity to "bench roles," the coach has been able to motivate the likes of Stoudemire and Smith to help the team where they need it most. The altering of first and second units on the court throughout various contests have given the Knicks quite an attack as they look to propel themselves atop of their conference.
Going up as much as 50 points in this one, the Knicks went on to beat the Kings by a score of 120-81.