NEW YORK -- Phil Jackson usually sits in a section near midcourt when he attends New York Knicks home games, about 10 rows back from the floor. He’s sometimes flanked by other members from the Knicks' front office, a celebrity guest, or an old teammate, like Bill Bradley.
But Jackson wasn’t in his customary seat on Tuesday night for the Knicks’ victory over the Pacers. Wherever he was, he was probably pleased with what transpired.
Each of Jackson’s big-name additions played a big role in New York’s comeback victory over Indiana.
Derrick Rose had 24 points, a team-high 6 assists and 2 blocks. Joakim Noah posted 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Kristaps Porzingis had 21 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. Most importantly, of course, Carmelo Anthony had 35 points, which included several clutch 3s in the second half to help the Knicks rebound from a 15-point deficit.
In short, Tuesday’s game was probably what Jackson and the rest of the Knicks’ leadership envisioned when they traded for Rose and signed Noah over the summer.
“Every night isn’t going to be like that,” Rose said late Tuesday night, “but whenever it is, we’re pretty tough to beat.”
The Knicks improved to 15-13 and remain in the midst of a group of Eastern Conference teams competing for a playoff spot.
Perhaps more importantly, they snapped a three-game losing streak that threatened to snowball into something far worse had Anthony not lifted the Knicks to a comeback.
Anthony again showed that when he’s hot, he remains one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the NBA. He had 26 points in the second half and hit four 3s in a 10-minute span that helped the Knicks turn a 15-point deficit into a nine-point lead. Porzingis knocked down three key 3s of his own in that stretch.
There will always be public discussions over whether the Knicks are better off trading Carmelo Anthony and giving Kristaps Porzingis a chance to shoulder more of the burden. But nights like Tuesday show that Anthony is still vital to this team’s success. They also show the importance of Rose to this club.
The Knicks had gone 1-3 in Rose’s absence if you include their loss to Phoenix, in which Rose played just 10 minutes.
Rose started slowly but helped ignite the Knicks' offense in the second quarter and for stretches in the second half. New York improved to 6-2 when Rose scores at least 15 points and hands out at least five assists in a game.
“I think we just play differently when he’s able to be out there,” Anthony said.
They also play differently when Anthony, Rose, Noah and Porzingis are as productive as they were on Tuesday.
“We are going to need that in order to take that next step,” Anthony said. “... We don’t need one person doing it every game. I think that is why we put this team together, because we have guys that can step up when they need to.”
The Knicks still have plenty of room to improve on the defensive end. They gave up 59 points in the first half to a Pacers team without Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey, playing the second night of a back-to-back. You wonder if they have the personnel to develop into a middle-of-the-pack team on defense. The truth about teams tends to reveal itself over 82 games, so we’ll find out how strong the Knicks can be on defense in due time.
But for one night at least, the Knicks showed they have the talent to make a run in the playoffs in a bunched-up Eastern Conference. The next step will be doing so with some consistency.
Other observations from the game:
Rose healthy: Rose said he felt fine after playing 36 minutes on Tuesday. He’d missed four of the Knicks’ past six games due to back spasms. “I think I know my body, this being my ninth year,” Rose said. “Getting injured three, four years in a row, you have no other choice but to learn just how your body reacts to certain things.”
Porzingis at center: It doesn’t sound like Porzingis will play much center this season. Coach Jeff Hornacek explained why here:
“We have three capable centers in Jo and Kyle [O'Quinn] and Willy [Hernangomez], [who] played really well in Denver,” Hornacek said. “Play KP more at the 5, it kind of takes away those minutes for those guys. They’re kind of splitting those minutes anyway. Again, that’s an option that we’ve gone to a couple of times. Sometimes it’s worked, sometimes it hasn’t been great. We want our big guys, I think sometimes the problem when we take those guys out our protection at the basket isn’t as good, and that puts a bigger emphasis on our guys outside to stop the penetration, not let guys get in there. KP can block shots in there, but then his man might be doing stuff on the weak side. I think we’re better in the long run when you have two big guys, KP and somebody else, back there on the inside.”
Also, Porzingis offered an interesting perspective on the Knicks’ offense and how much room they have to improve on that end of the floor.
“We’re not there yet; we play off of our talent a lot,” Porzingis said. “We just need to lock in a little more offensively, when we’re running the plays and executing. We can do a better job on that. Obviously we have a lot of times where Melo saves us, he hits a big shot, or D-Rose saves us. We can still grow so much as a team... We don’t want to lose sight just because we’re winning. We’ve got to see the big picture and keep growing.” ... Lastly, it doesn’t seem as if the Knicks have any plans to sign Westchester guard Chasson Randle at this point.