Hamilton: Knicks Take Boston in What Was Secretly a ‘Must Win’ Game

The Knicks didn’t shoot the lights out – they shot just 39 percent from the field and 29 percent from the arc. They attempted just 20 free throws compared to 28 for the Celtics.

As a team, they had just 12 assists and were missing the crisp ball movement and alley-oops that became a custom before point guard Raymond Felton’s injury.

And Anthony played nowhere near his finest game. The All-Star needed 28 shots to score 28 points.

But the Knicks won anyway. Under these circumstances, without their starting point guard and against their nemesis, it should be as much of a “feel good” victory as the club’s Dec. 6 win at Miami without Anthony.

The Knicks outrebounded the Celtics, 49-46, made big stops down the stretch and got key contributions across the board. Amar’e Stoudemire’s plus-11 led the team and his 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocks were much needed. Iman Shumpert is still finding his flow in the offense, but his athleticism is showing no ill effects of his knee injury. He was consistently the first man up the court and easily got into the paint.

All in all, the game wasn’t pretty for the Knicks. But that’s precisely the point.

On Thursday night, when the Knicks beat the Celtics, 89-86, it was just the second time this season they in scored less than 90 points and still managed to win.

At the end of the day, a late January win in Boston will be forgotten within a few days, just like the Dec. 6 win in Miami.

But if the Knicks lost, their toughness and resolve would have continued to be questioned, as would their ability to win difficult road tests.

If Anthony didn’t recover from from a 4-of-17 start and shoot 7-of-11 down the stretch, or if J.R. Smith didn’t sink a clutch 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining and then force Paul Pierce into two critical turnovers, the Knicks would have very likely lost.

A loss in Boston would have not only ensured the Celtics – at the very least – a split of the season series, it would have also put the Knicks in a virtual tie with the Nets for the division lead.

Instead, the Knicks kept the Celtics reeling and are riding high, looking forward to Felton’s return and a pretty friendly stretch of schedule that will see them play six of their next eight games against sub-.500 teams. That includes a five-game home stand.

After it was announced that Tyson Chandler was named as a reserve to the Eastern Conference squad and would be joining Anthony in Houston on Feb. 15, the Knicks have two All-Stars for the first time since 2001. That year, Commissioner David Stern surprised everyone when he named Latrell Sprewell as an injury replacement for Grant Hill, joining Allan Houston.

Ironically, 2001 also was the last time the Knicks hosted a first-round playoff series as they were upset by the fifth seeded Toronto Raptors.

With their best basketball still likely ahead of them and a now-proven ability to win a tough, grind-it-out road game in a hostile environment, that’s one bit of history that probably won’t be repeating itself.

Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops whose columns appear here on Fridays. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton

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