No matter what defense mechanisms that New York Knicks followers have erected in order to keep themselves from making the mistake of starting to believe the team has actually improved recently are being subject to a barrage from the actual New York Knicks players. First, there was the surprising victory over the San Antonio Spurs, but that could easily be explained away by pointing to the uncharacteristically proficient shooting of Carmelo Anthony and Iman Shumpert. Then there was the two-point loss to the Houston Rockets on the following night, involving an above-average offensive output by the team that could easily be devalued thanks to the defense-adverse nature, at times, of the Houston Rockets.
With their third straight good performance on the road, however, there are fewer and fewer rationales that are left to hold onto the early-season narrative established by the Knicks; it is the narrative that unequivocally states that the Knicks are a mediocre team and have no chance of winning more games than they lose over the rest of the season.
Admittedly, it is a narrative to which I have contributed and believed in, but one that I am now forced to question. Sure, the Knicks' last three competent, and largely above-average, performances might simply be the result of randomness. With 33 games played, there is no reason to not expect the Knicks to play well in three of them, and perhaps I am being fooled by the fact that the Knicks just happen to have strung those performances together, which makes it seem like the Knicks are currently playing better than they are.
Had the Knicks spaced out these above-average games over three months instead of three contests, there would definitely be a different perception of the team. Still, the way in which the Knicks defeated the Mavericks 92-80 Sunday night was noteworthy because it demonstrated what the team could do if the players could realize their potential, especially on the defensive side of the ball, every night.
The Knicks established their superiority early in the contest, building a 12-point lead over the Mavericks by the end of the first quarter and then building upon that lead by outscoring the Mavericks by five points in the second quarter. While the Knicks did finish the first half having poured in 52 points, the lead's calling card was the stifling defense the team had played in limiting the Mavericks to just 35 first-half points.
Having constructed such a commanding lead, the Knicks' primary task in the second half was to stave off any comeback attempts the Mavericks could mount. This, the Knicks did fairly well as the Mavericks were only able to get the score within single digits for 4:57 out of the game's final 24 minutes.
Every time the Mavericks did display enough offensive prowess to put the ball in the basket, the Knicks soon had an answer, with Iman Shumpert coming up especially big for the Knicks in preserving their lead. Shumpert finished the game with only nine points, but he scored seven of them over a 0:59 span in the fourth quarter after the Mavericks had closed to Knicks lead to a mere six points; Carmelo Anthony added a free throw in the midst of Shumpert's scoring spree.
With stellar defense made more notable by the early departure of defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler due to an upper respiratory illness, the Knicks held the Mavericks to a lowly 92.2 points per 100 possessions, and combined with some impressive timely shooting (52.0 effective field goal percentage), the Knicks were able to complete their Texas road trip by winning two of three contests and coming within three points of going undefeated. Given how the team had played up to the start of the road trip, the three-game outcome was an improbable one.
Now, to prove that their play was not mostly attributable to random variance, the Knicks will not bring the same level of intensity and efficiency to their future contests. Only then will we be able to tell if the Knicks have truly turned around their season.