If the New York Knicks had collectively gathered together and made a New Year's resolution to play better, smarter, harder, and more efficiently in 2014 than they had over the opening months of the 2013-14 season, then Thursday's 105-101 victory over the San Antonio Spurs would have been the first step in making that resolution into a reality. Also, the victory might have been the last step in following through on their New Year's resolution since resolutions simply provide the illusion that the new year would be different and that you will finally stop making the same mistakes that plagued you in the previous year.
Sure, it is easy to pledge to start exercising so you can lose their last fifteen pounds, a pledge that actually results in you going to the gym regularly for the first couple of weeks of the new year, but soon enough, you will fall back into your old habits; one could even call it regressing to the mean. And sure, the New York Knicks knocked off one of the best teams in the NBA on the road on Thursday, but they had to play so well on offense to get the victory, so much better than they have all season, that it is hard to envision them being able to replicate their efforts on a consistent basis.
For the contest, the New York Knicks scored 121.0 points per 100 possessions, posted a 61.9 true shooting percentage, and put together a free throw rate of .237 in the game. In order to put their overwhelming efficient offensive performance in perspective, it is important to note that for the season, the Knicks have mustered just 104.2 points per 100 possessions, a 52.0 true shooting percentage, and a free throw rate of .170.
Such an extraordinarily uncharacteristic offensive showing as the one the Knicks displayed is inevitably driven by extraordinarily uncharacteristic offensive showings from individual players. The two players who led the surprisingly efficient charge for the Knicks were Carmelo Anthony, who was playing in his first game since suffering an ankle injury, and Iman Shumpert, who had been mired in a shooting slump stretching back almost a month.
Neither player showed any sort of lingering effects from their respective afflictions against the Spurs, however, and were instrumental in securing the win. Anthony scored 27 points while posting a 60.8 true shooting percentage and producing 119 points per 100 possessions; he needed only 20 field goal attempts and five free throw attempts to reach his scoring mark.
Shumpert was even more of a marksman than Anthony, and due to the six three-pointers he made, he ended up being better than perfect from the field. His final offensive statistics were 27 points, a 1.004 true shooting percentage, and 169 points produced per 100 possessions, simply staggering numbers. Shumpert shot the ball as well as it is possible to do, considering he used 24.3 percent of the Knicks' possessions.
Not only did Anthony and Shumpert's shooting allow the Knicks to hold the lead throughout most of the second half, but when the Spurs battled back and took a two-point lead with 2:00 left in the game following a Tim Duncan lay-up, each player stepped up and made sure that the Knicks' improbable victory became a certainty.
Anthony answered Duncan's lay-up with a lay-up of his own to tie the game at 98-98. Then, 33 seconds later, Iman Shumpert hit his sixth three-pointer of the game to give the Knicks a three-point lead. Yet, the Spurs were not quite done and Shumpert's three-pointer was countered by one from Marco Bellinelli, once again tying the game, this time with 37 seconds left.
A game that then looked as if it might head for overtime instead chose to keep traveling the path to a Knicks' win as Iman Shumpert's put-back off of an Anthony missed three-pointer gave the Knicks a two-point lead, one they would not relinquish as Anthony hit two free throws to salt the game away.
It is incredibly unlikely that the Knicks will play another game this season where they receive duplicate spectacular performances from Anthony and Shumpert, but having it once is definitely a lot better than never experiencing that level of shooting prowess.
Still, despite the inevitable regression to the mean that will follow such an outlier of an offensive performance, there is no souring the fact that the Knicks' win over the Spurs was easily their most impressive of the season, if only because they had not come close to beating a team of the Spurs' caliber previous to Thursday's contest; before knocking off the Spurs, the Knicks had just two victories over a team with an above-.500 record, both coming against the Atlanta Hawks.
Now they have a third, and in 2014, they will be looking for more.