With virtually nothing to play for after being eliminated from playoff contention, the New York Knicks came out and defeated the Chicago Bulls 100-89 on Sunday. The Knicks have nothing but the spoiler role to play for the rest of the season, and did that against the Bulls. In the process, they showed a lot of heart and pride, showing newly-anointed president Phil Jackson that there may be players worth holding onto in the future.
With nothing to play for, there is always a chance that the play could get ugly. Players will begin playing more for personal stats than winning games, but the Knicks did not look like that on Sunday. They looked as much as a team as they did all season.
One player who showcased his skills well was Cole Aldrich. For most of the season, Aldrich has ridden the bench as a deep reserve, but even without constant playing time, he always stayed ready to play whenever his number was called. Tonight, Aldrich received extended minutes, and turned in a strong performance with six points, eight rebounds, two assists and three blocks in only 18 minutes of work.
He gave Joakim Noah some problems as well, defending him well throughout the fourth quarter. This performance is an indicator that Aldrich should be someone who the Knicks should look to keep around.
Iman Shumpert, a player Jackson previously has said he was impressed with, had a solid outing as well. He was active on both ends of the court, pressuring the Bulls’ guards into poor shooting nights as D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich combined to shoot 7-of-26 from the field.
He was solid offensively as well, scoring 10 points with a thunderous dunk in transition that highlighted his night. Tim Hardaway Jr. continued to show the offensive prowess he has flashed throughout the season, scoring a team-high 20 points on 5-of-12 from the field, 2-of-7 from 3-point land and 8-of-8 from the foul line.
The youngsters weren’t the only ones to make a lasting impression, as the veterans also stepped up when they could have packed it in. Amar’e Stoudemire continued to play heavy minutes even with his knee problems, and Carmelo Anthony gutted through 28 minutes even though he was visibly still bothered by his right shoulder injury. Tyson Chandler grabbed 12 rebounds in only 30 minutes, and J.R. Smith continued his 3-point barrage, knocking down five of his nine attempts from deep.
It is fair to ask though, where was this effort and resiliency the rest of the season when the Knicks still had a shot at the postseason? The Knicks looked like a team that would have caused some problems in the postseason as everyone came out and produced, showing some real heart and determination.
It was a bittersweet victory, and makes fans wonder what could have been this season.