If you were to cherry-pick the Knicks' box score from Tuesday night, you probably wouldn't find it too hard to convince yourself that they wound up losers in Boston.
Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith combined for 54 of the team's 90 shots over the course of the evening, with Anthony making just 10 of 30 attempts from the field. The team also recorded just 11 assists, which leads to more thoughts of a dysfunctional offense sputtering its way through the game, and allowed the Celtics to shoot for a higher percentage when all was said and done.
Those numbers are deceiving, though. The Knicks broke open a tight game with a big run late in the second quarter and pretty much cruised from there to an 100-85 win that checked three boxes for the team.
The first was a nail in the coffin being readied for the Celtics' run as the Atlantic Division's top team as they are now 7.5 games out of first with time running short and the second was a fifth-straight win for a Knicks team that is little more than a week from being written off in a haze of losses and injuries. And, finally, the Knicks moved a season-high 17 games over .500 to further distance themselves from the gloomy times of the recent past.
They did it by looking a lot like the team that started the season on defense (12 steals, 19 turnovers) and by making the paint their home on offense. Smith's 24 shots included a high number of attempts around the rim and the Knicks pulled down 15 offensive rebounds against a Celtics team that had no heart without Kevin Garnett.
But the Knicks had no Tyson Chandler so it's not like they were just imposing will on a team that looked overmatched on paper. The Celtics started the game in fine shape, but the Knicks wound up overwhelming them on both ends and their sheer volume of shot attempts (the Celtics had just 69 attempts) wound up meaning that those stats up above didn't matter.
Give Mike Woodson credit for that. What looked like some odd substitution patterns early -- Chris Copeland at center isn't something we need to see again -- turned into a masterstroke as it became obvious that the Celtics couldn't hang with the Knicks when the Knicks played small. The Knicks guards turned passing lanes into minefields on defense and the Anthony/Smith combo couldn't be stopped from getting to the rim by a Celtics defense that was a shell of what we've grown accustomed to over the years.
All of the changes in available personnel this season has left Woodson scrambling and that's led to ugliness at times. It's also led to a team that's comfortable playing in several different styles, especially when they have a pair of point guards on the floor to make sure things run smoothly.
Woodson's been riding those lineups heavily in this five-game winning streak and the payoff has been increased chemistry on both sides of the court. That leads to wins, easier breathing and, at long last, a chance to look down on the Celtics.