When The Mecca Was Liberated

The Garden was Eden

Since the start of the century, the Mecca has been the stage for some legendary performances. New Yorkers witnessed icons ink their names into the history books with otherworldly outings.

  • 15 points, 11 rebounds, 20 assists, 2 steals
  • 50 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists, 4 steals
  • 61 points, 3 assists, 1 block
  • 54 points, 9 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 blocks
  • 51 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists
  • 54 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals
  • 62 points, 13 rebounds

The problem is that only the last of the aforementioned was done by a player wearing white. For years, teams would waltz into the Garden and make it their own. The crowd would ooh and ahh at the performances of players on the away team. A big game at the Garden was synonymous with a blowout at the hands of one of the league’s biggest stars, none of which defended the Mecca. Instead, they strutted in with utmost confidence and made it their second home.

Kobe Bryant marked his territory out East. Then LeBron James claimed his conference and reign over the league. One could even argue Stephen Curry’s ankles became 100% healed within the realms of the Garden. Professional bucket-getter Rip Hamilton once made the court his own. Sometimes it’s not even about the amount of buckets, but the magnitude of them—just ask Paul Pierce. Sometimes it’s not about getting any buckets at all, but distributing them—just ask Rajon Rondo.

But amid the territorial struggle of the Garden, as intruders battled for control, there was a small period of peace and stability. Despite the many years of foreign occupation, something magical happened in 2012 and it would bleed into 2013. The Garden was Eden and the Knicks ruled New York.

Not too long ago, the Knicks were very good. That was not some dream you forgot about. The 2012-13 Knicks won 54 games, finished second in the Eastern Conference and got out of the first round. Hell, they started off the season by blowing out the defending champion Miami Heat by 20. They would go on to win three of their four meetings, on average by 17 points. They were, in many ways, ahead of their time. Their style in play was strikingly similar to that of Golden State in recent years and they took the league by storm. For a very brief season, the Mecca belonged to the team in white.

The Centerpiece

Carmelo Anthony had a career year and it was not by coincidence. Due to the many missed games of Amar’e Stoudemire, Anthony played a lot of power forward—where he’s always belonged. Anthony was the most lethal stretch-four in the game that year. All other bigs were too slow to keep up and he left them in the dust. The pick and roll left Anthony on the block with dinner as he overpowered much weaker guards, unless he was popping. Above all, Anthony attacked the rim more often and settled for fewer jumpers.

Anthony averaged a career-best 28.7 points that season, largely because of circumstances. Playing power forward gave Anthony mismatches to exploit on a daily basis. The half-court offense was mostly centered around PnR action; only then, after failed attempts or forced switches, would the Knicks resort to Anthony on the block. The Knicks also ran on every opportunity possible. New York played at an incredibly high pace, limiting the amount of half-court sets that would eventually result in isolations for Anthony. As a result, Anthony got a healthy load of his threes from transition offense, often wide open as the defense collapsed to contain the penetration of guards.

Anthony torched the league. His play was reminiscent of his usual dominance for Team USA where he plays mostly off the ball. It resulted in Anthony being hot by the end of the first quarter and after that it’s too late. He would go on to have eight games in which he scored at least 40 points and scored 131 points over the stretch of three games. However, he didn’t carry the load alone.

Mob Deep’s Prodigy

It’s so easy to forget that J.R. Smith is one of the most talented players of the century. At his prime, Smith could do it all, and that season he did. The Sixth Man of the Year poured in 18 points per game and even won a few battles when Anthony was out of action. He led the bench and helped hold down the fort while Anthony needed a breather. Dish before Swish. That was the difference. Despite the sky-high scoring average for a bench player, it was his playmaking that elevated his game.

Smith would keep the defense honest with his mixed played. He was phenomenal off the ball, serving as a great slasher and spot-up shooter. As he approached the rim with his explosive step, he often found the open teammate for the better look. This allowed him to pick his spots to score. It led to a much more efficient J.R. Smith who chucked up fewer bricks. Additionally, his offensive presence took the pressure off the remainder of the bench, allowing them to thrive.

Shoot-to-Kill Orders

The New York Knicks led the league in made threes per game, despite the Splash Brothers out West. Anthony and Smith shot 38% and 36% respectively. Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton hovered around 35% each. Even Pablo Prigioni shot well, who despite the small amount of attempts, made 40%. Chris Copeland shot 42% off the bench and this is all without mentioning their sniper. Steve Novak was laser-accurate, shooting 42.5%. Teams had to game-plan accordingly to Novak or they would get torched. That was a thing. Teams did get torched. He made four or more 3s in 13 games that year.

The Knicks barraged teams with their lethal shooting, mostly because of their spread pick and roll. Felton and Prigioni broke down defenses and good ball movement found the right guys. Smith’s aggressiveness getting to the rim also opened up shooters. But the Knicks also got a lot of open looks in transition which was entirely dependent on their effort defensively.

Homeland Security

The Knicks bought in on defense. Tyson Chandler, coming off a Defensive Player of the Year award, was the ultimate rim protector. Perhaps his only flaw was that he encouraged a switch when faced by a PnR. Sometimes it hurt, other times it didn’t. But at the rim, his hands were black holes that annihilated any shot within reach. During his finest hour, Chandler was throwing down lobs on one end and serving as a better rim protector than modern-day DeAndre Jordan on the other end.

The first line of defense held its ground as well. Iman Shumpert quickly became known around the league as a lockdown defender…before falling off the face of the Earth. J.R. Smith was a reliable defender when out of foul trouble. Pablo Prigioni irritated guards as the ball was being inbounded and Jason Kidd occasionally did just enough to make a difference in a game. Those old guys were important.

The Veterans

Jason Kidd was—almost literally given his career path—a coach on the court. His importance may not have truly been appreciated until his departure. He always made the right play, made the extra pass, hit the big shot when counted upon and was always in the ears of the younger guys. Anthony has always played well with veteran point guards, and Kidd’s presence during one of Anthony’s best seasons cannot be overlooked.

It was Pablo Prigioni’s rookie year at age 35, but he played like a vet. He was often the steady hand that helped guide the ship with his timely passes and awkward-looking shots. Between him and Kidd often calling the shots, the right person was almost always taking the shots.

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Trey Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a senior editor and social media producer at the Hoops Inquirer. He covers national NBA news, WNBA news and streetball. Rodriguez covers St. John's University's men's basketball for SB Nation's Rumble in the Garden. He also covers high school basketball, baseball and softball for the Bronx Times, TimesLedger and Brooklyn Daily.

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