It looked like a game where both teams were battling for the right to be the eight seed — the winning team shot 35.1 percent and had 23 turnovers. Tom Thibodeau is not reviewing this tape and getting nervous.
But a gritty win counts the same as any other kind and the Knicks outhustled the Milwaukee Bucks on the way to an 89-80 win Monday night. It’s a win that moves the Knicks 2.5 games ahead of the Bucks for the final playoff spot in the east — giving the Knicks a good chance to move on (both teams have 17 games left).
The Knicks did it without Amare Stoudemire — who is now out indefinitely with a bulging disc in his back — and Jeremy Lin. That’s a lot of missing firepower.
Scarier yet, Carmelo Anthony pulled up with a sore right groin muscle in the fourth quarter — the same injury that kept him out seven games not that long ago. No word yet on the severity, but Anthony was able to play through it at the end of this one.
The Knicks won this ugliness because they were the aggressors. They attacked. They got to the free throw line 35 times, led by Anthony who was 12-12 from the stripe. They had Tyson Chandler grab five offensive rebounds as the Knicks kept balls alive and got themselves second chances all night. It wasn’t pretty but they worked hard.
I keep saying this game was ugly, let me explain:
• Knicks point guard Baron Davis shot 3-12 with nine turnovers
• J.R. Smith was 1-10 from three
• The Knicks as a team were 7-31 from three
• The Bucks were 6-24 from three
• The Knicks shot 35.1 percent, the Bucks 36.5 percent
• Monta Ellis was 2-14 shooting
• Brandon Jennings was 6-22 shooting
• The Bucks had 19 turnovers to 17 assists
• The Knicks had 23 turnovers to 16 assists (and loved their isolations)
• I can’t even count the blown layups by both teams combined.
Maybe the only guy who had a really stellar game — and certainly the only reason the Bucks were even close — was the shooting of Mike Dunleavy. He hit 10 of his first 11 for 26 points, including 5-8 from three. But by the end of the game even he could not lift the lid off the basket.
But the Knicks made plays — Iman Shumpert with a key three down the stretch and a steal from Brandon Jennings minutes later, and Tyson Chandler owning the paint on both ends. Anthony finished with 28 points on the night.
The Knicks, if everything clicks, are the kind of team nobody wants to play in the first round of the playoffs. Problem is, they are a long way from everything clicking (especially if Stoudemire is out for the season). But they can’t be a threat in the playoffs if they don’t make it and now they are a lot closer. It’s not a done deal — Knicks next two games are Magic and Hawks, and that starts a stretch where the Bucks have the easier schedule. The Bucks have three more home games while the Knicks play three more teams over .500.
But for a night in Madison Square Garden, the Knicks outworked the Bucks to get a key win. Good teams win ugly games. We have yet to see if the Knicks are actually good, but they got one of those wins Monday when they needed it most.