Carmelo Anthony

Call it gritty, ugly, whatever — Knicks win over Bucks means playoffs (probably)

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Early on Wednesday night it was all Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks offense, it was pretty. But against a feisty Bucks team you knew that wasn’t going to be enough. With these Knicks nothing comes easy. They were going to need defense. They were going to need someone to step up. They were going to need some grit.

How about a key J.R. Smith three and some big stops late with even Anthony rotating out to contest shots?

That was enough. The Knicks gutted out a hard fought 111-107 win in Milwaukee that puts them two full games up on the Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with just eight games to play.

Nothing is set in stone yet, but it’s going to be very hard for the Bucks to make up two games in two weeks. Knicks fans can now start trying to convince themselves they have any chance against the Derrick Rose and the Bulls.

The night that ended so ugly (or scrappy, if you prefer) started out so pretty for the Knicks and their fans

On the second night of a back-to-back the Knicks came out on fire — they hit eight of their first nine shots to open the game (Tyson Chandler had seven fast points on his way to 19 points on 6-for-6 shooting). The Knicks were getting all their points going to the rim and following a 17-4 run scored 36 points (28 points in the paint) in the first quarter on 77 percent shooting. They moved the ball well and got clean looks all quarter long. They had a double-digit lead.

A lead that evaporated like a drop of water in the Sahara. The Bucks went on run right at the start of the second quarter and behind Monta Ellis, who had 21 on 12 shots in the first half, while Mike Dunleavy had 16 off the bench at the break. At the half it was 62-62.

The second half wasn’t nearly as fast paced nor did it feature great shooting. But it was close.

The game was tied at 99-99 with 3:3o left and after three points from Ekpe Udoh off the bench kept it close another three from Ellis put the Bucks up 105-103 with 1:45 left. A road loss and a possibility of missing the playoffs was looming over the Knicks. Anthony — who finished with 32 points on the night — tied it with a jumper, but then Luc Richard Mbah a Moute answered with one of his own to keep the Bucks up two.

That’s when the gutty Knicks showed up. Smith hit a three to give the Knicks the lead. Then on their possession the Bucks scrapped on the offensive boards and three shots — an Ellis eight footer, a Dunleavy three and then a Dunleavy 18-footer — and missed them all. The Knicks scrambled and contested on defense for Mike Woodson like they never did for Mike D’Antoni. It was enough. Steve Novak and Iman Shumpert hit some free throws in the final 20 seconds when the Bucks had to foul and the Knicks got the win.

It wasn’t pretty at the end, but playoff teams win ugly games. The Knicks — despite a roller coaster season, a fired coach, the coming and going of Linsanity, and Amare Stoudemire being injured down the stretch — are a playoff team. They need to close out the season like they closed out this game, but they are a playoff team. They have played like it for Woodson, it may not have been the pretty ball that they envisioned when D’Antoni was hired but it worked. They earned it.

They should celebrate it and worry about the matchups later.

Giannis Antetokounmpo called for 10-second violation on free throw (video)

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This Giannis Antetokounmpo 10-second violation was a year in the making.

Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, it was too little, too late. Antetokounmpo still finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, four blocks and two steals in the Bucks’ 115-107 win.

Iman Shumpert injures hand while missing open dunk (video)

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Plenty went right for the Cavaliers in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but there were a few snags.

LeBron James and his teammates repeatedly failed the water-bottle challenge in the closing moments (though Kyrie Irving eventually nailed it).

Kevin Love‘s nose malfunctioned.

And Iman Shumpert injured his hand while missing an open dunk.

If Shumpert was faking as an excuse for missing, he sold it hard. Defending 4-on-5 on the other end, Cleveland ceded a 3-pointer. Then, Shumpert remained hunched over while the Cavs brought the ball up-court. It seems Shumpert might have been popping back in a dislocated finger, which jibes with him staying in the game – and shows his toughness.

But it also doesn’t erase the shame of hurting yourself while missing an open dunk.

Gregg Popovich calls coaching Tim Duncan-less Spurs a ‘refreshing’ and ‘fun’ challenge

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs argues a call against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)–  For so many years, the San Antonio Spurs have been defined by their consistency, an unprecedented level of stability that has brought five championships and established the organization as a model franchise in professional sports.

The colors don’t change. The coach doesn’t change. The core never changed.

After 20 years and those five titles, change has finally come to San Antonio.

Tim Duncan, the tone setter from the moment he was drafted in 1997, retired last summer. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have taken reduced roles this season, and the Spurs brought in seven new faces as part of a rare roster shuffle as they try to retool around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It’s been at the same time a challenge and a refreshing sort of situation,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “The team is changing personnel-wise and where the ball goes and a few different players so we have to do things a little bit differently. There’s a give and take, strategy wise, to fit the group. It’s been a lot of fun. Watching some of the young guys get minutes and develop has been fun.”

Fun because while the faces have changed, the results have not. The Spurs (18-4) have navigated the bumps in the road that come with unfamiliarity and have the second-best record in the league, tied the star-studded Golden State Warriors (18-3) in the win column. They have started the season 13-0 on the road and can match last year’s Warriors for the best road start in league history with a win in Chicago on Thursday night.

It hasn’t always been pretty for these Spurs. They’re not the same ruthless, precise machine that steamrolled the league during championship runs. They have had to muddle through things, overcome mistakes and struggle while they get acclimated to one another.

Newcomers like six-time All-Star Pau Gasol, steady veteran David Lee, Argentinian point guard Nico Laprovittola and shot-blocking center Dewayne Dedmon have had to work hard to integrate into a culture that is as enduring as any.

“You could see it in our games. Sometimes our offense is stagnant, our defense isn’t moving well or in our help positions,” Leonard said. “We have a big playbook on the offensive end. It’s just hard to learn it. It was hard for me to learn it. I didn’t get it down until probably my second or third year. We’ve just got to keep giving a consistent effort and being into the game and into our playbook and just keep moving from there.”

The result has been a team that tends to start slow, fall behind and then gradually digs its heels in. They are 5-4 at home, where they only lost once all of last season. They’ve lost to the Magic at home, were thumped by the Clippers and have not recaptured the breathtaking form they showed in a 29-point win at Golden State on opening night. But the wins keep coming.

“I think the first eight to 10 games was the coaching staff trying to figure out what lineups we’re going to play and there were a lot of changes, a lot of trying what works best,” said Gasol, who signed as a free agent this summer. “But now I think there’s more consistency, there’s more defined lineups. Guys know when to come in, when they’re going to play and what’s expected of them.”

The Spurs have won 13 of their last 14 games, and Popovich has leaned on his core more than he has in years to get them off to a good start. Leonard and Aldridge both average more than 33 minutes per game, the first time San Antonio has had two players averaging that much playing time since 2008-09.

“It’s been interesting to see how the team develops and comes together and who the leaders will be without Timmy being that overriding factor for so long,” Popovich said.

Leonard, for years the ultra-quiet storm trooper of the Spurs army, has been much more vocal this season. Gasol’s personality and approach have been a perfect fit as most expected and Ginobili and Parker are still there to help filled the void left by Duncan’s retirement.

And little by little, the new guys are getting up to speed.

“They’ve done a great job of making it easy for us and for Pop to throw them into the fire and trust them to know the system,” Green said. “We’ll continue to help them and they will continue to be sponges and absorb it.”

Kyrie Irving sticks water-bottle challenge before Cavaliers-Knicks buzzer (video)

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The Cavaliers were trying the water-bottle challenge on the bench late in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but the national telecast showed Cleveland players only failing to flip a water bottle and have it land upright on the floor – including an erratic attempt from LeBron James that bounced onto the court.

Thankfully, the local post-game show had an angle of Kyrie Irving nailing the bottle flip just before the game ended, his toss just leaving his hands before the final buzzer. Count it!