CHARLOTTE -- If the Knicks find themselves ahead by double figures in the second half on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, the Garden should refrain from encouraging videos and motivational music and instead play this simple refrain from the groundbreaking Mortal Kombat game from the early 1990s:
For five straight games the Knicks have held a double-figure lead in the second half only to see it dwindle to almost nothing. The optimist says what Mike D'Antoni said after Wednesday's 99-95 win over the Bobcats: "As long as we correct mistakes and win, that's a great way to do it."
A realist says there's only so many times you can get away with this kind of game. I thought it would happen on this night, when the Knicks let a 14-point lead with 1:11 left in the third evaporate to a 95-94 deficit with 1:29 left in the game after that three-point play by Tyrus Thomas. It took some clutch plays -- which was bigger: that block by Amar'e Stoudemire on Stephen Jackson or Raymond Felton's strip of Thomas on the rebound of Landry Fields' free throw miss? -- and clutch free throws to pull out this fifth straight win.
The Knicks haven't done anything decisively, which is why even after winning five straight to get back to .500 with an 8-8 record, the jury is still out on this team. Hey all you have to do is look back and see the last time the Knicks won five straight games was when Larry Brown's crew won six straight in 2005-06. And that was the year they lost 59 games.
You do like the resiliency, of course. And you can't overlook the fact that, unlike in past years, the good news is the Knicks are the ones building the leads, rather than the ones exhausting themselves making these too little-too late, comebacks we can recall from the last two years.
It boils down to execution, of course. Though the Knicks are an improved defensive team, especially when it comes to protecting the rim (league-leading 126 blocked shots in 16 games), it's asking too much for this group to get fourth quarter stops when the offense is helping create negative momentum with bad shots.
Stoudemire came up big with the block, but he was 0-for-3 in the fourth against the Bobcats on Wednesday. Wilson Chandler hit a big three with 2:54 left to temporarily pause the Charlotte rally, but he also had two turnovers in the fourth quarter.
But we're definitely nit-picking here. The end result was that they made the necessary plays to come out on top. They just won five straight games and we're talking about execution. Sorry, we're new to this whole "winning streak" thing. This is the most consecutive wins I've ever covered as a Knicks beat writer.
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* - Up next are the Hawks (Saturday), who have lost three straight and seven of their last 10, followed by the Pistons (5-10) on Sunday, then the Nets (5-10), Hornets (11-3), Raptors (6-9), Timberwolves (4-12), Raptors again and the Wizards (5-8). That's eight games that the Knicks should, at the minimum, challenge themselves to win five, if not six. That would put them at 13-11 or 14-10 going into a superstar week at home against Carmelo (Dec. 12), the Celtics (Dec. 15) and the Heat (Dec. 17). With the holidays season, it could be a wild week at the Garden.
* - Ronny Turiaf sat out the entire fourth quarter and though he said he could have played if called upon, D'Antoni said he kept Turiaf on the bench because the energetic big man was experiencing pain -- remember he missed three games with a knee sprain -- and D'Antoni said he didn't want to push it. Turiaf will have Thursday and Friday to rest before Saturday's game and should be available.
* - I was a little surprised that the Bobcats did nothing to acknowledge Raymond Felton's return, aside from announcing him first in pregame introductions, which drew a nice ovation. Felton spent five years in Charlotte and was a key member of the franchise's first playoff team, so you would think they would have done something at the first time out to recognize his contributions to the team. In contrast, David Lee was on five losing teams with the Knicks, but when he came back he was honored with a brief video tribute during the first timeout and given his moment to feel the love from the Garden crowd. Perhaps the difference is that the Knicks are the ones who sent away Lee, while Felton chose to leave the Bobcats as a free agent.
* - Landry Fields didn't make both free throws with 10 seconds left, but how about the wherewithal he showed in crunch time there to ball fake and drive to draw the foul? He had eight points but added 10 rebounds and two steals in 31:46. He is second on the team with 6.7 rebounds per game.
* - You also can't overlook Bill Walker's contribution off the bench, with 10 points and 4 of 6 shooting, including two threes. As long as Walker keeps his motor up, he's a valuable asset off the bench.
* - Stoudemire's six blocked shots seemed like a lot, but it didn't come close to a career-high. That would be 10, set against the Jazz on Feb. 7, 2004.
* - Danilo Gallinari missed his first FT of the game to snap his streak at 43, one shy of the franchise record. He made his next three, however, so he is riding a new streak going into Saturday's game.
* - Charles Oakley attended the game here in Charlotte. He was with his longtime friend, Michael Jordan, who is now owner of the Bobcats and sits at the end of the Bobcats bench. Oakley only stayed for the first half.
* - The Knicks have won four straight against Larry Brown's Bobcats, going back to last season. This was the first home-and-home the Knicks have swept since Nov. 2001, when the Knicks took both games from the Atlanta Hawks.
* - Have a great Thanksgiving, Fixers.