The New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks sure didn't look like teams worthy of a playoff spot on Monday night, but their low-scoring slop-fest at Madison Square Garden made a pretty big difference in the standings. New York added to its lead over Milwaukee in the eighth seed by notching an 89-80 victory at home.
You could call Monday night's game a "defensive battle" and not be totally dishonest, but it was mostly just a display of reprehensibly incompetent offense. The Knicks shot 35 percent from the field, the Bucks 37 percent. The Knicks had 23 turnovers, the Bucks 19. Both teams inexplicably tossed passes out of bounds and chucked lay-ups off new, previously unexplored frontiers of the rim. The Knicks at least had an excuse. They were without Amar'e Stoudemire, who suffered a bulging disc in his back, as well as Jeremy Lin, who sat with a sore left knee. Baron Davis started in Lin's place and played pretty out of control basketball -- some great dishes in transition, but also 3-12 shooting and nine fairly ridiculous turnovers. New York's only real semblance of offense came in the first quarter when they got out in transition, and also when they got the ball to Carmelo Anthony. Anthony, somewhat shaking off a recent slump, scored 28 points by facing up for jumpers, backing down for inside baskets, and drawing quite a few fouls in traffic. Anthony tweaked a previously injured right groin in the third quarter, but returned for the stretch run in the fourth quarter.
That was pretty much it for New York's offense, though. They won the game not by scoring efficiently but by finding other ways to gain an edge. They worked for 30-35 shooting from the free throw line, blowing Milwaukee's 12-18 mark out of the water, and also ripped down 54 rebounds to the Bucks' 41. That gave New York the scoring edge over a Milwaukee team that got just 12-53 from the field, including a dismal 8-36 combined form the new Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis backcourt.
Perhaps the only reason Milwaukee's offense even competed was an otherworldly first half performance from Mike Dunleavy Jr. The reserve small forward, who has been playing terrifically of late and has always had big games at MSG, scored 14 points in the span of 3:41 to end the first quarter and finished with the first half with 24 points on 10-11 shooting over a dismayed New York defense. Dunleavy went silent in the second half (just two points), though, and so did the Bucks. The Knicks held Milwaukee to just 28 points after halftime, turning a five-point deficit into a double-digit lead, and eventually into a nine-point win.
The Knicks' win moved them to an even 24-24, two and a half games ahead of 22-27 Milwaukee for the eighth seed in the East. Milwaukee currently leads the season series 2-1 and the teams will meet again in April.
For all of the Monday box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.