Saturday, November 10, 2007

"...but Coach Thomas has really turned around the fight, and, um, victory is on the...we're getting closer."

Recap: Knicks Lose to Magic, 102-112

MSG broadcaster Al Trautwig welcomes viewers to the telecast of tonight's game by laying this gem on us, "Magic hope to cast a spell on the Knicks." Oh, Al. After peppering us with a few more introductory notes, Trautwig turns the coverage over to Gus Johnson, the single-best play-by-play man to came along since Marv, and the inimitable and imperturbable Walt Frazier, resplendent this evening in a leather jacket that looks like it came from a Native American s&m shop. While introducing the starting lineups Gus lays the ultimate "but, she's got a great sense of humor" compliment on Q when he says that, "he is struggling a little but he is an unselfish player."

Starting Lineups

NYK
PG Steph
SG Crawford
SF Q
PF Randolph
C Curry

ORL
PG Jameer Nelson
SG Keith Bogans
SF Hedo Turkoglu
PF Rashard Lewis
C Dwight Howard

For the first time this season Curry loses the tip-off. This a potentially bad omen. Howard's leaping ability and explosiveness are off the charts. While Curry is often described as being athletic for a big, his "athleticism" is about agility and quick feet whereas Howard's is about power and strength and being fast rather than being quick. Curry is quick, but he isn't fast.

In the opening minutes there are two direct similarities to the previous game. The Knicks are trying to get Q involved in the offense early. He takes the team's first shot. He misses. But he is hustling and clawing for rebounds and eventually a ball gets out to Marbury who nails a three. And, as the team backpedals into their own defensive end it is also clear that Marbury can't stay with the opposing point guard. This was excusable on Tuesday becuase it was Allen Iverson twirling around the court. Iverson is first-class all the way and when he has a good performance it can be attributed to his own ability rather than his defender's shortcomings. However, tonight it's Jameer Nelson, a sensation at St. Joe's in Philly during his college years, and Steph can't stay in front of him in the early going. Or the middle going. Or the late going.

In spite of Steph's defensive liability the Knicks are able to push themselves ahead behind Curry and Randolph who are taking an early lead in the battle of the front-courts. Curry has blocked a Howard shot, been battling for offensive boards and both he and Zach have already made trips to the charity stripe. The Knicks lead 17-10 after Q gets his third attempt at a 3 to fall.

The home team is off to a solid start on the defensive end (but we're still not crashing the defensive boards) in a game that has a slower pace to it then the midweek track meet against the Nuggets. Coming out of a timeout the Magic rally to knot the game up at 17. Nelson starts the spurt with another drive right past Steph. Howard rebounds his own missed shot (no def. rebounding) and lays it in and then Bogans hits a wide open 3. Tie Game.

The first quarter ends up all even at 28 after Q (subbed back in for the last possession) makes a really strong double-clutch layup coming from the baseline. As the game progresses it becomes a battle of one on one matchups. Can Curry stop Howard? Sometimes. Can Howard stop Curry? No. Can Steph stop Nelson? No. Can Q stop Lewis? Actually, he is doing a solid job early on and Lewis is well off the pace of his season average heading into halftime. Can Lewis or Turkoglu or whomever stop Randolph? No. Can Randolph stop Randolph? Yes. And he does a great job of it in the second half. Can the referess stop Jamal? Yes. Either the carry-rule is being enforced much more strictly than I've ever seen. Or Jamal is intent on breaking the single-game record for traveling violations.

The individual matchups are increasingly contentious. If Lewis is able to get a bucket then Q wants the ball at the other end of the court to answer him. Same goes for almost every other pairing on the court. Well, except for Jamal is still chipping away at the traveling record. Everyone else is playing like their pride is on the line.

Both coaches are mixing up their first and second units in hopes of finding the key to exploiting the matchup-centric way the game has turned. And, it is Stan Van Gundy of the Famous Flying (and Diet Coke drinking) Van Gundy Brothers that finds the right puzzle piece on his bench: Adonal Foyle, the pride of Colgate University.

Suddenly Curry is getting bodied on defense by a veteran who isn't intimidated by strength. Curry isn't nearly as comfortable with smaller and tougher Foyle on his hip. The easy buckets he was getting over Howard (and he did get quite a few) are gone and now is even being doubled if he gets the ball down low. Meanwhile, Howard is free to guard Randolph who usually doesn't have to worry about facing someone taller than him. Randolph's inside game is more or less negated by Howard and as he pulls away from the hoop (where Howard can't adequately defend) his shot has gone ice cold.

This one personnel change seemed to be the tipping point for the whole contest as everything started to go Orlando's way down the stretch. Q and Curry (in spite of Foyle's solid, solid defense) try valiantly to keep us in the game, but seemingly every time they get close Nate drives the ball off a cliff, Jamal gets whistled for traveling or Steph allows a wide-open shot or gets smoked off the dribble.

As the Magic are pulling away in the fourth-quarter Turkoglu is a key factor. Raining down open shots as the Knicks defense over shifts towards Lewis (who eventually breaks through as Q tires) and Howard. The Turk is indeed playing the role of Daniel Gibson (Cavs shooting guard who killed us for his career-high and salted game in opener) in tonight's performance.

Marbury, coming alive late, is able to pull the Knicks within 7 after taking control of the offense again. His absence has been painful. Knowing that there aren't very many in the game better than him at taking the ball hard to the hoop it has been ridiculous that he's just been standing on the wing as Nate and Jamal kept flailing into the paint only to turn the ball over. What was he doing? In any case, Marbury drags the remnants of team (Curry and Randolph were pulled at the 2:00 minute mark) within striking distance before the long, foul-and-pray process begins. Unfortunately, the Magic hit more free throws than they miss. Knicks lose.

[POST-GAME VIEWS AND THE STORY BEHIND THE TITLE OF THIS POST will be up later.]

The Papers:
NY Post
NY Daily News
NY Times
ESPN.com

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