Monday, November 5, 2007

The Home Opener: Part 2

Starting Lineups

PG Marbury
SG Crawford
SF Richardson
PF Randolph
C Curry

PG Sebastian Telfair
SG Rashad McCants
SF Ryan Gomes
PF Al Jefferson
C Theo Ratliff

Curry wins the tip and Marbury is looking for his shot from the start, alternating a make and a miss from three to bookend a bucket by Al Jefferson for the Wolves. The basket that the Knicks are shooting at seems to have a lid on it until Curry breaks the seal with a powerful dunk to put the home team up 7-6. A surprisingly stout "DEE-FENSE" chant fills the Garden but seemingly does little to inspire actual defense. The Wolves jump ahead 7-15 behind a hot start from Jefferson and the first smatterings of boos are heard with 5:41 left in the first quarter. On the bright side, Zach Randolph has shown signs that he fully grasps his rebounding responsibilities as a member of the frontcourt. Even if he isn't corralling every rebound (and he assuredly isn't as defensive rebounding continues to be a problem) he is trying in a way that highlights the lack of effort and understanding on Curry's part.

With 2:20 left in the first quarter the loudest ovation of the early going is for the winners of today's marathon who are brought out to center court during a timeout (kudos to the guy from Kenya who is sporting an Arsenal shirt). And the second-loudest applause thus far is for David Duchovny. A lot of people must be psyched about that long-rumored X-Files movie...

Meanwhile, Craig Smith (of Boston College) is having his way with our interior defenders and looks set to play the part of Daniel Gibson in tonight's performance (i.e. the role player who inexplicably destroys us and likely ends up with a career high in some statistical category). In the plus column, Randolph is showing some life and looking like he is a play-maker who can make things happen from anywhere on the court, but the Knicks still trail (mostly because is missing shots that one must hope he normally makes).

Turning up the energy offensively as second quarter heads towards halftime, the improved play turns into a full-fledged run after Nate Robinson hits a three with a hand in his face as the shot-clock is expiring. The possession began with Crawford dusting off his lethally cartoonish crossover and beating his man only to have his shot clinically rejected by Ratliff (who can still block a shot or two on those creaky stems of his). However, the rejection fell to Lee who quickly swung the ball around to Nate who drained the shot to bring the Knicks within 33-34. Nate bounded back down the court with his arms raising up and down to incite the crowd.

Amidst the raucous encouragements of the home crowd the Knicks allow Craig Smith to get into the paint (again) and tip in a missed shot. Knicks trail 33-36. Refusing to let their lackluster defense inhibit them on the other side of the court Crawford hits a three to tie the contest at 36. The Knicks soon grab the lead and soon settle into as comfortable a four-point lead as one could have. The two teams essentially trade baskets and missed shots for a stretch.

During the Knicks mini-run to grab the lead Marbury came back into the game to replace Nate and the dissension in the crowd was audible. Marbury wasn't quite booed but he might want to give Chad Pennington a call. They could soon have more in common than they would have guessed a few months ago.

The Knicks were able to maintain the slim halftime lead throughout most of the third quarter although many familiar bad habits make appearances. The defense is atrocious. Craig Smith exposes David Lee's weaknesses as an on-the-ball defender. We see '06 Nate with a sloppy turnover and a general aversion to boxing out. And, the Knicks seem to be hopeless when it comes to playing a zone defense. The T-Wolves can consistently pick it apart with just one pass. Perhaps having a roster full of players who played, if at all, just one or two season in college means that we are ill equipped to play anything but man-to-man? Meanwhile, creaky Theo Ratliff is showing that he can still provide a strong presence in the paint.

The Knicks escape a forgettable third quarter with a two-point lead intact at 75-73. Of course it is 79 apiece all of sudden (because sustained success is the home team's worst enemy) but the Knicks do seem to grab tight to the game from that point on, taking a 89-81 lead. The crowd is very into it and Randolph and Curry are even fighting over rebounds with about 4 minutes left. The sight of these two big men high in the air (with Curry and Randolph leaping at the rim there isn't even room for anyone else to get in there for the ball) grabbing at rebounds is the first time this team does anything that reminds of the Knicks teams of the late 80s and 90s. However, before I can get too psyched or too nostalgic, Ryan Gomes and Al Jefferson are pulling the T-Wolves back into the game. The Knicks lead is down to 6 at 93-87 and panic has decidedly set in amongst the crowd.

Maintaining this lead is entirely predicated on shot selection since the team has shown no ability to get a stop or a defensive rebound. And, in a game that hinges on shot selection who would you want handling the ball other than Jamal Crawford? Um, well perhaps I might have a few other choices. But Jamal is making some tough shots down the stretch even if it is maddening to watch us go into our iso Jamal offense with so many possessions remaining.

The endgame truly begins with a solid foul by Randolph that stopped a lay-up or a dunk with one minute remaining in regulation. Last year that was an uncontested dunk that swings the momentum to other side. Tonight it was a hard foul and two free throws. No momentum swing. Knicks lead 96-93.

After receiving the inbounds pass Jamal takes the ball up court. He dribbles, dribbles, dribbles and misses a contested jump shot. Thankfully the rebound is bobbled and goes out of bounds to the Knicks. The inbounds pass comes out from under the basket to Jamal at the top of the three-point arc, but unlike the last time around one of his teammates flashes out to save Jamal from himself. Marbury sprints over to Jamal and almost rips the ball from his hands. Isiah is even up and away from the bench. Against all odds, he seems to even be barking instructions. I think he is coaching!

Steph drives to the basket and kicks the ball out but Randolph intercepts the pass before it can make it out of the paint. The clock is down to 20-something seconds. Randolph shoots. He misses. The rebound comes to Curry. Just under 18 seconds left. He doesn't pulling the ball down, kick it out and start the parade to the free throw line. Instead he goes right back up with it and misses a lay-up.

Wolves ball. 17 seconds left and with a chance to tie the game with a three.

Ultimately, little comes of Curry's mental mistake as Antoine Walker is brought off the bench to take the potential game-tying three pointer. He misses. Randolph wrestles away the rebound and hits a free throw to ice it.

Knicks win 97-93 and even their record at 1-1.

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