Saturday, December 15, 2007

Curry Blows in Windy City

Knicks Lose to Bulls, 96 - 101

Starting Lineups:

NYK:
Fred Jones
Jamal Crawford
Jared Jeffries
Zach Randolph
Eddy Curry

CHI:
Kirk Hinrich
Ben Gordon
Luol Deng
Joe Smith
Ben Wallace

With Chicago native Quentin Richardson out with a knee injury the Knicks move another bench player into the starting lineup, Mr. Jared Jeffries. With Q, Curry and Isiah all from Chicago and Jamal and Curry both former Bulls and Q and Wilson Chandler both former DePaul players (not graduates or students) this Knicks squad has a strong connection to Chicago. Still, Isiah is booed when he is introduced because this town sees him as a Piston not as a local kid that made the big time. Heading to Indiana for college and then plying your pro trade in Detroit can make Chicago disown you pretty thoroughly. As they say, you can't go home again. I guess.

Jones hits a three, scoring the Knicks first points of the contest. Starting for the still grieving Stephon Marbury, Jones takes the shot that has traditionally been drawn up for Q at the start of every game. He hits it. And I must admit that in spite of my initial reluctance to see Jones getting time, he is making the most of his minutes. I still strongly believe that he doesn't have a job on a contending team but on this team, as it is currently playing, his effort is valuable in spite of his relative lack of game. He is fighting and scrapping for a job and therefore isn't taking plays off. He is playing with a purpose and with the passion of a guy who wants what his teammates already have: guaranteed money. At the very least he is going to take it hard in hopes of getting his. And that puts him ahead of most of his mates, who already have theirs.

Speaking of guy's with huge contracts and incredibly shrinking game, Eddy Curry literally whiffs at grabbing a rebound that caromed right to him off a Joe Smith miss in the openings minutes. On the Knicks next offensive possession he throws up a brick on a hook shot and, then, follows that up by fouling Ben Gordon as he scores at the other end. He hits the free throw.

Curry is a disaster right now. He has no confidence. Last year that baby hook was the new weapon that was going to make him the best offensive center in the East. It was why he dominated Dwight Howard in their matchup last year right before the All-Star Break. This year that shot looks ridiculous and desperate.

Gus Johnson and Clyde cannot ignore Curry's struggles, even if such honesty is roundly frowned upon by the Garden. Gus admits talking to Eddy about the recent stretch of poor play and shares a few bits of that conversation. Essentially, Curry admits that he can't play with Zach. We all know this at home. Everyone in the media and on the street corner called this when the deal was announced around the draft. At least once a game these two end up trying to post-up their man on the same block. Even worse, Zach - who is undeniably better at this point - gets pushed too far from the basket as Curry does his best to hold the paint hostage. This keeps a Big who can actually rebound away from the rim and forces Zach to become a six foot ten inch version of Jamal Crawford, which is fine when his shot is falling but when it's not then we lose him entirely from the offense.

The most shocking part of the conversation that Gus reveals is the phrase, uttered by Curry,"last year when Channing was here."

Curry is openly pining for Channing Frye! Now, don't get me wrong, Channing was a solid ballplayer who had his moments as a Knick. He was a soft but showed a nice shooting touch and on the right team could put in high teens every night. However, Zach Randolph is a superior player. As a scorer and a rebounder. It is deeply disturbing on so many levels that Curry would say something like this to Gus who is clearly going to share this quote with the wider world. This is a shot at Randolph and at Isiah. It is also an admission of failure that is more conscious than we've previously been privy to. It is ridiculous and disheartening to hear Curry wistfully look back to last season when the team was less talented and missed the playoffs but he scored more. And, this says nothing of the fact that the team has kept him rooted in the paint and made Zach adjust more to him than vice versa.

Regardless, Curry is replaced by David Lee a few minutes thanks to another foul and a turnover. He is just plain bad right now. Offenses gameplan to attack him on our defensive end and he isn't even making shots to match what he is giving up on the other end. All we can hope for while he is on the floor is that we trade baskets. That is our best-case scenario with 34 on the floor. And, even that is becoming less likely with each bricked hook shot.

Jamal, Zach and Fred Jones account for all the Knicks points over the course of the first quarter and maanage to keep them close. Mardy Collins makes an appearance of the bench, replacing Jeffries about midway through. Again, Isiah chooses to replace a frontcourt player with backcourt player. He has been pulling Curry for guards often during the big guy's heinous stretch. In this instance the substitution is dubious on two levels. One, where is Balkman? Two, why Mardy over Nate? Not too long ago Balkman and Robinson where key contributors off the bench yet Jeffries has started tonight and Mardy is the first guard to check in. Mardy has been ineffective ever since he got the starts during the ill-fated West Coast swing while Nate has scored consistently (if wildly) every time he's snuck onto the court lately.

Either way, Lee is the substitute seeing the most action. He is matched up with former University of Florida teammate Joakim Noah and the Bulls are running their offense through Noah down on the block. He can pass and handle extremely well for a someone who is at leats 6 feet and 10 inches tall. The two former Gators are battling one another and no matter what else is happening elsewhere on the court (not much) it is clear that this matchup matters to these two. Lee was always the upperclassman, the big brother and the more traditionally put together player whereas Noah is the wild-haired and snaggle-toothed upstart who won the titles are Lee left for the Majors.

Lee and the Knicks trail Noah and the Bulls 19-23 at the end of one.

The wayward Curry takes a break from holding a towel over his stitched-up lower lip to start the second quarter. Bulls backup PG obviously takes note of this fact and proceeds to drive straight into the paint. Two points. On the other end Curry manages to pick up a ball that Lee has tipped off the offensive glass. Curry goes back up with it. He misses the put back but does grab his own rebound. His second offering is blocked by Deng.

It takes two and half minutes for Curry to have another shot blocked. In the interim Mardy drives wildly at the hoop, David Lee posterizes Noah and Balkman finally checks into the game. However all that is mere prelude to Andres Nocioni's piece de resistance: The 6-7 small forward from Argentina blocks a dunk attempt by the 6-11 center Eddy Curry. Nocioni weighs 220 pounds. Curry weighs 285 pounds. And Nocioni turns away his dunk. A dunk. Kirk Hinrich picks up the shattered pieces of Curry's manhood and streaks down the floor. He dishes to Nocioni who nails a three from 25-feet. Bulls lead 23-32.

On the Knicks next possession David Lee scores again, he has accounted for the team's last 6 points. Mardy fouls Noah after he beats Lee to the hoop. Noah makes two free throws to get the Bulls lead back to nine. And, he were are. In danger of being down ten (again) in the first half the Knicks are trying to get the ball back in to Curry. Ben Wallace is fronting the post. Crawford lobs the ball just over the outstretched arm of Wallace. Curry grasps the ball, he spins and goes up for the dunk.

Nocioni blocks it. Again. Another blocked dunk. That was it.

Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph did their best to score enough points to give the team a puncher's chance and the Knicks would actually get themselves close enough to the Bulls were they were obligated to start fouling them late but they were not serious competitors after that moment. They were wholly emasculated by Curry's performance. Isiah knew it and kept Curry locked to the bench. He was replaced less than three minutes from the second block. He was replaced Malik Rose. They combined for 0 points.

Worth Noting:By the time the last horn sounded Hinrich had a triple-double and Randolph had another statistically impressive outing, 27 and 15.

A Vote of No Confidence

"I think Eddy is the type of player that, you know, who once he gets his offensive flow and his offensive rhythm, you know, everything else, uh...you know, kind of comes around for him and, you know, there's certain things that, you know, he probably ever won't be good at doing and, um...you know, we just want to make sure the he keeps doing the things that he knows how to do well and, uh, make sure that he continues to do them well."
-Isiah Thomas on Eddy Curry

Before the game Isiah, for the first time that I've seen or heard about, addressed the extremely poor play of Eddy Curry. Or, "The Centerpiece" as he is touted in all the team's promotional material. Such frank discussion about Curry's deficiencies is as refreshing as that first blast of winter air on Seventh Avenue after being cooped up in the 400 level of the Garden during another home loss. Such honesty from someone who never is fortright is also a sure sign of how far out of favor the big man has fallen. Not too long ago Curry was the player around which this franchise was going to be built and know he is a guy who, according to Isiah, probably won't ever be able to play defense. He is at best a one-dimensional player who currently is struggling with his only strength.

The ironies and contradictions that this quote is pregnant with are enough to develop psychology syllabi around. Is this Isiah the coach blaming Isiah the GM for thinking Curry could be turned into a well-rounded player? Is this Isiah the coach endorsing Nature over Nurture? Curry is what he is and that is what he will always be. If so, why was he willing to bench Steph for not being something other than what he has always been while he seems accepting about such flaws when it comes to Curry? Either way, Curry is struggling so mightily that even the most obfuscating coach this side of Foxboro has been forced to admit it.