Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Programming Problems and Role Reversal

Knicks 105-100 Bulls

Knicks @ Bulls will be joined in progress immediately following Rangers hockey on MSG

This message scrolls across the bottom of my television screen as I masochistically look for the Knick game. I guess one way to keep fans from getting too upset about the dismal play of the team is to keep us from seeing the team in the first place. Well played, Jimmy Dolan.

A second scrolling message soon informs me that the game can be seen on a channel called MSG2. I don't have this channel. I have, literally, 1,000 channels (and nothing's on), but I don't have one called MSG2. A few weeks ago this would have sent me running for the radio or the phone to make a call to my cable operator. However, I've lost the sense of urgency. Maybe it is the piping hot mug of Theraflu that has sapped my passion or maybe it is the long losing streak and listless play of the team. Either way, I'm not going to fight for this team tonight. I'm going to watch the end of the Rangers game and eventually join the Knicks in progress.

While scrolling through the endless listings of DirectTV channels at my disposal I finally discover 662/NYa. This channel has been showing the game from the jump. By the time I get caught up it's just about half-time. And the Knicks are only down by a three points to the underachieving Bulls team (or, at this point, they've just become a bad Bulls team). Oh, wait, now they're down five thanks to Joe Smith.


The Knicks have Steph, Jamal and Nate all on the floor along with Lee and Curry as the second quarter winds down. I like this. Just seeing Marbury back on the floor makes me more comfortable watching this team. I'm also glad to see some attempt to integrate Nate's scoring prowess and recent run of good form into normal game play rather than using it only too keep losses from becoming routs.

Steph hits a three to bring the Knicks within two with four to go in the half and Jamal scores 9 straight to close out the second and get the Knicks a one-point advantage at the intermission. That was actually good basketball. Marbury and Crawford controlled the tempo. The team played defense. They battled on the boards as much as they ever do. Steph is looking for his shot again, which he hasn't done since the leaves were changing colors. He has a serious mustache/goatee combo covering his face and he looks equally serious about playing again. His time period of intense mourning his father's death seems to have passed and he seems to have made, at least to his satisfaction, whatever point he may have been trying to make to his bosses and teammates by staying away as long as he did.

Whatever the reason, the Knicks are leading a game at the half. And it's a road game. I'm sure happy that the good folks at MSG decided to let us see this.

And, as soon the old adrenal glands start to get worked up the Bulls break out of the gates in the second half and go on a 13-0 tear that extends through the heart of the third quarter. Good, great, grand! Here we go again, the Knicks are 2-398 when trailing entering the fourth quarter this season so all does not bode well for the finale tonight. And, why should it? This team is a disaster and worse, than that they're inconsistently disastrous.

Most nights during the past few weeks Curry is the problem and tonight he is playing like he is the solution. He is aggressive on the offensive end and finishing with efficiency. On the defensive end he is at least working hard to end every third play either with a goaltending violation or a blocked shot. Of course, Aaron Gray (yes, the nondescript, unathletic Big from Pitt) is screaming for the ball in hopes of getting healthy against Curry's horrid defense. But still, he's scoring. At least for tonight.

And, it is this scoring that brings the Knicks back into the game in the fourth quarter. Calmly and without fanfare they are trimming the Bulls lead. It's under ten and then it's a two possession game and then it's 92-94. Timeout Chicago.

When the teams come out of the timeout Curry is trash-talking with Hinrich. The Big Kid towers over pale-faced, sloppy-haired guard. His team has the momentum and both players know it. The camera then cuts away to Randolph who is standing forlorn and tentative by himself. He has none of the swagger of his teammate and not nearly as impressive a statline either.

When play begins Nate is bringing the ball up the floor with Steph and Jamal flanking him on either side. The diminutive spark plug has been racking up assists tonight at an impressive pace and has been filling up the box score on a night when his shot isn't falling as effortlessly as it has been the past several games. Good stuff, to be sure. With Nate taking the ball over the timeline Tyrus Thomas is forced to guard Steph. For once, we're creating matchup problems and not just dealing with them.

Of course, there is no opportunity for the Knicks to take advantage of the mismatch because Randolph wastes the possession by forcing up a shot which is blocked by Thomas, who helped off of Steph.

No light escapes the gravity of Zach Randolph. And neither do basketballs or possessions. He is a black hole and he threatens to absorb the Knicks offensive rhythm every time he is on the floor. The team's game plan does not have the necessary escape velocity to break free from his gravitational pull. Not yet, at least.

Like clockwork, Ben Gordon sinks a tough, tough shot on the other end with Steph draped all over him. In every game that the fall behind (all) and make a late comeback bid (many) they almost always fail to get THAT bucket. The one on the possession that Randolph just imploded. The do all the hard work and then spit the bit when some poise is needed. And, like clockwork the other team seizes the moment (of truth) and eventually the victory.

This plan seems to unfolding again as Randolph forces up another ill-advised shot which misses, but Curry blocks Tyrus Thomas on the other end and Steph sinks a three with just under three to play.


Stephon Marbury is back. For real this time. The whole team looks different. Both teams trade misses (Gordon and Steph) before Crawford rolls in a fadeaway from the baseline to knot the game up a 100 apiece.

As the Bulls come down the floor their offense is stagnant, Gordon is pressing. He forces up an ill-advised shot and misses. The pressure has sucked the life out of the team. In other words, they're playing like the Knicks have played all season long. Meanwhile, the Knicks are playing like the teams that have exposed their flaws late in games with clinical execution. Marbury bisects the defense, enters the paint and dishes to Lee who emphatically slams the Knicks ahead.


Finally, someone else is giving up dunks to us with the game on the line! Finally someone else is playing at their worst when only their best will do!

Gordon throws up on airball under substantial defensive pressure and Curry draws an offensive foul on Thomas the trip after that. Meanwhile, the Knicks are keeping possessions alive and milking the clock. Curry is holding the ball in the post and the offense is purposefully working around his fixed position of strength. As the shotclock and gameclock tick down he somehow pushes a ball (that normally he would have turned over) out to a wide open Steph at the top of the key. He cooly drains the straightaway three point shot and the game is iced with 11.4 to play.


So this is what winning looks like.

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