Monday, November 17, 2008

Weird Scenes Inside the Pyrite Mine

What Transpired This Past Weekend at the Garden

Knicks Hang On, Defeat StolenSonics
Friday nights can be rough on the working man or woman. It's the battle between pent-up frustration and deep-down exhaustion. Which -tion to indulge? By the time the dinner bell strikes you can feel like you're carrying the weight of the passed-by week in your eyelids. It was in this state that I made my way over to the Garden on Friday night from my 6x6 holding cell in Midtown. Slow, heavy-footed steps punctuated by sudden stops and starts - sort of like Eddy Curry around the hoop - as I moved through the morass of people in Manhattan this time of year.

I was supposed to be meeting a friend. I had Knicks tickets. I was early. But he was late. Like hours packed in tight on the Jersey Turnpike late. I didn't know he was stuck in traffic, though. Because I didn't have a phone with me (because writing and thinking and talking about the New York Knickerbockers does not make one popular enough to always remember their phone). And I was beginning to think that I could have given him bad directions. Why else would someone ever be late arriving for a Knicks/StolenSonics game? What else could they rather be doing? I didn't think that I had supplied the wrong address. But who could be sure at a time like this? On a Friday? Maybe I did mistakenly tell him that the bar was between 7th and 8th. Isiah Thomas claims it wasn't him. No, he had nothing to do with the wrong directions. In fact, he totally mapquested it. Although Isiah later said he wouldn't be surprised if Stephon Marbury was the source of the bogus directions. But, who can tell?

So, there I was at the Blarney Rock on 33rd between 6th and 7th, ramen-bellied and already four pints of Yuengling deep. Waiting. Drinking. Waiting. Waiting. Drinking. Waiting. Peeing. Drinking. Waiting. By the time the game began the bar had mostly cleared out. The patrons had run off, either to catch commuter trains at Penn Station or to catch Wilson Chandler contend for another opening tip against someone taller than him. An older ex-St. Pat wearing a well-worn red-and-green plaid shirt tucked into jeans alternated jamisons and Coors Light to my right. He was Blarney rocked. For sure. To my right were two women-of-a-certain-age dolled up and seemingly with no place to go. One cosmopolitan and one dirty martini with three olives. Exactly.

This was all fine by me. The beer was cheaper here than inside the Garden. Though, not by much as you would hope. And the game was on television. A small 14-incher with a spiderweb crack in the bottom right corner. But it was fine. I had a stool at the bar. Besides, I wasn't exactly up for cheering and small talk yet anyway. And although the Knicks seem improved they are not the Seven Seconds Or Less Suns who were effortless to watch. You need to be up to see these Knicks. You need to be in the right mood. It can still be an effort to watch these Knicks. Especially after work on a Friday night.

As slowly drank myself towards sociability and DEEE-FEEENSE, the Knicks blew by the StolenSonics with the well-rested ferocity of a Saturday night. On the strength of 11 points from Jamal Crawford and six points from David Lee (who is officially coming off the bench now) the Knickerbockers built a 17-point lead by the time the buzzer sounded on the first quarter. Jeez. Last season, the Knicks were the team surrendering 37-point opening quarters. But shoe is surely on the other hand now. With the knowledge that the Knicks were undefeated in games where they scored 100 points or more front and center in the minds of everyone watching and participating in the game, the race was on. 100 points or bust. Zach Randolph took over in the second quarter in the bewildering way that only he can. Without leaping or sprinting he managed to be everywhere on the court. Or, at least everywhere that matters. It was like the Halloween episode of the Simpsons when Homer has all the clones to help him around the house and office. There were baby-faced and baby-fatted Zach Randolphs everywhere. And the young StolenSonics can't do anything about it. They trailed by 24 at the end of two quarters. And the game wasn't even that close.

Halftime came and went. The cosmo and the martini left as well. Still, no arrival from my guest. I paced the block once. Twice. And then kept ordering drinks and trying to look busy and not as alone as everyone else by jotting down some notes about the game. The Knicks kept on scoring points in third quarter, highlighted by 10 from Crawford, but the StolenSonics trimmed the lead to a mere 16 points. It was during the waning moments of the third that the taker of the second ticket in my pants pocket arrived. He had been stuck in traffic, apparently. The address provided had been correct. In fact, he'd been to this bar before. I dragged him here after suffering through a brutal Knicks/Sixers game last season.

This late-running fellow needed a cold beer and a tepid shot of whiskey. He needed them badly. More so than he needed catch every remaining minute of play. We ordered another round. 2 beers. 2 whiskeys. We relaxed. We noted the dire state of the economy. And marveled at the ways in which Zach Randolph's statistical success in the game of basketball is almost empirically inexplicable. As we downed our beers we watched Z-Bo on the screen intently. And, then we decided to head around the corner to the Garden to catch the endgame. There was less than ten minutes to play as we crossed Seventh Avenue and we were clearly coming in through the out door. Fans ticket-holders streamed by us. With many previously filled seats to choose from we calmly and confidently folded ourselves into the third row of section 202 rather than trudging up to the 400 level.

The Knicks broke the 100-point barrier with a shade over 8 and half minutes remaining. At that juncture, they led by the same 17-point margin that they had begun the final quarter. And, they exhaled. And, then the ill-gotten team formerly hailing from Seattle thundered back into the game. When Russell Westbrook drove through the lane and dunked the ball with 5:13 to play I thought that the Knicks might actually lose the game. Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook and the few others guys whose new home shall remain nameless were pushing the tempo and, after all, they were (mostly) good/great (college) players who had arguably played in meaningful games more recently than anyone in a Knicks uniform. As a spectator at a sporting event it was probably the only the competitive portion of the game. So, our timing was impeccable. And, thankfully so was the Knicks. Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph outscored the StolenSonics 11-5 over the better part of the next four minutes and the home team held on for the win.

Knicks Drop Off, Defeated by Mavericks
There were 238 points scored in this game. Through 48 minutes of play each team had scored 112 of them. The Dallas Mavericks, though, scored 19 of the final 21 points to win the game. The Knicks ran out to a 15 point lead during the second quarter. They led by seven at the half. Were on top by just two entering the fourth. And were tied entering the overtime period. In that extra session they were outscored 12-2. It was the first time the Knicks were defeated on a night when they topped 100 points. And it won't be the last. Just like Friday, the Knicks loosened their grip on the game once they cleared 100 points. And, this time Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs made them pay for it.