Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Dentist's Office and the Come-From-Ahead Loss

There was a contingent of graduate students in NYU's dental program sitting In the first few rows of a midcourt section of the 400 level to watch the Knicks take on the Hawks last night. They'd been able to purchase tickets at the somewhat discounted rate of $25 apiece. And no doubt they were up there drinking diet soda and discussing floss as the game was set to begin. Once it started, however, they must have quickly learned the way that the rest of us feel when we have a trip to the dentist's office.

At first, on the morning of, you usually feel pretty darn grown and responsible for even making the appointment. "Well, look at me. I'm a functioning healthy adult with dental insurance and regular teeth cleanings" you might think as you give yourself a thorough pre-trip tooth brushing. Yes, sir. You took the morning off from work and feel terrific driving over to the office, it's 10:00 a.m. and normally you'd be immersed in TPS Reports or something trivial yet of the utmost importance. It's nice to be out of the office and outside during the daylight hours. Remember that? Barely. No it's in early and out late with, if you're a lucky, a few minutes outside during lunch. But as soon as you turn the knob of the dentist's office and step into the antiseptic waiting room that vague feeling of forgotten-homework dread seeps into your stomach. The suspiciously stiff, well worn pages of Outside magazine and TIME from three months ago sound like waves crashing on the shore each time you flip them. The waiting room is quiet. The noise of the air conditioner is audible as you and two strangers sit, waiting, in silence. The fake smile you squeeze out when the receptionist calls your name inadvertently perks you up a little bit as does the banter with the dentist. "Oh, I know, Dr. Whatley. Those Yankees really are something..."

But once you're in the chair, once the blue paper bib with it's white corporate logo printed across it is fastened around your neck, it's all downhill. The positive vibes are gone. You don't want to have to make small talk with this guy. And you don't like that he's just asking you about big BOLD item sports and television happenings like you're some sort of middle school-aged tween. "Ugh. What am I doing here?" you might think to yourself after he has you bite down on some trays of "bubble gum" flouride that taste like your laundry detergent smells. Now it's just a waiting game. Waiting for it to be over. Waiting to lie about how frequently you floss. Waiting for the taste of blood when he gets that scrapey thing scraping. Waiting for the spit suction device to latch onto the inside of your cheek. Waiting to find out what hidden charges you're accruing in addition to your co-pay. Waiting for it to be over. Waiting to get home, or even, gasp, back to the office. At some point you just wish you hadn't even gone and just not thrown off your regularly scheduled day. Besides, there will be robot teeth to chew my food by the time I'm 80. And gingivitis? Please. That's like the least scary "itis" since senioritis.

Now, those dental students must also initially have felt good about getting out to the game a the Garden. After weeks and weeks of studying and being holed in libraries, dormitories and other people's mouths it must have felt exciting to be heading out to the world's most famous arena for an NBA game. Knicks vs. Hawks! Alright! Especially for those students from out of town. They told their parents in New Hampshire and Indiana that they were going to Madison Square Garden. It was a big deal, or so it may have seemed, earlier that day. Coming up from the subway or walking through the crush of commuters on Seventh Avenue they must have felt downright cosmopolitan with their tickets in hand. "Look at me, I'm a full-fledged New Yorker going to catch the Knicks on a weeknight," they might have thought. "Yes, sir, I've arrived. I'm a grown up in the big city."

But then the waiting room-like silence that greeted them when they made their way to their upper-level seats may have thrown them off somewhat. Maybe they couldn't hear the air conditioning but the swaths of empty seats visible below in the 300 and 200 levels might have presented some cause for concern about the rest of the night. Still, there was draft beer on sale and the excitement of the pregame scoreboard montage, and these aspiring canal-ers of tooth roots were with friends from school. Like flossing, regular leisure time is key to avoiding burn out and maintaining a healthy academic experience.

Those who'd been previously paying attention to the Knicks' season would have been happy to see rookie Toney Douglas rewarded with a spot in the starting lineup after his run of strong play. That excitement would have been tempered, though, by the fact that he was starting at shooting guard alongside Chris Duhon. The Douglas-Larry Hughes backcourt that I'd pined for in my last post ("Tramps Like Us") was not to be. At least not at the opening tip. Before we get into the game proper (yeah, another needless digression), the fact that D'Antoni feels comfortable starting Douglas at the 2 is, to me, a further indictment of Duhon. Even though Douglas is a point guard (mostly) by trade, he can shoot enough to play the 2. So, he plays point in crunch time on Monday and he starts at shooting guard on Wednesday? As much as I want Douglas to play increased minutes, I disagree with unbalancing your lineup like this out of the gate. If you're going to stick with Duhon then stick with him and start an actual shooting guard. But if you want to play your back-up point guard so badly then put him in place of your putrid starter rather than your veteran two guard who has quietly been one of the more solid players for you.

Predictably, Duhon loses the ball to Josh Smith on the Knicks' first possesion. Here we go again. Each misstep he takes is like another scrape of the periodontal probe. Thankfully, Douglas soon makes D'Antoni look quite clever by scoring the Knicks' first five points. Thanks to two makes apiece by Douglas, Danilo Gallinari and David Lee the Knicks jump out to a 14-7 lead. At this point, Hughes enters the game for Douglas and Harrington checks in for Gallo. Sans Douglas, the Knicks find themselves tied, 16-16, just a few minutes later. After yanking Duhon and reinserting Douglas, all the moving pieces start moving in unison. Larry Hughes, in particular seems to play much better with Douglas than with Duhon. Perhaps having the neophyte out there brings out his veteran qualities. With Douglas and Hughes paired in the backcourt for the next 8 minutes of play the Knicks get 4 layups. With Duhon out there in the first 9 they got 1. The Knicks lead, 40-30, before Duhon touches the ball upon re-entering the game with 7 minutes to play before the half.

This is the lead that they'd nurse all the way through to the half. A point would be shaved off here (by Joe Johnson) and there (by Al Horford) and early in the third quarter it is apparent that, at some point soon, the whole thing would be washed away. Johnson, the former D'Antoni pupil who is an undermentioned member of the Free Agent Class of 2010, is the best player in the gym. Not only is he heating up as the game goes along but he is drawing defenders and opening things up for the Hawks' frontcourt in the paint as well as Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford on the outside. Even up in the cheap student seating in the 400 level it is clear that the Knicks are eventually going to lose this game. Not, for once, because they aren't giving an honest effort. But because the other team is just better and deeper. It is just a matter of time after Josh Smith steals the ball and cruises for a layup, bringing the Hawks within 3 with just under 8 minutes left in the third. The positive vibes are gone. Everyone knows what was happening. Even the players on the floor. "Ugh, what am I doing here," some of those dental students may have begun wondering. "I could be working or sleeping or not sitting in a cramped seat in this building with a bunch loser sports fans" From that point on it is a waiting game. Waiting for the Knicks to squander chances to reinforce their weakening lead (which they did by missing a couple of bunnies and having a shot blocked shortly after Smith's layup). Waiting for them to turn desperate and start chucking up three-pointers instead of trying to run their offense (which Harrington and Douglas did just before Atlanta tied the game). Waiting for the Hawks to finally tie the score (which they did at 71-71 after Horford completed a dunk +1 play). Waiting for the Knicks to lose the plot altogether as soon as they were trailing (which they did, missing four of five shots after another Horford layup put the Hawks in front, 73-71). Waiting for the final minutes of the fourth quarter to pass. Waiting to get home, where you could, gasp, get back to studying. At some point those dental students up in the nosebleed seats may have just wished that they hadn't bought these discounted tickets in the first. I mean, $25 plus Ticketmaster fees isn't that cheap at all. Especially when you add in the two beers and the hot dog. Yeah, it might have been cheaper than it was for the saps who paid full price but the lesser fool is still a fool of sorts. Besides, the game was on television. "You could have watched if you wanted," one NYU student might have thought to herself. "Or not watched it just like you had not watched most of the others so far this season."

After leaving the Garden, those dental students might have felt like they had gotten their fill of Knicks basketball for the next 18 months. It was dull at best, awkward and uncomfortable at worst. These future dentists are likely in no hurry to go back. But since they mostly bought these tickets with a credit card, many of them will get a cheery postcard from the Knicks in a few months, perhaps even a phone call, reminding them to come back soon. And, now they know how the rest of us will feel about coming to seen them once they graduate.

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