Friday, December 18, 2009

Finishing Moves

Knicks Drop Second Straight Game At the Death

The last fighting game that I ever developed any proficiency at was Street Fighter, and, to be honest, I wasn't very good unless I was Blanka or Dhalism. One summer I got on a run with M. Bison but I was mostly playing against my younger brother and sister and that hardly counts.

My video game "talents" were better suited for Nintendo than Playstation. So many buttons! I was a fish out of water by the time that my friends were all hooked on Mortal Kombat. I sucked at that game. Hard. When we all sat around playing video games in high school I was content to nurse whatever beers we'd gotten by way of older sisters and consistently be late when calling "next game!" Even though I've always been pretty on point with recalling useless information I never got the hang of all the various finishing moves that each character had. Sub Zero had that ice fatality. And Scorpion had his something or others coming at you. And, for the life of me, I couldn't master these moves. Which meant that even when I managed to mash my way ahead in a fight that I couldn't close the deal. In this regard, my Mortal Kombat playing and my work with my female classmates had much in common. I would struggle to achieve a finishing move as everyone screamed "left-back-square" and "down-straight-select-B" while my opponent invariably healed and destroyed me.

Like me, the Knicks do not have a finishing move. Nope. They have a quiver full of three-point jump shots to fire hastily over our shoulders in retreat. Those they do have. In record-breaking numbers. But a set play? A go-to guy? Or a stopper? No, they don't have those things. One night after the Knicks stuck with a zone defense down the stretch - even after Jared Jeffries, the player who makes the zone work, had fouled out - and allowed the opposing point guard to dribble straight to the rim for game-sealing buckets, the Knicks stalled with the finish line in sight and couldn't get a stop. Both games had been written in pencil in the W column before being snatched away by Charlotte and Chicago, respectively.

Going Down on D'Antoni
Having fathered the seven-seconds-or-less offense with Steve Nash, out of wedlock no less, in Phoenix, Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni has been fawned over by many, myself included. He's been lauded and studied in book-length detail by an SI hoops scribe and tapped by many as a savior at the Garden. Or, at least, he's been thought of as the right man to lure a savior in July 2010.

I'm one of those fanboys who read Jack McCallum's book. I was super psyched when D'Antoni suddenly hit the coaching market and ecstatic when he spurned the Bulls to join the Knicks. And, I still do think that he is capable of wooing important free agents to the Big Apple. My lips are tinted bright red from drinking so much of the Kool-Aid. Yet, I'm down on D'Antoni's work this week. I was appalled that he let Charlotte point guard Ray Felton get all the way to the rim on consecutive plays to put the Bobcats ahead to stay on Tuesday night. And, I write "he let" because of the fact that D'Antoni didn't take the team out of the zone that didn't stop the first drive. No adjustments were made and the Bobcats scored on an identical play to take control of the game with less than a minute to go. I'm not sure if D'Antoni just didn't think that Duhon would have fared any better playing one-on-one defense but regardless I fault him for not adjusting. There are many unkind things that I can write about Charlotte skipper Larry Brown but he does force a team to adjust for something before he goes away from it (which is partially why Eddy Curry did so well while Brown was in NYC). After Felton got right to the rack because the zone sans Jeffries didn't stop the penetration. And Brown had his team go right back at that weakness. Ballgame.

Two nights later in a different time zone, D'Antoni again made, or didn't make moves that cost this team a victory. With Larry Hughes out of the lineup due to a groin injury, the Knicks were shorthanded. One would think that they would then call the number of the shortest guy on the roster. It's been overreported that Nate Robinson has been benched during the team's turnaround. He has been. And the team has been better. Is this a cause-effect situation? I don't know. But Robinson has said the right thing to everyone with a tape recorder and a steno pad. He's cheered actively from the bench and he done everything that you could ask a guy in similar straits to do.

And, last night, when the team was undermanned at his position it seemed the ideal time to get him some non-committal run. This seemed logical as soon as Hughes status was announced. And it seemed glaringly necessary as the game went along. After an explosive 34-point first quarter the Knicks offense stuttered and stalled. They chucked up 47 three-point shots in this game and couldn't get any flow on the offensive end. No one was creating anything and no one was getting into the paint. Yet, the Knicks took a lead into the fourth quarter. Where everything went to pieces.

Aside from Danilo Gallinari's 27 minutes of action, the bench contributed eight minutes. Four from Eddy Curry. And four from Toney Douglas. Four starters played 40+ minutes and Al Harrington played 37. The team was visibly tired and abandoned possessions with early-in-the-clock threes as the game slipped away. All the while, Robinson - a 5-foot-9 inch shot of adrenaline and offense - sat wrapped in a warm-up suit on the pine. If D'Antoni wasn't going to play Douglas more than four minutes then he should have put his ego aside and given Robinson a chance. Which would have given the whole team a chance. If Robinson plays six minutes in the fourth and his teammates catch a breather than the Knicks win this game.

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