Monday, January 26, 2009

"A Tough Bunch of Dudes"

Knicks Come Back in 4th, Top Rockets, 104-98

Now, that is a win. A come-from-behind home win against a playoff-bound team from the Western Conference. It's true that the Rockets didn't have Yao. But they did have Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest. And, while the Rockets are a different team (more 3's, less dunks) without Yao they are still a very good team without him. They experienced half of a 22-game winning streak without Yao last season. And, they didn't come out feeling sorry for themselves last night as their first-choice center sat with a sore knee.

When asked after the game about his team's resolve, Nate informed an MSG reporter that the Knicks "are a tough bunch of dudes" and that he wasn't surprised by the come-back win. I'd like to think that I root for a tough bunch of dudes. Again. The hallmarks of my most beloved teams was toughness. Putting aside questions of toughness, though, last night marks the first time the Knicks have won a game when trailing heading into the fourth quarter. 21 times the Knickerbockers have headed into the fourth quarter trailing before last night. And, they have lost each of those games. The Knicks were the only team in the league to have never come back in the fourth. have been unable to overtake teams because a) they had dug themselves too deep a hole or because b) they have possessed the lesser amount poise in games that were close. Last night, they didn't let themselves fall too far behind at any point and they displayed the greater poise down the stretch. They did it on defense. They did it on offense. They got the must-have hoops. And they did it at the free throw line.

Thoughts, Observations and Things Better Left Unsaid
-The Knicks are now 13-9 at the Garden. They've won four in a row at home. Looking back, the re-arrival of Danilo Gallinari seems to have catalyzed the home court advantage. The team has enough players to go hard for 48 minutes and the fans are fully into it. The DEE-FENSE chants were loud even on television last night down the stretch. I'd say that the signs of Gallo's viability as a pro have renewed some faith in management and reinvigorated the short-term enthusiasm for the team among fans. With Atlanta, Los Angeles (Lakers), Cleveland and Boston coming to town in the next 10 days it's high-time to try to develop a legit home-court advantage. Of course, it's also possible that the very real home-court advantage that we've been creating gets snuffed out by the class of the Association before it has a chance to mature.
-The Knicks didn't win this game with the 3. In fact, the Rockets hit more three-point shots than the Knicks. When winning (with Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph) meant sprinting to 120 points then the Knicks relied excessively on shots from beyond the arc. This made the team dangerous but inconsistent. The emerging go-to-ness of the high pick and roll with Lee and Chris Duhon's confidence in attacking the rim when the team needs a hoop have made the three less of a necessity. Which makes the Knicks a better team.
-With 17 and 13 last night, David Lee has now tied Dwight Howard for the league lead in double-doubles. By virtue of this accomplishment he should be the second-string center for the East in the fast-approaching All-Star Game. I'm of two minds about this.
-Wilson Chandler was a revelation off the bench. After recently seeming as confused on the floor as W Bush likely would be playing a game of RISK, Chandler exploded for 18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and a block shot after being "relegated" to the bench. I say "relegated" rather than relegated because Chandler played 28 minutes, which was one more than Al Harrington, who moved into the starting lineup. Coming off the bench seemed to enervate Chandler and keep him fresh (perhaps more mentally than physically) late in the game. It was a Chandler three-pointer that gave the Knicks the lead for good with just under two and a half to play. He seems as meek as he does muscular and I can't help but applaud the early returns on D'Antoni's handling of his mini-slump.

-The big three that Will hit to put the Knicks ahead was brought to you by the letter N. For Nate. Robinson led the Knicks with 19 points in the game and also had a team high +13 in terms of point differential when he was on the court. Nate scored 14 of his 19 in the fourth quarter and was the real difference maker even if Chandler's performance was more impressive. Nate the Great stepped up in the middle goings of the final frame and did everything that Tracy McGrady good do but did it better. This guy plays himself into and out of the future with equal aplomb.
-Tim Thomas is really impressing me. I'm not ready to quantify those emotions just yet. But soon.

Read All About It:
ESPN.com
The News
Newsday
The Times
The Post

Non-NFL Monday Schadenfreude

Monday's Starting Five

1. Joe Torre. The former Yankees skipper (which is how most people think of him in spite of the fact that he is currently managing the Los Angeles Dodgers) apparently collaborated with Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci on a book about the rise and fall of the recent pinstriped dynasty. It's been reported that Torre is candid about his distaste for A-Rod, Yankees GM Brian Cashman, and the personnel decisions that submarined the ethos and comraderie of the '96-'00 teams that Torre helmed. I say, god for Joe. The guy was the epitome of class (even if he was less than stellar at managing a bullpen) and brought four world titles to an organization that had been marked more by apathy than ambition when he arrived. And, then he was more-or-less forced out without having ever actually missed the postseason during his tenure. Not surprisingly, some are up in arms about Torre's "betrayal," which just blows my mind. Only would Yankees fans do this. As if the club is some sort of all-important monolith that is more important than the flesh-and-blood folks who fill the uniforms.

2. Danny Granger. He's the best player you're not watching in the NBA right now. Provided that you've actually been paying attention to what Dwyane Wade's been doing in Miami rather than focusing just on Lebron and Kobe. The third-year small forward out of New Mexico is averaging over 26 points per game (4th behind Wade, LBJ and Kobe) and has Indiana contending for mediocrity in the month of January (7-6). Last night he netted 27 points, including 8 in the fourth as the Pacers held of the Charlotte Bobcats at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Pacers and Granger worked out a 5-year contract extension just hours before some contractual window (that I don't quite understand) would have closed on Oct. 31 2008. I would imagine that the club has to be pretty psyched that they were able to get this deal done before Granger went out and made a hard charge at the scoring title.

3. Pat White. Every time this guy has a big game (which he does 60% of the time, every time) it is documented as a some sort of message that he is sending. Each yard gained is a pronoun. Each pass a verb. Each time he reverses the field he adds a transition to whatever "statement" he is making to the assorted naysayers who doubt his viability as a professional prospect. At what point does White simply become a good quarterback? Because actually quarterbacking West Virginia superbly for four seasons and to four bowl victories didn't seem to do the trick. Perhaps the two touchdown drives (for the victorious South) that he orchestrated in the Senior Bowl will do it. Maybe the 39-yard TD pass to Mississippi's Mike Wallace was worded correctly. Probably not. But maybe.

4. Al Jefferson. Last season I began calling AJ the "Rain Ticket" after he landed in Minnesota in the deal for Kevin Garnett deal. It seemed like at least twice a week Jefferson was throwing up one of the best statistical games in the NBA. He was a beast. And, he is a beast, who dominated the Bulls last night. With 39 points and 9 boards, Jefferson led T-Wolves to their 9th win in 11 tries, which is pretty darn good for a team that went 2-14 in December.

5. The Arizona Cardinals. Who knows what will happen next week? Not me. Not you. Definitely not the (seriously) smart guys at Football Outsiders, whose Jan. 13 DVOA rankings had Arizona as the 18th best team in the NFL. And, as long as nobody knows then people will be talking themselves into the Cards. The week before the Super Bowl is the week that underdog-lovers everywhere can fine tune their own logic for rooting for (and betting on) Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald to topple the Steelers. Those who haven't bet on them yet feel like they're missing out and those who have won some money by tapping them over Philly and Carolina don't want to walk away just yet.

Horrific. Awful. Tragedy.

Eddy Curry's high-school sweetheart and the mother of one of his four children was murdered over the weekend in Chicago. She was shot to death along with an infant daughter (not by Eddy). And, Curry's 3-year-old son witnessed the whole thing. He was found by his maternal grandmother covered in blood but unharmed. He was covered in his mother's blood from attempts to wake her up after she had been shot to death and the killer had fled the scene.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, police have a suspect in custody. Allegedly, the gunman was an "acquaintance" of Curry's ex who had formerly been romantically involved with her. Of late, he had threatened her enough that friends and family members were concerned.

Eddy found out about the murders while in Philadelphia with the Knicks for a game against the 76ers. The Knicks lost and Curry, again, was in street clothes on the sideline. At this point, I don't know if there is a player whose experiences could be better used as a cautionary tale for youngsters looking to leap from high school to the NBA. He shows that even if you "make it" that everything can go horribly wrong. Curry declared for the 2001 NBA draft directly out of Thornwood High School. He was selected by Chicago Bulls with the No. 4 pick. And, little has worked out since then. He's been rich and famous. But, has it been worth it? On the court, he's been handicapped by a blatant lack of understanding for how to play the game. If you get him the ball on the block then he can score over most anyone. But he has never understood how to pass out of the double team or how to play team defense. He never learned how to play basketball, having not needed to know in high school and having eschewed college where he would have learned the game. Of the court, he's been a seeming constant target for trouble. In 2007, he was duct-taped in his own home in Chicago and robbed by a group armed men who had planned the attack on his home. Just a few weeks ago, he was accused by a former employee of all sorts of bad things. Except, it turns out the employee has a criminal record and had been trying to extort money from Curry for some time before going public with a lawsuit.

Eddy Curry is 26 years old. His former girlfriend, Nova Henry, was just 24 when she was murdered. Her daughter was 9 months old. Eddy and Nova's son is 3. This is just about the worst thing I could imagine for a child. The worst. And, for Eddy it's the latest turn on his carousel of public pain.

And, I don't meant to randomly imply that this all would have been avoided had Curry opted to spend two years at the University of Illinois. Not at all. It's just that when looking at the decisions that Curry has made in his life in relation to the sorrow that has been disproportionately heaped upon him I look for reasons and explanations wherever I can find them. A nice guy by all accounts and a too-gentle giant on the court, Eddy's life is not punctuated with trouble-making incidents like Plaxico Burress or hard-living like Josh Hamilton. He doesn't seem to have brought this upon himself. Aside from the fact that I think he should have dipped his toe into the collegiate waters there really isn't anything I can say that he did wrong. His crime seems to be being a very young public figure who seems nice enough that you can take advantage of him and get away with it. In that regard, it makes no difference that Eddy jumped from high school to the NBA. Not at all. In that regard, his life is a cautionary tale for all professional athletes. Or anyone at all. I guess.

Either way it's gut-punchingly sad. And, if writing the last three paragraphs has taught me anything it is that there is no takeway here. There is no sense to what happened. There is no explanation. None at all. Try as I might, this post has illuminated nothing. If anything, trying to make sense of what happens only leads to talking about things that are totally unrelated. Talking about draft position and passing out of the double team has only muddled the issue and been insensitive. Perhaps it's been my own way of mitigating the awfulness of the reality. But it certainly hasn't been my way of cogently explaining anything. These murders were senseless, brutal, without meaning and all the more tragic for that.