Monday, February 23, 2009

The Post is Prologue: Pacers at Knicks

Pacers (24-34)
@
Knicks (23-32)
7:30 P.M EST
Madison Square Garden, NYC


This match-up makes me long for the NBA on NBC. For this site's namesake. For injury reports about Rik Smits' feet and Patrick Ewing's achilles tendon. For 4-point plays. For head butting. For screaming out heinous things about Cheryl Miller. For bile. For delight. And those confused feelings elicited by seeing Mark Jackson shimmying and shaking in a Pacers uniform.

Tonight's game likely won't raise echoes of any of those things. Although, I might - for old time's sake - yell out something undisprovable about my relations with Cheryl Miller. If you hear such classless utterances ringing through the 400 level do not be alarmed. But no matter how much we may pine for it to be, tonight's game is not tethered to recent Knicks history. Or even a fight for the soul of Herb Williams. It is, in fact, a perfect barometer of the present. With nearly identical records, both clubs are looking to find their way in the NBA. Both are contending to be a contender for the No. 8 seed in the East in the last month of the season. Both have shown themselves capable of competing with the league's better clubs. And capable of losing to the league's lesser ones. Rather than the Celtics or the Lebronaliers, teams like the Pacers are the Knicks competition right now. Which is why this is an important game as the team looks to improve.

And, make no mistake: the Knicks should win this game. They are at home. And, the Pacers are without leading-scorer Danny Granger and Knicks nemesis Mike Dunleavy. Unlike Sunday's game in Toronto, I think this is a should-win game for the Knickerbockers and I will be disappointed if they can't pull it out. The Knicks are giving 6.5 points tonight, which means Vegas agrees with my take on the action. Or at least, the betting public does. But, really, I can't imagine that bettors have been moving the line of a Knicks game much these days. To put that spread in perspective, the Knicks were getting just 5.5 against the Lakers and Celtics last week.

Weekend at Jimmie's

Or, How Jimmy Dolan's Knicks Fared Friday-Sunday

Friday: Raptors at Knicks
-Kenny Albert sits alongside Walt Frazier to call Game 1 of the home-and-home with the Toronto Raptors at the Garden. Albert looks so suburban and coarse next to Clyde. He is a poor man's Bob Pappa and has a generic Men's Warehouse flavor that most MSG broadcasters don't have. There's nothing wrong with him. He's good at what he does. I mean, the dude is Marv Albert's son. But he seems to gone to such lengths to not sound like his father that he sounds like every radio guy on the dial. I never would have thought it was going to happen, but I'm actually longing for Kelly Tripucka.

-With Chris Wilcox (in uniform) and Larry Hughes (in street clothes) on the bench, the Knicks send Duhon, Chandler, Harrington, Lee and Jeffries out to face Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Shawn Marion, Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh. I know he's just returning from injury, but Bosh has killed the Knicks in the past few years. He's been precisley the kind of athletic big that has exploited our weakness in the pivot.

-Before I can even get the plastic "cork" out of this fine $7.99 bottle of Yellow Tail Merlot that I bought from a Pharmacy, the Knicks have run out to a 7-0 lead.

7-0

-And a long ally-oop to Chandler extends the early lead. This team is playing with all the confidence earned in the win over the Spurs on Tuesday. The Knicks have hit from outside, they've tossed the oop to Chandler and Lee has gotten some put-back points in the interior. It's all working early.

9-0

-Bosh shows a flash of how good he can be. Lee faces him and begins driving at him from the wing and Bosh backpedals to stay in front of Lee and blocks his shot.

-Lee fouls Bosh early in the Raptors possession, a reminder of what separates Lee from the premier post players. Defense. Jeffries picks up Bosh once play is resumed.

-Shawn Marion's shot is still incredibly awkward.

-Except for guarding Bosh, it seems like each mismatch is tilting the Knicks way. We're attacking the rim relentlessly and pulling away. Even Jeffries is getting in the act.

19-7

-Nice round of applause for Nate when he check in. He drains a corner two almost immediately.

-With Bosh getting a rest the Knicks go right back to the pick and roll. Joey Graham fouls David Lee. I like the purposeful way that D'Antoni has the Knicks attacking the Raptors.

23-9

-Nate splits a double team of Bosh and a young guard who looks like he's about 9 years old, spins around Jason Kapono and lays the ball in just before Shawn Marion can close off his path to the rim. It's a simply amazing play. Nate is playing at such a high level right now. This week he is Manu Ginobli. Seriously. Next week he might be Ricky Davis. But this week he's awesome.

39-22

-With every thing clicking and in its right place, Q Rich steps out of bounds while handling the ball. I'd like to think that Larry Hughes will be able to take some minutes off Q's plate. And, that Q won't freak out. Which he will.

-And, with .1 seconds left in the first quarter Nate drops in a three pointer!

42-22

-Watching this first quarter makes me want to go buy lottery tickets.

-Gallo misses a three to start the second quarter. On the other end, Kapono gets a jumpshot to fall over the Italian, who has really come back to earth after a scorching start.

-The words "poise" and "savvy" are used to describe Nate by the MSG broadcast team. The Great embarrasses Bosh, who runs at him out on the perimeter only to be headfaked into the air and blown by. Nate slices and rises to the rim. And, no Raptors step in front of him. These guys won't step in front. It's like watching the Knicks defense under Isiah.

51-26

-Another three rattles in for Nate. If this game were being simulated in 1990s-era NBA Jam then Nate would have flames coming off of him. Nate's strutting over to bench during a timeout. And, he's not strutting in a showy way. It doesn't look like he's playing to any camera. This is just the way he's walking around the court right now. Like he owns it.

54-26

-Jeffries draws his second charge of the game. A long, skinny team like Toronto is the ideal matchup for Jeffries. In this game he really can guard all five positions. And, not just as a gimmick.

-Another bucket for Nate. He's got 15 off the bench in the first half and is on pace for his fourth straight 30-point game.

57-29

-And then the Great sloughs off his man to swat a Chris Bosh shot from the block!

-In the words of Frazier: "Nate's ubiquity is astounding the Raptors."

-Nate has scored nine straight for the Knicks

58-30

-It's the middle of the second quarter and Lee already has a double-double. It's his 18th straight.

-Lee gets by Bosh on the baseline, but Bosh recovers and strip-blocks him from behind as he goes to the rim. This one play says so much about both players. Lee's game has matured to the point where we can get by most bigger defenders off the dribble or on the catch-and-run during a pick and roll. Bosh is so quick that he can still recover to make a play on the ball even if he's been beaten at first. Oh, and this also shows us that David Lee loves to have his shot blocked.

-Chandler's shot from three is markedly improved from even a few weeks ago. He is able to catch and shoot with the same natural rhythm that he has from midrange.

70-42

-Gallo doesn't touch the ball like he used to. I don't know how much of this has to do with his increased nervousness on the floor and how much it has to do with his veteran teammates just bypassing him on offense. It's all sort of awkward at this point.

HALF

-Right out the gate, Al Harrington slices to the rim for layup. Yes! This is precisely the way that the Knicks needed to start this second half. I'd imagine that the Raptors just got an earful from their Canadian coach at the half. But unless they embark on the come back immediately the game is out of reach.

77-50

-Duhon goes baseline and gets another pair of Knicks points right at the rim. The Raptors look like last year's Knicks right now. They are giving up easy buckets. They are listless on defense. It's eery to watch a team that I don't know play a way that I know so well.

-Right after checking in, Nate glides by Jose Calderon after getting him to lean the wrong (anticipating a Lee screen) way, and bounces of Bargnani in the paint. Hoop and the harm! Playing at this level, Nate is clearly more like Allen Iverson than he is like Spud Webb or Earl Boykins. He's not a sideshow point guard. He's slasher and a scorer. And, he played college football. In the PAC-10. He's no little guy. Even if he's as tall as one.

-As the rout commences, Clyde provides Knicks fans a clue as to where he lives in the city. He lives near an Italian restaurant called Tiramisu. He doesn't eat the titular dessert but enjoys most everything else. The place is located on 3rd Avenue at 80th Street. Let the stalking commence.

-Bargnani gets the benefit of a bad call. Even though the Knicks lead by 30+, Al Harrington is angry about the foul call. The crowd boos ferociously. Clyde notes that crowd and the Knicks are "not taking anything for granted." Just as the Raptors look like the 2006-2008 Knicks, the home team looks like the D'Antoni-era Phoenix Suns. They're running up and down. They're moving the ball and they're not relenting. Because they know that no lead is safe.

-Bargnani hits another bucket. He's got 18 points and we're still in the third quarter. He's shown himself as a guy who can handle well for his size as well as being a capable shot-maker, but I still don't really know what to think of him. He's benefited from being defended by guards for long stretches and has scored most of these points once the game was out of reach. He's got talent but I'm still not convinced.

98-64

-The Knicks are fouling too much.

-The Raptors roll off an 11-0 run. Rather than making me nervous, the run only highlights how insurmountable the Knicks lead has become.

101-75

-The Knicks are still getting great ball movement early in the fourth. Jeffries penetrates, kicks to Gallo, who swings to Nate. Three!

104-75

-Dribble, dribble, too much dribbling to get Bargnani to shift his weight from one foot to the next on the perimeter. Nate shoots, swish. The Great has 26 points, with loads of time left. It's 30 points or bust.

-Nate's starting to showboat a bit as he brings the ball up the court. He's overdoing the between the legs dribble and sending out underhand passes. It makes me mildly uncomfortable.

-Chandler is making a case for himself to be the team's starting shooting guard. His shot looks terrific and he's playing without a conscience.

-D'Antoni strolls down to the end of the Knicks' bench and points at Jeffries, who starts to get up as D'Antoni begins turning back towards the action on the court. Nate seems to grab Jeffries by the shirt or shorts or somewhere as he jumps up. Jeffries stumbles for a step and starts laughing. This catches D'Antoni's eye. He turns back towards the bench to find Nate smiling up beatifically with a hand on his chin and a "who me?" look on his face. The coach pauses a beat and then at him. Nate grins, pops up and runs toward the scorer's table.

-One of the best things about watching the Knicks while they've been so bad the past few seasons has been listening to Clyde during the blowouts. It's been the one thing that I've missed with the team being competitive again. With this game out of hand, he informs us that he finds tatoos to be "outlandish."

-With two minutes to play, Nate Robinson is stuck on 26 points. Actually, stuck is the wrong word. He is not looking to shoot. He's feeding Chandler and seems disinclined to go for his fourth straight 30-point game.

-Under 40 seconds and Nate is dribbling down the clock and passing it to a teammate once the clock is down. He's being a point guard. He's not risking an injury by slashing to the lane. Or looking to pad his statsheet at the risk of giving his opponent even one more possession. I like it. I like it a lot.

FINAL SCORE: 127-97

Sunday: Knicks @ Raptors
According to Newton's Third Law of Motion, there is an equal and opposite reaction for every action. It's a little known fact that he conceived this law while watching a weekend home-and-home series between two local football clubs in his native Lincolnshire. It explains why it's so difficult to sweep the home-and-home series in hoops or the doubleheader in baseball. Waking up early on Sunday morning (and, by early I mean by noonish) I was never very convinced that the Knicks were going to win the second leg in Canada. And, to be honest, it didn't bother me. I'll take a split in a home-and-home and be happy with the weekend.

That being said, my middling investment in the matinee may have had more to do with the hour and less to do with the Knicks. After all, they were right in it. And, weren't turning in an effort nearly as lackluster as the performance the Raptors delivered at the Garden on Friday. Al Harrington, in particular, was having a heck of a ballgame. But there were just too many frayed edges for me ever to feel like the Knicks really were going to take this one. Duhon was uncharacteristically sloppy early, Wilson Chandler was anonymous throughout, Larry Hughes was rusty and down the stretch Nate was not playing in such a way that would have inspired those calling the game to use words like "poise" and "savvy." Unless, those words were to be followed by words like "not" or phrases like "marked lack of ."

FINAL SCORE: 100-111