Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Four-Quarter Loss in Five Acts

German dramatist and novelist Gustav Freytag contended that a drama was divided into five acts. This differed from the long-held view, established by Aristotle that a drama was composed of three acts, a beginning, middle, and end.

Act 1/The Exposition: In which the starting five of the New York Knicks open up the game fast on their home floor before a dependably passionate crowd. Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard looks bigger and stronger and wider than everyone else on the floor. Like, by a lot. The level plane of his broad shoulders and the perpendicular straightness of his torso seems some geometric exercise while his irreconcilable combination of bulk and agility make it clear why Euclidean space could not be used to chart all natural phenomenon. As much as this is a game of giants, there are few players that really look so impressive when amongst their peers. Howard is one such player. He blocks the Knicks' first shot attempt of the game. The tone is set. The paint is his. Still, the Knicks are competing. Chris Duhon logs an early steal and assists on four of the first five Knicks makes. All the Knicks' points are scored by David Lee and Al Harrington. The sub-.500 Knicks lead the division-leading Magic, 11-7, and are not bowing before their superior opponent.

Act 2/Rising Action: With the main characters in place and the relationships betwixt them established, the Knicks go on to miss 17 of their next 19 shots. During this stretch of ineptitude, Howard scored ten points, grabbed nine boards and blocked two more shots. Although the Knicks established in Act 1 that they are not going to meekly against the favored Magic, they established in Act 2 that they just aren't as good. Or, at least as consistent. Quentin Richardson is either injured or done. Or both. Larry Hughes is worse. The Magic extend their lead to 10 points by the end of the first quarter and pad the bulge shortly after the second quarter gets underway. The Knicks porous defense is exposed by their own lack of shotmaking and coach Mike D'Antoni gets the angriest that I've seen him all season long after Hedo Turkolgu gets by Larry Hughes, David Lee and Chris Duhon on one drive to the rim. The Knicks coach demonstratively calls a timeout immediately after the basket and berates his team. Hughes seemed to have thought that Lee was going to switch onto the Turk and Lee seemed to think that Hughes was going to stick with him (or Lee just didn't care). After Turkoglu left Lee and Hughes behind, he passed Duhon on his way to the rim. The basket pushed the Magic lead to 41-26. With Turkoglu introduced as a key character, the Magic's supporting cast shepherds the lead through the half and into the the third quarter, at which point Howard and Turkoglu resume control of the contest. All told, they managed to keep the Magic lead hovering around the 14-point mark that Hedo had created when he angered D'Antoni.

Act 3/Climax: With less than a minute and a half remaining in the third quarter, Wilson Chandler canned a three-point shot that pulled the Knicks within ten points for just the third time since the first quarter, 77-69. First-year forward Danilo Gallinari checked in shortly thereafter and the wham-bam, set-piece battle of this tale was joined. Turkoglu did all he could to snuff out the Knicks' comeback bid before it began but his attempts (he scored 10 straight spanning the third and fourth quarters) were not enough. Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler continued to pull the Knicks ever closer. All the while, the baby-faced Gallo was cleaning the glass and looking overmatched on the offensive end. But, really, seriously. He was biding his time. Scheming and plotting to take down Superman and the high-powered Orlando Magic. As Robinson (who went for 30+ points, again) brought the team closer and closer. As the minutes ticked down. As things grew more heated. Gallinari knew his time was coming. With the game clock showing less than two minutes and the scoreboard showing 103-94, Gallo sank a three-point shot. 103-97. It was a two possession game and the Garden was rallying behind their heroes (as Clyde would say). Hedo, Dwight and co. leaned their shoulders into their trembling defenses. It seemed like the castle walls protecting their nearly game-long lead would fall. Gallo hit another two and assisted a Nate three. After Magic guard Rafer Alston hit just 1 of 2 free throws, the precocious Italian rookie hit another three-point shot. It was a two-point game! 109-107.

Act 4/Falling Action: With 24 seconds to play, it was a one-possession game. The Knicks had stormed all the way back to within a bucket. The Magic had the ball, though. And the animated directions coming from head coach Stan Van Gundy on the sideline were keeping them focused on the matter at hand. In spite of all that had transpired in the preceding minutes they would be just fine. If they could hit some free throws and get one stop on defense. And, they did hit free throws. Rafer Alston went to the line and nailed two. But, the Magic couldn't get the stop they needed. Nate the Great got to the rim for a layup. Again it was a two-point game. And, again the Magic had the ball. Van Gundy called a timeout this time. To calm his team. To coach his team. The clock showed 17 seconds. It was an eternity. But one that they could enjoy if they hit free throws. And inbound the ball. Given the ball at midcourt, the Magic had to burn their final timeout after being unable to inbound the ball against the active Knicks defense. Al Harrington (with a little help from Spike Lee) was a twirling mass of arms of legs and kept Turkoglu from finding a teammate. If the Knicks were able to keep the Magic from inbounding the ball in the allotted five seconds then they would get it back with a chance to tie the game. Or, perhaps they could turn the Magic over just as they did to Indiana in a similar situation on Monday. Alas, they didn't. The Magic successfully inbounded the ball.

Act 5/Denouement:Once the ball was successfully inbounded the battle was effectively ended. There was no choice but to foul. Rashard Lewis calmly stepped to the line and sank two free throws. After a furious comeback by the Knicks and some clutch shots by Gallinari the Magic were able to reestablish the status quo. The Knicks would get the ball back and the Magic would shoot more free throws in the remaining seconds but the action was complete as the game resolved itself as so many do. Quietly and at the free throw line. After so much running and gunning, the Knicks could do little but watch in the end.