Tuesday, March 10, 2009
This should have been the real Dream Week(end) for the New York Knicks. With games against the Charlotte Bobcats and the New Jersey Nets on the schedule, the Knicks entered this past weekend with a chance to vault themselves into the legit contention for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference at the expense of two of the teams that they were competing with. Forgetting games against the NBA's elite that draw the business crowd and the fair-weather fans, these two titls had the chance to be some of the most exciting basketball of the regular season. Each game pitting team's battling for a playoff spot. I was psyched. The Bobcats and the Nets were psyched.
The Knicks? Not so much. They came out flat on Saturday night at the Garden. They looked nearly as lifeless at 7:30 p.m. as those revelers who had spent the entire day drinking in nearby Hoboken, N.J. The Larry Brown-helmed Bobcats, on the other hand, came out from the opening whistle like a team with a purpose. Charlotte was flawed and eminently beatable, but they had a purpose. And they did things on purpose. Emeka Okafor controlled the opening tip with as much ease as he dominated David Lee, whose double-double streak was snapped. The Knicks performance literally put me to sleep in the second half. I dozed in and out as the Knicks stayed close by no fault of their own right up to the start of the fourth quarter. Chris Duhon and Lee - our first-half MVPs - were exposed. Duhon's precipitous decline continued. He had three turnovers and three assists. He scored five points. He posted a crippling -16 in the +/- category. He's cooked. And so were the Knicks.
Watching the Bobcats, who had won five on the bounce coming into the game, brings home everything that these Knicks are lacking right now. Intent. Awareness. The 'cats came out with urgency. Okafor's game was impactful but focused. He played in the paint. He boxed out. The injured Jared Jeffries Project might be the only one on the Knicks roster who has as clear a grasp of his role as Okafor does. Unfortunately The JJE isn't nearly as imposing in the paint. Or even healthy. Okafor worked to take David Lee out of the game. Which he did. Gerald Wallace understood that he was the go-to scorer and Boris Diaw knew he was counted on to be assertive in key spots. These guys had a plan and executed it. The Knicks? Not so much.
And, Sunday. Oh. Boy. Where do we start? I was there. Returned to the scene of my infidelity. In the Meadowlands. And, so were a lot of Knicks fans. I saw a Camby jersey on the guy who was parking his car next to mine. I peeped a Frazier jersey and two Ewing jerseys in the parking lot before I saw a single person sporting any Nets attire. I felt good walking into the Brendan Byrne Arena surrounded by Knicks fans. The cheers for David Lee during the pregame introductions may have been greater than those for Vince Carter (or VC as he's known in East Rutherford). In the early going, Al Harrington - who scored 39 in his last game in his home state - carried the load for the road team. Said load was then transfered to the brawny shoulders of Nate Robinson. Upon checking in, the Great reeled off 7 straight points. The combination of points scored and assists provided by N8 edged the Knicks in front by the end of the first quarter. They would carry this slim but defined lead throughout the remainder of the first half.
Although the Knicks had no answers for the length of Brook Lopez and Yi - who addressed the crowd in surprisingly good English before the opening tip as part of the Chinese Culture Night that was happening- they were able to shoot their way clear of NJ. Predictably, the halftime lead came to naught, though. The Nets - led by Devin Harris and Vince Carter - began taking the game over in the third quarter. A flurry of made hoops by Danilo Gallinari (getting all the crunch-time minutes) and a key three by Larry Hughes kept the Knicks alive. Until the wheels came off in the closing minutes. Harris, being marked by Hughes because Duhon couldn't keep up, shredded the team. Brook Lopez got a HUGE bucket right at the rim. And the Knicks turned the ball over. I'd write more. But you already know all about it. You've seen it. Maybe you didn't watch this game. But you've seen it.
Other Thoughts From Row 8, Section 209 in the Swamp
-Fork meet Duhon. Duhon meet Fork. This guy is done. He couldn't stay in front of Devin Harris. He hardly attempted to drive to the rim. He's a ball mover on the perimeter who occassionally hoists up a three. He did hit one in what was at the time a big spot but this is not enough reason to keep him on the floor so much. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he's just been overused by D'Antoni (rather than being indicative of him being who we thought he was). Regardless, he can't be on the floor during the endgame. Especially when the other team has a speedy guard dismantling our defense.
-D'Antoni's personnel decisions were maddening. Aside from sticking with Duhon, Al Harrington was missing in action throughout the fourth quarter. And then he was put in with less than 20 seconds remaining. He ended up with ball in his hands almost immediately and squandered the team's last gasp with a turnover. My assumption is that Harrington was on the bench because Gallinari was playing so well, but please. This team has played with unorthodox lineups all year long. There has to be a way to get Gallo and Harrington on the floor together if both are playing well.
-Gallinari is the best three-point shooter on the club. He's a weapon. And, he's very clearly still injured. He's got more hitches in his giddy-up than my grandfather who just had a knee replaced. This concerns me. Especially after watching Brook Lopez running up and down the floor and looking very sound.