Monday, November 2, 2009

Horrorshow

Fittingly the New York Knickerbockers opened their home season on All Hollows Eve. With the city filled with ghouls, goblins and sexy nurses the most frightening moments (other than for those people trying to emerge from the subway on the west side of Sixth Avenue at 14th Street during the parade) may have been at Madison Square Garden shortly before 8 p.m. At that point the Knickerbockers fell into a 16-point hole against the visiting Sixers after less than 10 minutes of play. Fans cringed. Blood curdled. The defense was porous. The shooting was poor. Ball handling and distribution was sloppy. It was just the latest installment in the franchise's long-running horrorshow.

Entering the 2009-2010 campaign, the Knicks were coming off eight straight losing seasons. After three losses to start this year it looks as if another sequel may be in the offing. Not only would a ninth-straight sub .500 record establish a new club mark for longstanding futility but it would also edge James Dolan's club past The Nightmare on Elm Street in the running for longest-running horror franchise. Of course, there is still a ways to go before the Knicks can catch the Friday the 13th behemoth, which has had 11 "original" films before this year's reboot. Recently, the Saw films are giving the latter-day Knicks a run for their money, as well. Like most sequels to classic horror films, the first three Knicks losses all contain familar plot points and characters. There is a certain comfort to be found in the familiarity of these tried and true conventions. Whether it is the slow deliberate gait of Michael Myers in the Halloween films or Nate Robinson over-excitedly driving the lane and committing an offensive foul.

I know that I've been ubernegligent about writing about the Knicks' first three games thus far. So, let's take a trip down Elm Street Memory Lane together so that we can catch ourselves on up on what we've been missed these past few days.

Opening Night: Knicks @ Heat
So, I didn't watch this game live because I scored a ticket to Game 1 of the World Series. This was not a decision I regret. I'm a Knicks fan first and foremost. And I dislike both combatants in the Fall Classic. But, hey, the World Series is the World Series. Resepct the office if not the occupant. You know? Anyway, the Knicks' game was more interesting than the 115-93 score indicates. Please note that "interesting" doesn't mean good and only briefly meant competitive. It was not something that I should have gotten up at at the crack of dawn on Thursday morning to watch on tape. That decision I do regret. Mistakes were made. By me that morning. By the Knicks the night before.

First, though, it must be noted that a bucket by David Lee (assisted by Duhon) gave the Knicks a 44-42 lead with about four minutes to play in the first half. The Knicks looked the lesser team for certain but they were in the game and Lee was starting to come on in the second half. Danilo Gallinari had two three-pointers made already. And even Darko Milicic had a handful of points. It was stop-and-go early season ballgame and no one was being embarrassed.

At this point, however, everything went to Hell so quickly that you'd have thought someone just unearthed The Gate behind the Knick's bench. Udonis Haslem, Michael Beastly and Jermaine O'Neil blizted the Knickerbocker frontcourt for 12 points to finish the quarter. Dwyane Wade added two points of his own as Miami built a 56-47 cushion going into the intermission. Based on the team's third quarter performance, coach Mike D'Antoni's halftime speech might as well have been "Alright, guys we've been getting beat on the interior by this Freddy Kruegger character. He's slicing us up in the paint. In the second half, we're all going to take naps. You might think that this plays to his strengths but just take this sleeping pill and trust me." The Heat outscored the Knicks 34-15 in the third quarter. Welcome to blowout city. Population: Knicks.

Like any horror movie of recent vintage there is always the Final Girl - the person, usually a woman, alive at the end to perpetuate the story of all that transpired and literally keep alive the chance for a sequel - and the Knicks' opener was no different. In this game, Gallo was the Final Girl in this game. He hit four threes in the fourth quarter and seven in the game to finish with 22 points. The sharpshooting barrage mostly came against a lax defense playing off the ball but it's worth noting that it did happen in front of Wade. He's one of the key members of the upcoming class of free agents and Gallo's potential is No. 1 on the bill of goods that we're trying to sell those guys.

The Sequel: Knicks @ Bobcats
A lot of horror franchises really find their legs during the sequel. Think of Evil Dead 2. Sam Raimi's second installment nearly declares do-over on Evil Dead, sets the standard for horror comedy and recasts the template for future films in the lineage. I prefer to think of the Knicks' second game as the Evil Dead 2 of the season's first week. They took the most horrific aspects of the first game and tweaked them to make the final product more devastating, funny and terrifically terrible. The largest change in the narrative structure of this game from the first was the movement of the fallow period of utter failure by the Knicks to the first quarter. Initially this seemed a terrible move to me. Why be down so soon? I mean at least they led deep into the second quarter on Wednesday! But, the Knicks were attrocious in the opening period, trailing 32-12 when the whistle was blown on the quarter.

And now is when the Knicks entered the fight, pulling a few points back in the second quarter and matching the 'cats output in the third. In the final scheduled period, the Knickerbockers bombed Larry Brown's club with a series of three-pointers. Both Gallo and Nate Robinson came up with threes as you'd think but Jared Jeffries added two clutch long-range shots late in the period to even the game at the final buzzer. Yup, free basketball!
So often when a team surrenders a huge lead (and 19 qualifies as ginormous) and is forced into an extra session that team loses in overtime. That's just the way it works. And so it seemed on this night, with Al Harrington breaking an 86-86 deadlock with 18 ticks to go. But here is where the plot takes a twist. The Knicks' D surrenders a LAYUP to Raymond Felton on the next trip down the floor. Chris Duhon then went about turning over the ball, Boris Diaw missed a potential game-winner a the horn and even more free basketball. This time the ol' axiom of "advante to the tie-er over the tie-ee" held as Harrington fouled D.J. Augustin with two seconds left to send him to the line. The second-year guard out of Texas nailed both freebies. Game.

Army of Darkoness: 76ers @ Knicks:
If the 2OT loss at Charlotte was ED2 then there is no doubt that the home opener took that same style and black sense of humor to the extreme. It was Donny Walsh's Army of Darkoness. Not only was there a seemingly insurmountable early deficit (and this time it was even more disastrous at 23 points). Not only was the aforementioned insurmountable deficit somehow surrmounted in the fourth quarter (thanks in part to some Gallo 3's). Not only did the comeback lead to overtime but this time around the two teams' involved combined for 268 points. This loss was bigger and more thrilling. And it featured included Darko for more than 10 minutes after he was limited to four minutes in Charlotte due to a slight injury picked up in Miami.

The fall-behind-before-you-comeback-but-still-come-up short loss was a staple of the Isiah Thomas era and seems to have more staying power than did Thomas or his imports. Aside from dropping the team to a dispiritng 0-3 after three games that you had to think were winnable a week ago today, this contest leaves us with some things to chew over. Al Harrington was dropped from the starting five and Gallo was inserted. Both seemed energized by the move. Harrington racked up 42 points before fouling out with the Knicks ahead in overtime and The Rooster dropped a career-high 30 points, including eight three pointers. There is plenty more to talk about but we'll get to it as the season unfolds.

Oh, and from the just-when-you-thought-he-was-dead file, Stephon Marbury returned from the depths to wreak havoc once again just in case you weren't really buying this extended horror movie analogy.

Monday Morning Schadenfreude

A Big Hit and the Rest of the Goings-On from the NFL

Monday Mudita

The Most Joyful Goal of the Week and News and Notes from the Beautiful Game

This wundergol by Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas came on the restart following Robin Van Persie's score late in the first half in the North London derby against Tottenham. Fabregas' solo slalom run came so quickly that it actually was missed by viewers (like me) on ESPN2 because they were still showing the replay of the just-scored goal. Van Persie's finish opened the scoring up, 1-0, and Fabregas effectively ended the match a moment later.

Aside from being a contest between two blood rivals, this 100-years-young league fixture pitted two teams vying for contender status in the Premiership. Both clubs entered Saturday's match on 19 points and tied for third place. After the Gunners 3-0 win they remain in third (although they have a game in hand on both Man U and Chelsea) while Tottenham drops to fifth.

-Just below the Spurs are Liverpool, who were dropped by Fulham, 3-1. American Clint Dempsey was one of three goalscorers for the home side at Craven Cottage. ESPN.com described the game as "a mauling, humiliating defeat" for Rafael Benitez's Liverpool side. His job is in jeopardy and the wheels look set to come off. Although this is usually the point when he guides the Reds deep into the Champions League to save his gig.

-Speaking of the Champions League, the Catalan title holders were caught even with Osasuna after 90 minutes in La Liga at the weekend to narrow their lead over Real Madrid to just a single point. Even worse, Barcelona was undone by a 90th minute own goal. Dios mio, man.

-While Barcelona saw their lead narrowed in Spain, Inter ballooned their own advantage in Series Ah to 7 points with a 2-0 triumph over Livorno. South Americans Milito and Maicon netted for Jose Mourinho's squad.

-Landon Donovan scored a late first half goal to put the LA Galaxy up 2-1 in the MLS' Western Conference Semifinal but Chivas USA equalized early in the second session to stay even heading into the second leg. In the East, New England topped Chicago, 2-1.