Monday, November 9, 2009

Weekend at Jimmy's

Or, How Jimmy Dolan's Knicks Fared This WeekendIt was just one week ago this evening that I felt like everything in the world was alright. Or at least everything at the Garden. I sat in the stands and watched a determined, dogged Knicks squad outplay and defeat a more talented New Orleans Hornets side that got 30+ points and 10+ assists from Chris Paul. I watched the Knicks come out focused, maintain their intensity, fend off a late charge from their playoff-bound foe and then re-take control of the game in the fourth quarter. I gotta say, I felt good. I felt like this was going to be OK. Like the team would dispatch the Pacers later in the week, hold their own in a defeat to the Lebronaliers, and then spend this week looking to get to .500. Oh, how wrong I was. Again. Like the time in middle school when I bought all those Laser Discs thinking I'd have them forever. The Knicks dropped that game to the Pacers. In poor, poor fashion on the same night that the Yankees were winning the World Series. Oh, what a night. Sweet surrender. Oh, what a night. And that brings us to the weekend.

Friday Night: Lebron > Our Guys
This went exactly like you thought it would. Lebron led all scorers, people cheered, scenes were made, and the Knicks lost. With LBJ in town all eyes were on him and all ears were on anything he had to say about his impending free agency. The tea leaves were read in as many varieties as there are flavors put out by Celestial Seasonings. Jeff Van Gundy thinks he already knows what he's going to do. The beat writers all of a sudden think he's going to Miami. CC Sabathia says there's nothing like winning in New York. (Although I think that Stephon Marbury will tell you that there is also nothing quite like losing in New York.) Who knows what will happen? Not me. All I know for sure is that he is a special talent. He dropped 33 on the Knicks on Friday and we defended him well (see the full breakdown on a previous post). He hit contested shots. He passed the ball. Well. He grabbed boards and he put the game on ice after the Knicks clawed back into contention late. He is a fine specimen and I wish that he were a fine specamine. But those decisions are many months further on up the road so let's not waste breath just yet.

To me, this game was lost at the offensive end. As I mentioned, the Knicks defended Lebron as well as our roster could be expected to. The 24-year-old manchild did not have a dunk or a layup. He did not record a triple double. He did not kiss all of our girlfriends and turn in our latest project to our bosses well ahead of us. And none of his teammates exploded in any game-changing way, which Daniel Gibson has done to us before and Shaq has the potential to do against our undersized lineup. Nope, none of those things happened and the Cavs were "limited" to 100 points. Yet we were never even as close as the final score, 100-91, indicated.

This game was lost with terrible marksmanship and rudderless offensive possessions during a stretch that straddled the first and second quarters. After a Gallo three-point shot brought the Knickerbockers within 18-15 with about six minutes to play in the first, the team embarked on a 5 for 18 stretch that was mercifully ended by another Gallo 3. Before that trey, though, the score was 53-22. And there were about four minutes to play in the half. A shocking amount of those possessions lasted no more than one pass.

Chris Duhon and his teammates seemed in no hurry to get the ball down the court after a rebound or a Cavs score, refusing to make the size difference in the frontcourt work for them. Ironically, though, they were apparently in a great hurry to get a shot up once they finally made their way to the other side of the court. The ball rarely made it very far past the three-point line before a jump shot was lofted up. And missed. I was disappointed that D'Antoni didn't call a timeout or try to stop what was happening. Duhon was anonymous at the point and perhaps his teammates were somewhat spooked by the effortless manner in which Lebron was stroking it from the outside. We were not having the same success. During this stretch former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said, "I never bought into the that the Knicks didn't have a will. I just don't think they're good enough. If you look at them, who is the frontline talent? They have a lot of guys that can come off the bench and be in a rotation but not necessarily a lot of guys who can be in a starting lineup."

Ouch. And accurate. Van Gundy continually pointed out the team's seeming refusal to push the tempo and felt that it was a mistake. When talking about the team's reliance on (missed) jumpers, he said "You know, the Knicks are getting decent looks. They're just not a good shooting team. And when you're undersized and don't shoot particularly, that's not a good combination." And, no it wasn't. Thankfully the sudden emergence of Jordan Hill gave the Knicks a bit of a spark towards the end of the first half. He showed a nice midrange touch and fearlessness with the ball in his hands. Even though the Knicks came back to make the game close, 100-91, this was a dispiriting performance on national television.

Saturday Night: Incident on North Fourth Street
For the second night of a home-road back-to-back pair, the Knickerbockers were in Milwaukee on Saturday night. After a bright start, in which it looked like the shots were finally going to fall, things went predictably sour at the Bradley Center. Aussie center Andrew Bogut and rookie point guard Brandon Jennings, who the Knicks passed on to take Jordan Hill, turned the Knicks' early 10-4 lead into a 22-40 deficit by the end of the first quarter. It was a shellacking on North Fourth Street.

"They kept giving us a lot of open shots," Jennings marveled after the game. "They were giving us so many easy shots."

On the bright side, Chris Duhon was finally benched and our rookie PG showed some flashes. Toney Douglas came off the bench to chip in 16 points. But no number of garbage time points by the second-best rookie point in the building could wash the stink off this game. At least, that's what I've read. Because, you see, I was at the Garden on Saturday night while the Knicks were in Milwaukee. Rather than sitting on the couch for a second straight evening, I was perched in the third row of the 400 level just over stage left for a historic performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. For the first, and likely only, time, they played The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle in its entirety from start to finish as the centerpiece of the show. And they turned the Garden up to 11, bringing in horns and strings to recreate the masterpiece in full.

That seven-song album is my favorite of the Boss's and probably one of my favorite records overall. The seamless combination of funk, soul, jazz and rock and roll undergirds some of Springsteen's most evocative lyrics. After the precocious, fevered and near-ecclesiastical ecstasy of Greetings From Asbury Park but before the focused, anthemic explosion that was Born to Run there was the loose, reckless visionary passion of WIESS. With idiosyncratic, romantic and gritty characters populating a landscape fleshed out by a one-of-a-kind rhythm-and-blues bar band seemingly discovering it's power (read: "Rosalita" is perhaps the greatest rock and roll ever written/performed) as the record went along.

After taking in the performance on Saturday, a scribe from Glide wrote that "Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band symbolize everything that’s right about rock - they are honest, talented performers who put their all into every note. They mix it up from night to night, don’t rely on their greatest hits and are more substance than spectacle. Let’s not forget they decided to play WIESS after the show sold out just because they knew the fans would love it, not as a gimmick to sell tickets."

Closer to 57th Street than North Fourth Street, the performance was exuberant and precises, a combination that sets Springsteen and the E Streeters apart from their peers. The show opened with the outtake "Thundercrack," which is always a fave of mine and closed with an uproarious take on Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher," with an assist from Elvis Cotsello. It also provided the best Knicks-related moment of the night. During the song "Wrecking Ball," which was penned for the closing down of Giants Stadium but has since taken on a life of it's own as a sort of defiant rallying cry for the band as they close this chapter, Springsteen tweaked the lyrics to fit the current venue and give props to some of its tenants.

Now, my home is in the Meadowlands
But tonight New York City is going up in flames
here where the blood is spilled and the garden is filled
And Walt Frazier played his games.

When I think of Clyde, I think about the fantastical idea of New York City that comes across in Springsteen's early songs. It was a fitting tribute to No. 10. If only he could have been at MSG rather than stuck in Milwaukee calling that terrible game.

Monday Mudita

Onetime USA next-big-thing Brian Ching netted this 96th minute to cap a tense 1-0 win for Houston over Seattle. Thanks to Ching's golden goal, the Dynamo advance to the Western Conference Final in the MLS postseason. They will face the LA Galaxy thanks to a penalty cooly dispatch by Landon Donovan.

-In more important footie news, Arsenal continued their goal-scoring ways in a 4-1 win over outclassed Wolverhampton while Chelsea held the top spot in the Premiership by nipping Manchester United, 1-0.

-Real Madrid kept the pressure on the Catalan title holders in Spain as both teams triumphed at the weekend.

-Burnley once again gave one of the middle children (since they're not yet one of the Big Four kids) a trouble as they drew against Manchester City.

- In Italy, Roma drew against league-leaders Inter Milan as former Arsenal skipper Patrick Vieira was called out by the Roma gaffer for an "errant" elbow that fractured a player's cheekbone.

Monday Morning Schadenfreude