Thursday, December 9, 2010

Following the Leaders

Knicks Co-Captains Lead Team to Victory

Bile. That's what I tasted, bitter with a dash of salt, the last time that I heard "M-V-P ... M-V-P ..." resounding through the Garden in person. It was the night that Kobe dropped 60 for the Lakers without grabbing a rebound. Carpet-bagging Lakers fans and front-running tourists seemed to outnumber old-time 'bockers backers on that night (probably because the Knicks had marketed tickets for several high-profile games around that time with a "Dream Week" slogan that clearly trumpeted the visiting teams). The last time I remember chanting that chant for a player in home whites? Maybe for Patrick Ewing toward the end of the 1994-95 season?

But last night as Amar'e Stoudemire dropped in fourth-quarter bucket after fourth-quarter bucket, Knicks fans were serenading one of their own with those three letters.

"M ... V ... P ... M ... V ... P ..."

Embroiled in a tight game against the visiting Raptors, who the Knicks were looking to beat for the second time in four days and the third time already this season, the team followed its two captains to the winner's circle (and, no, I don't mean that restaurant on top of the possibly shuttered OTB on Seventh Ave. somewhere in the high 30s).

When Amar'e stuttered early, though, it was his co-captain, Raymond Felton, scoring in a flurry to close out the second quarter. The Knicks trailed, 49-36, when our soon-to-be All-Star point guard exploded, muscling and hustling his way to three layups, a made three-point shot and an armful of free throws. He singlemindedly and nearly singlehandedly willed the Knicks on top heading into intermission.

And later when Raptors center Andrea Bargnani actually played like a No. 1 overall draft pick down the stretch, Amar'e stepped up and matched him hoop for hoop. Thanks to a mid-range jump shot that proved as reliable as his slam dunk (he literally alternated one for the other for 10 buckets in the last few minutes), STAT scored an astounding 18 points in the fourth quarter to keep on keeping up that streak of 30+ point games.

The performance was arguably his most emphatic of the season. Or maybe not. He's prolific enough that it's actually hard to tell. At the very least, last night's stellar outing was the one where I began to believe (although I reserve the right stop believing at any point). Despite the nice start to the season, last night may have been the time I got my faith back. Even early in the fourth quarter, I was still saying "No ... Yes!" each time he put up a 15-footer instead of attacking the rim. I thought he was settling for that shot. False. He was taking it because he already believed. Because he works doggedly at the shot and has for years.

And while I was waiting for the sound of the other shoe dropping, when I was wondering which jittery Knickerbocker would miss from what spot on the floor, it was Toronto getting called for a five second violation (precisely the sort of mental lapse that was a Knicks' hallmark in recent years). When I was waiting for that second shoe, the only thing dropping was Felton's game-winning three-pointer with under three seconds remaining.

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