Tuesday, January 18, 2011

No Stopping the Noonday Suns

En route to the Knicks-Suns MLK Day matinee, I had my kelly green satin Jets starter jacket buttoned up to the top bottom.


I had on a pair of tortoise shell wayfare shades.


The ensemble was topped with my grandfather's knit cream-colored winter cap with the orange and black pom-pom on the top from back when he ran a MAACO in Freeport, Long Island. That shop made certain that I had the best looking 1987 Dodge 600 on the the road in 2002 while also providing bits and pieces of outerwear that worked their way into my rotation through the years.


With my two younger brothers in tow as my retinue, I felt like the Prince of Jersey City strolling down Newark Avenue toward the PATH station shortly after midday. I tipped my shades at Adam of the New Jersey Tattoo Company as we passed his fine establishment. I doffed my cap at that loutish, semi-homeless (HT/PKing) Hispanic couple alternately necking and arguing outside of the Greek-owned pizza shop, Helen's.

In the afterglow of 28-21, I felt pleased. The sort of feeling that keeps your confidence high when looking slightly foolish. The sort of confident contentment that even allows you to revel in looking slightly foolish. I had been up huffing Jet fuel all night long and was ready to go see some hoops on a weekday with my office closed.

Once tucked into our aisle seats in Row G of section 414, yup the last row in the highest level directly behind one of the baskets, I shared my only hope for the game. Figuring that the visiting Phoenix Suns were going to want to make up for the dismantling by the Knicks not too long ago, I just didn't want to watch my team get beat by Vince Carter. Was that too much to ask?

Apparently, on the day after the Jets beat the Patriots, it was. Because Carter netted 29 points and did beat the Knicks. Sort of. Which, of course, more or less sums up Vince Carter's legacy across the board. He dominated. But he didn't. Not really. To make matters worse for those who have yet to catch a case of VC, Carter broke the the 20,000-point mark for his career during the game.

Although Carter's contribution to the Suns' win shouldn't be understated, please allow me to understate it. A spry and aggressive Grant Hill seemed the more impactful player from my, admittedly poor, vantage point. The NBA's ageless Ponce de Leon scored 18 and spent so much time at the line that I thought the training staff would have to bring his mushed peas and various linaments out to the charity stripe. Similarly, Steve Nash and Channing Frye seemed to hit shots at more important times than Carter. Frye in particular, had 18 points that felt like 40. Which still would've been one less than Knickerbocker centerpiece Amar'e Stoudemire scored. Unfortunately, his season-high 41 points seemed Carteresque in their irrelevance.

For their part, the Knicks, along with crowd, seemed confident that this game was going to be pulled out of the fire before it was overcooked. After letting up a sieve-like 39 points in the first quarter, they took the lead just before the half. They, of course, relinquished said lead in the third quarter before threatening to take it back for good in the fourth. But they never quite paired that spurt with those stops that were needed.

After a Gallinari three knotted the score at 106 with about five and half minutes to play, it felt like the game was finally being moved back into the black. Predictably, Carter missed a jumper on the next Suns' possession when his team needed an answer. It all felt good. For about 45 seconds. Until Nash, with that easy, looping shot of his that seems both a throwback from the West Virginia of Jerry West's youth and something stolen from the TRON-like future after man has learned to transcend the limitations of this weak flesh and play the game like a math problem of angles and arc, hit a three that restored the Suns lead and confirmed their resolve. With that important bucket counted by the scorekeepers, Carter then added a few more to his tally and helped the visitors build toward the final 129-121 margin.

Notes, Observations and Things Best Left Unsaid
-The Garden crowd was in good voice. "Dee-Fense" and "Let's Go Knicks" chants were arising spontaneously throughout the second half if the organ player was slow to hit the keys after a stoppage in play. And when he or she accidentally dropped the dulcet "D" tones when we had the ball, the crowd would not be misled.

-Just like the last time these two teams played, the Suns defenders had no answer for Amar'e. He scored 41 points on 15-25 shooting and made hay at the line just like Hill. For all those points, though, he wasn't incredibly impactful. My assumption (along with his -12 +/- figure) is that most of those buckets came during the stretches when Jamal Crawford could have been a defensive upgrade for either team. He was scoring in bunches when they were. And his bunches were smaller than the accumulated bunches of his foes. Or something like that.

-There was a ton of Jets gear in the Garden, but, sadly, no actual Jets players. I was hoping for a few to be seated in celebrity row. Among the throngs sporting green was a guy a few rows ahead of me in the upper tank wearing an autographed Ben Graham jersey over a white turtleneck. I could only imagine that he was so amped about the Jets' win and so bereft of gear that he broke the frame this was in ever since his wife brought it home from the silent auction for a local charity where she spent way to much on it as she was totally unaware that Graham was a punter. Or something like that.