Thursday, February 24, 2011

Carmelization: The Debuts

By the time that MSG's Al Trautwig appeared on my television last night at 7:30 p.m. with droplets of sweat clinging to his expansive forehead and gleeful, caffeinated frenzy in his voice, all of the price tag fear, Isiah loathing, Tuscan regret and unbounded Stephen A. exuberance surrounding the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony was as relevant, yet hopefully less ill-omened, as the bon voyage bash for the Titanic at Southhampton, England on April 10, 1912.

Playoffs, ho! The good ship MeloMire is untethered from its moorings and loosed upon the high seas of the Atlantic Division.

I made a slight detour on my home from the office around 6:00 p.m. to walk by the the Garden, and the crowd out front was already swelling and roiling along Seventh Avenue. Scalpers dotted the crowd and potential buyers huddled around them like seagulls around a buoy at Rockaway Beach. By the time the players took the floor for pregame shootaround, the masses had flowed inside. Not only did they want to witness the debut of Anthony but they wanted to be a part of it. The crowd enveloped 'Melo with their cheers as soon as he stepped out of the tunnel. Soon, the JumboTron above the court played a welcome home video trumpeting his return to his roots. Variations of this advertorial would air during commercial breaks throughout the broadcast. My girlfriend thought they came off as desperate. I don't, but I can see where she's coming from as desperation, on all sides, has been a hallmark of this entire process.

As someone who grew up around here with dreams of playing for having season tickets for the Knicks, I am a sucker for players who want to cash their checks here. And, clearly, so were the better than 19,000 fans in the Garden when the brief homecoming video played before the introduction of the Knicks' revamped starting lineup. So urgent was the pregame atmosphere that there wasn't even time for Mike Breen to confirm that the the print of Walt Frazier's blazer was indeed some Tiger. Or to ask him about the matching boots.

From the video editors on staff at MSG who had to cut Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph out of the intro montage and the seamstresses removing the HARRINGTON nameplates from all those No. 7 jerseys to the fans who scrambled to buy secondary-market tickets and all the way through the newly-arrived players who'd hardly slept since the weekend, it was a whirlwind day that only gained any semblance of normalcy once the ball was tossed up at half court. At that point, it was just a basketball game. It wasn't a revolution. Or a debacle. It was basketball. And the Knicks had the two best players on the floor. And they had a calm, confident veteran point guard in Chauncey Billups behind the wheel.

Amar'e netted the first Knicks bucket per usual. Shortly thereafter Carmelo's first basket in a Knicks uniform came as a putback after grabbing an offensive board. Bucks players were looking for a foul call, claiming he'd pushed off. Even better if he did. Hopefully this offensive board is a harbinger of things to come.

On the Knicks' next trip down the floor, Billups nailed a pull-up three in transition. From the moment he started pushing the ball, he was never not taking and never not making that shot. He owned that moment as wholly as Carmelo owned the night. He looked as easy and unencumbered as if he'd been playing at the park down the corner from his house. With his dish to Amar'e on the next play, it became abundantly clear that this trade was for Anthony and the 34-year-old Billups. There's a reason that both appeared at the pregame press conference. STAT converted that Billups pass into an old-fashioned three-point play. When he stepped to the line for that +1 shot, the crowd serenaded him with those familiar letters.




It was nice to hear that none of the hoopla, or the La La, surrounding Anthony has made fans forget who came (to get paid) first. At least, not yet. The pecking order was established. Fans are fickle enough that the order will be periodically reviewed and is always subject to change, but this is the starting point. I'd have a hard time believing it went unnoticed and I'd have to think that Anthony hasn't heard a teammate get that kind of love since perhaps Gerry McNamara at Syracuse.

As the new-look 'bockers fumbled their way over and around the sacrificial Bucks, it wasn't just the new arrivals making first impressions. With Mozgov shipped, Ronny Turiaf needed to show himself as a center capable of starting, middling and possibly even finishing a ballgame. Similarly, Shawne Williams was auditioning for a frontline role more indicative of his height than his ability to knock down the corner three. Of course, with Gallo gone, Williams also needs to show that he can make that shot when forced to hoist at a higher volume. Perhaps, most importantly, Toney Douglas flourished last night. His scoring punch replaced the contribution that Wilson Chandler had been reliably adding to the team's tally. More importantly, he looked ready to pick up the difference in minutes played between Felton and Billups. D'Antoni rode Felton hard out of the gate. Perhaps, too hard. With the older, slower Billups in the fold, Douglas is going to have to run the point on offense and on defense for this team for stretches in every game. As per usual, he was forcing play to the floor on defense. When he's on the court, he electrifies the DE-fence that the team is trying to build. This role becomes even more important without Felton and Chandler, two of the better/only perimeter defenders on the roster.

Some hot shooting from Keyon Dooling and John Salmons brought the Bucks close in the late stages as the Knicks played with scrimmage pace and fluidity and, to ensure we got the ending that we craved, Stoudemire fouled out down the stretch. At this point, Anthony delivered the win. He overcame his early misses and made good for those times he stopped the ball early in the shot clock. He scored 6 points in the last minute and change. With four more points coming from made free throws by Billups in the span it was over. As Billups iced the last two free throws with five seconds left, the crowd erupted into a Yankee Stadium–style Chawn-SEE Bill-Ups!! chant.