Since Jake had a prior obligation and we both needed to try something new, we decided to Solomon (no Jones) this game and split it right down the middle. Jake would cover pregame and the first half, and I would take the second half and postgame. Of course the thought that this would be a hopeless blowout by halftime crossed our minds, but not like this. Never like this.
As Amar’e Stoudemire holds court in the back left corner of the visiting locker room, rookie Earl Clark minds his own business ten feet away.
Not for long.
“Earl, your shorts are on backwards! Rookie,” Stoudemire says loudly, with a funny hint of faux condescension.
I consider telling Clark that I misspelled my own name in an email earlier in the day because sympathy is always nice, but decide that it’s probably best for him to just move on.
Magic-Knicks highlights play in the background and Jarron Collins entertains the room with random interjections. Insightful too. When Patrick Ewing is shown on screen, Collins says—and get this—”Pat-rick Ew-ing!”,which in a nice bit of irony is exactly what I said to Patrick Ewing on Sunday night. Uncanny.
We can only hope that a Stanford Twins book club—co-run by the Collins and Lopez twins—is thriving in 15-20 years.
I wanted to ask Louis Amundson about almonds because they sound kind of like amunds, but he was nowhere to be found.
Courtside Celebrities: Q-Tip, Jessica White, Billie Jean King, Anthony Mason, Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville), Anthony Michael Hall (1985), Leon Robinson (Actor/Musician), Diana Degarmo (American Idol/National Anthem), Wade Redden (New York Rangers).
Now, if we were running 5′s and I was coaching this motley crew in some sort of Rock and Jock Dean Cain anniversary special, here’s what I’d do:
• Let Tip man the point and dictate flow (as he’s done so well before). Run Billie Jean King off of stagger screens for quick hitters worthy of her tennis skill set.
• Rosenbaum, who seems to be the Jewish Lex Luthor—or Lex Jewthor…I can go there—would be a good versatile 3 man. Have him lock down the other team’s top scorer. Plus, by sticking him at the 3 you avoid making him guard big men with Superman connotations (Shaq, Duh-white).
• Wade Redden and Mason can double up as enforcers, with Mase also seeing time as a backup point forward when Redden is in the game. (Note: I don’t watch hockey, so I don’t know anything about Redden. I’m assuming he’s tough because he’s a hockey player with stubble.)
• Jessica White can use her supermodel height down low. Speaking of White, there were an abnormally high number of models gallivanting, or gala-eventing, around the MSG concourse last night. Is there some sort of solidarity thing there, where all the lesser models attend the game to support a more successful supermodel sitting courtside? And if there’s a support group for that support, is there any way I can join without going through SI’s Arash Markazi?
• Anthony Michael Hall can leave detention early to come off the bench, but only if he agrees to diagram plays with Judd Nelson hovering over him. (Don’t worry Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio is there for you.)
• Diana Degarmo’s 15 minutes of fame and Leon Robinson, who I’ve never heard of, won’t play because Don Nelson (read: me) runs this town.
5 Things the Suns Stunk At in the First Half (which was originally supposed to be 5 Things the Suns Did Well in the First Half Despite Giving Up 71 Points):
• Making too much contact while defending the basket. The Suns got whistled on a few separate occasions for fouls that put the Knicks on the line and stopped game flow. Even though any Suns-Knicks affair will naturally devolve into basketball’s version of two gunslingers on peyote, by committing dumb fouls the Suns allowed the home team to get settled on defense after made free throws and own the game’s tempo; illustrated by the fact that the Suns had ZERO fast break points in the first quarter—unless the score sheet is lying to me and “FB points” stands for Facebook Points, in which case nevermind.
• Rebounding: One of the principal tenets of rebounding is that you don’t just stand there and wait for the ball. You find a man and put a body on him. Alvin Gentry might want to go over this before the Cleveland game tonight. Or play Robin Lopez. How about both?
• Turnovers: Nash committed four turnovers in the first quarter and he looked kind of like the guy on skates that’s too comfortable, something that can lead to unintended carelessness. Hell, I write like that sometimes. (I had to edit that last sentence from “Hell I write that like sometimes.” Point made.)
• Not Respecting the Better Scorers: Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and David Lee are the three most potent offensive weapons in the Knicks’ starting unit because they each have discernible skills that provide the good without the bad when things are going right: Gallo bombs away from distance, reaping the benefits of teamwork and ball movement; Chandler slashes and scores, drawing defensive attention that helps others; and Lee cleans up inside, to the delight of whoever just screwed up.
Yet somehow, with Chris Duhon still trying to fully break out of a funk that’s lasted longer than the average serious relationship, neither he nor Larry Hughes, who can take the game away from the scorers with bad shots, scored one of the first 27 points. Granted, Hughes was amazing, dare I say Stocktonian, out there in the first frame, but how does that even happen? Phoenix should have clamped down on the more dangerous options and made the Knick backcourt beat them with shots. Which leads us to…
• Rotate on shooters: Watching Danilo Gallinari catch a pass outside of the three-point line, step on the line, look down, take a moment to realize he’s stepped on the line, shrug, step back behind the line, pause, and still launch an open three is unacceptable. I’d like to say it was the only time this happened, but the Knicks scored 71 points in the half, so…yeah.
Like many other NBA games—all of them, in fact—this was a tale of two halves. Unfortunately, the first half was “Guns of the Navarone,” and the second half was “The Five People You Meet In Heaven.” To call the second half “garbage time” would be an insult to both garbage and time. So, for the moment, I’m just going to pile on the Suns (who, I’m sure, led many “power rankings” going into last night, which is why I read exactly none of them.)
If I were to sum up the Suns’s difficulties in a single sentence, it would be this: They don’t know what to do when they miss. Coming into the game, their team three-point percentage was higher than 10 other teams’s FIELD GOAL percentage. They’d scored 100-plus in all 16 of their games. The offense was, in a word, rolling. So what happens against the Knicks? They turn the ball over. They miss shots. They miss defensive assignments (as my capable co-writer points out above). And in the first half they miss 18 shots and rebound three of them. Four second-chance points. FOUR. Seven seconds or mess.
Despite all of this, I had no doubt that the Suns would come out strong to start the third quarter. They’re the Suns! Sure, they gave up 71 points in the first half, and yes, they were down 13 points. Psh. The Suns make up 13-point deficits for fun. They can score 71 points in eight minutes. Steve Nash can—and occasionally does—hit three-pointers in his sleep. So of course the Suns stormed out of the locker room and scored, uh, 18 points in the third. On one play, Jared Jeffries pump-faked from the corner, then drove baseline for an easy layup. Jared Jeffries! And, to add insult to injury, it was a Chris Duhon three that finally put the Knicks up 20. That’s the same Chris Duhon who’s been shooting like Tiger Woods drives. Jack McCallum must be rolling in his grave.
Some observations from garbage time:
Robin Lopez and Alando Tucker showed more energy and spirit in the fourth quarter of a blowout than any other Sun did all night long. This shouldn’t happen. And whilst Robin and Brook Lopez (also in the house—he hopefully gives the Nets a KG-esque “ANYTHING IS POSSSSSSIIIIBBBBLLLLLEEEEE!!!!” speech before tonight’s battle for, uh, not going 0-18) are clearly a human before and after photo, I can’t for the life of me decide who is which.
There was never a point in this game where I thought “uh-oh, here come the Suns!” As a general basketball fan, this made me sad.
With 8:53 to go and the Suns trailing 103-78, Alvin Gentry went nuclear during a time out, to the point where he had to be restrained by, among others, Bill Cartwright. Not sure what call spurred it, but best guess is he wanted to get ejected and not watch the rest from the locker room. Judging from the fact that he just got the one tech, it’s likely the refs were onto him.
Darko Milicic is 24 years old. He’s in the last year of his contract. And he has about as much of a chance as playing for the Knicks as I do. I’m not sure whose cereal he pissed in, but he’s about as far removed from the rotation as a player can possibly be. Not once in this wire-to-wire blowout did he move to take off his warmups, and the halfhearted “DAR-KO” chant with a minute left only underscored his complete irrelevance. He didn’t even turn his head. Shame.
Final score? Knicks 126, Suns 99.
Alvin Gentry has calmed down considerably, as his face is no longer redder than his World AIDS Day red tie. “We were outcoached, we were outplayed, we were outhustled. It’s one of those games where I just idn’t think we played real well.” Things went on in this vein for quite some time. He didn’t make excuses. And when it was all over, Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen—who was relegated to the periphery for a majority of the questioning, offered condolences of sorts. “They just outplayed us,” Gentry re-re-re-reiterated. Then a moment of levity: “I never thought we were gonna go 79 and three. I really didn’t.”
Steve Nash isn’t making jokes. He emerges from the back already wrapped up in a plaid scarf and a heavy grey wool coat. He looks like someone killed his dog. His answers echo those of his coach. “We didn’t play hard tonight. We got outplayed, outhustled—we didn’t deserve to win.” Um, right. No one said you did.
I’m not hazarding any real guesses on the Summer of 2010 (A Spike Lee Joint), but Amar’e Stoudemire seems like he’d be real comfortable spending more time in New York. For a would-be max guy, he sure is talkative, regaling the assembled media with pregame talk of his return to the game, and postgame talk of—well, everything, or so it seems. Unlike many of his peers, he doesn’t have to make sure his tie is perfectly knotted before he speaks. He talks before he’s dressed, while he’s dressing, after he’s dressed. But sorry Amar’e, you guys, um, lost.
Perhaps Danilo Gallinari has faced larger crowds, but not lately. The line speaks for itself—27 points (on 10-19 shooting), 6-12 from three, 10 boards, and two emphatic blocks. The kid can play. Also, he seems to be figuring things out. “My focus is always to be as aggressive as I can. Every game is different, so sometimes it comes out more and sometimes it doesn’t, and tonight was a good night.” Someone asks him about the blocks. “It’s just being aggressive mentally. When you’re aggressive, positive things come out every time. So it’s just being aggressive.”
Leaving the World’s Most Famous through the tunnel, I pass like Odysseus between the Colossus of Lopez, obeying the siren song of cookies and popcorn and UNC vs. MSU. For tomorrow is another day.