Saturday Fight Live: Knicks/Nuggets

by December 18, 2006
1

by Jake Appleman (italics) and Russ Bengtson (not italics)

LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT’S SATURDAY FIGHT LIVE.

Starring: Punches thrown; Tumbling into the crowd; Marrrrrdy Collins; JR Smith; Melo’s sucker punch; 10 ejections; Nate Robinson; Konate Primus; Adrenaline; A lame duck MSG crowd; Brad Pitt & Edward Norton.

Featuring: Papers flying into Nate Robinson’s face; That time I saw Horatio Sanz in a bar and his beard looked really nasty.

Musical Guest: David Banner (Russ wanted him)

And your hosts: APPLESON
I know we’re usually chronological here, but seeing that logic went straight out the window on Saturday night, we may as well ditch the chrono part, too. This time we’re starting at the end.

So yeah, Fight Night at the Garden. Maybe the next home game should be played at the Theater with Mills Lane as the lead referee. The foul that started the whole thing—Mardy Collins’s collaring and ensuing dumping of J.R. Smith—wasn’t really all that bad. I’ve seen worse. But tempers flared anyway. Smith jumped straight up and got in Collins face, and Nate Robinson—who happened to be right there—jumped right in to defend his teammate (it would have been better had he actually defended someone in the second quarter, but I’ll get to that later). I feel like that without Robinson’s involvement this whole thing may have died down much faster.


Of course then Smith had to send things from bad to worse by tackling Robinson straight into the first row, causing Round 2. Aside from a few shocked looks, the fans chose not to involve themselves, which was admirable. Of course, with the Knicks already down 20, half of them were already gone. Coaches got involved, dragging participants off and generally separating the two teams. This is when it should have died down—again.

And again it didn’t. Carmelo Anthony, who by all accounts shouldn’t have been in the game in the first place—and was allegedly warned by Isiah Thomas mere minutes before to not go in the paint—snuck around a couple peacemakers and landed a wild haymaker to Collins’s cheek (terrible punch, by the way) before backpedaling upcourt with Jared Jeffries in hot (and I mean HOT) pursuit. So hot that he tripped over something and fell flat on his face. With Mark Aguirre trying to hold him back, Jeffries was reaching for any piece of Denver he could get—which happened to be Eduardo Najera’s jersey. Eduardo looked back in some surprise, and Jeffries let go. This was a good move on Jeffries’s part because Najera is the wrooooong Eduardo to f wit’.

Finally, everyone was dragged back to their respective benches. Aguirre kept Jeffries wrapped up for what seemed like five minutes, and Thomas led Robinson by the elbow. Anthony, perhaps all too aware of what he’d done, didn’t need any restraining. Security and Garden personnel littered the court, as the refs met to determine what would happen next. The game was decided—the Nuggets up almost 20 with less than two minutes to go. One option certainly would have been to just end it.

The refs, to their credit, did the next-best thing. They threw out EVERYBODY who was playing at the time—whether they were involved or not. As they walked off the court, the fans relentlessly booed the Nuggets and cheered the Knicks. I suppose this is what you’re supposed to do—support your home team—but neither team deserved cheers after this was all over. The fans immediately to my left—a bunch of college kids—were even worse, scrambling over themselves to watch the replays from the pressbox Tvs (“watch, the punch is coming!”), calling their friends to say they were there (“then this guy on the Knicks took down this guy on the Nuggets!”), and wishing things wouldn’t stop (“I hope it keeps going in the tunnel!”). Great fans.

The game ended quietly. All new players finished it out with no drama (for the Knicks, it was mostly the starters), and George Karl left the court for the locker room as the clock ran down, pointedly avoiding Isiah Thomas. We got into the tunnel pretty quickly, to find all the doors between the locker rooms closed and security working with police to make sure nothing else jumped off. To the Nuggets’ credit, their side opened rather quickly, with Karl emerging and staking out a spot far down the hall, close to the chapel. He stood leaning against the wall, eyes pointed skyward. The mob closed in.

Karl spoke slowly, softly. “I haven’t watched [the tape]; I’m not gonna watch it. The whole scene was…” he trails off. “It’s a cloud over a good win.” The Nuggets locker room opens shortly thereafter, and it’s obvious that someone—most likely Karl—has told the team not to talk about the brawl. “Can’t do it now,” J.R. Smith says. “Can’t talk about it.” Carmelo: I just don’t want to comment on that now. Too early.” Marcus Camby comes as close to anyone of saying SOMETHING: “We may be a little short-handed.”

Over on the Knicks side, when it finally opens up, there is no such censoring. Jeffries speaks outside the locker room (“It was a hard foul, Mardy got sucker-punched, and then it started from there.”) and Robinson delivers his excuses, er, talk in shifts inside (we were defending our teammates, their starters shouldn’t have been out there, they were piling on).

Were the Nuggets piling on? It’s hard to say. Sure, the starters should have been out by then—you don’t want to risk Melo or Camby getting hurt in the waning moments of a blowout—but is that reason to start a fight? Who’s to say that the Nuggets reserves would have been any less unforgiving?

More importantly, where was all this fight and bravado when the Nuggets were cruising to a 26-point third-quarter lead? Where was the instinct to “protect our teammates” when they were letting Carmelo hit shot after shot after shot and the boos rained down from the alleged sell-out crowd? Where was the team pride then? No, it waited to come out until the end, when everything was decided. And Robinson was the one to bring it, in a boneheaded display of misplaced machismo that has become something of his calling card. His baiting of Smith was no different than any of his drives straight into the teeth of the defense where—rather than pass off to an open teammate—he takes it straight at an opposing big man and gets snuffed. Because he plays like he ALWAYS has something to prove, even at the expense of the team. Which is why I think the Knicks should trade him as soon as possible, but that’s for another time.

And we’ll get back to this. Back to the beginning.

(You can apparently read Jake’s take on the brawl here. Traitor.)

PREGAME

There’s a big crowd around Quentin Richardson, which is strange seeing that he’s not playing. Then again, he’s the ONLY player in the locker room. So there is that. He’s also got a pair of white/blue/orange Air Jordan Vs on top of his locker that I want to steal. But that would be wrong. I also notice that Jerome James has a pair of Shaq brand shower shoes in front of his locker. This is obviously part of an elaborate joke.

Over on the Denver side, George Karl gives a long interview to a rapt group of media. I have no idea what he’s talking about (not that I don’t understand him—I don’t go over there). Inside the locker room, DerMarr Johnson sits in his stall, next to a pair of Sidekicks and two cellphones. I have no idea how you keep track of that much stuff. Kenyon Martin walks in carrying a huge knee brace, his balky right knee wrapped in an Ace bandage and a Ewing portion of ice. I think he may have gotten some new ink over the summer, but honestly it’s hard to tell. He’s starting to look like The Game. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

J.R. Smith is warming up on-court by shooting half-court jumpers. Jumpers! He moves around the court a little, even, but keeps shooting from 30-35 feet. This is great practice for…well, not much, really. Reggie Evans joins him on the court, in his game socks and shower shoes. Dedication!

Adrian Dantley and Mark Aguirre are on opposing benches tonight. Hopefully they’ll get in a firstfight with Isiah caught in the middle. (I actually wrote those words before the game. Am I a psychic?)

Konate and Jake aren’t here yet, but Lang is—in a sportscoat, no less. I have no words. Well, actually I have over 3,000 of them, but none for this particular situation.

GAMETIME

Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby have plenty of local ties, and are received accordingly. They each get more cheers than Stephon Marbury, who not only has local ties but apparently plays for the home team. It ain’t easy being Starbury. I suppose.

The referee crew includes Dick Bavetta and Violet Palmer. Awesome.

Right off the bat, George Karl abuses the mismatch created by Marcus Camby’s quickness. Eddy Curry is too slow, and picks up his first foul immediately. On the other end, Karl has Nene guarding Curry. Gee, I wonder which coach was thinking prior to this one…Though it might be a little much to ask Isiah to start David Lee instead of Cameron Frye, put him on Camby, and switch Curry over to Nene so that Eddy wouldn’t have to leave the paint much, but hey, what do I know.

Eddy Curry patiently waits 14 seconds before committing his first foul. Channing Frye waits just a little longer before missing his first ill-advised 18-footer. Can someone tell this guy to maybe play a little closer to the basket? You can only stretch the defense if you’re actually HITTING shots. FYI.

Jared Jeffries converts a nice up-and-under layup along the baseline, then celebrates by being beaten backdoor by Melo, who dunks a reverse oop from Andre Miller.

Jared Jeffries gets burned on a Melo alley-oop. I thought he and his teammates were conserving their defensive energy for Melo after Friday night’s debacle that featured 42 second quarter points and 25 from Danny Granger, on 8-10 from the floor.

Nene catches a steal, takes it the length of the floor, and is fouled at the rim by Jeffries. He ran pretty good for a guy who’s undergone microfracture surgery. OK, Philly fans?

6-6. The Knicks have gone zone and Nene throws up a terrible shot. By the way, who would have thought 8 years ago that Andre Miller would have been a better pro than Keith Van Horn? Um, not me. (Slinks away in shame). Hey, I wouldn’t have thought that, either.

Marbury takes—and makes—his first shot of the game, a straightaway three with 8:06 to go in the first. Which then opens the basket exchange: Melo, Steph, Melo, David Lee, Camby, Steph—for three, again—until it’s broken up by a Nene airball. Channing Frye confirms the end to the string with another brick from 15—STOP SHOOTIN’—and Nene takes it a step further with a travel, No pun intended.

Steph catches fire. So far tonight Marbury’s first half has been a revelation in that it’s sort of beginning to feel like early ’01: Steph doing all he can to will the ball into the basket without getting much help. Though, in fairness to the 00-01 Nets, Jamal Crawford and Eddy Curry should provide more help than Vladamir Stepania, Soumalia Samake and Johnny Newman. Actually, scratch Newman off that list because he was good enough to start for these Knicks in his prime. Unfortunately, for Marbury and the rest of the Knicks, his NBA Jam fireball runs out because of terrible shot selection.

There are times when one might be happy to see Malik Rose with over five minutes to go in the first quarter. OK, no there aren’t.

We’re tied at 18 and the Knicks have Marbury, Crawford, Malik Rose, Lee and Jeffries in the game. I’m theorizing that this is their “recover from a guard getting beat off the dribble” defense.

Camby hits a baseline jumper with 1 second left on the shot clock, and Steph comes down and hits another shot. He’s got 10 points in roughly three minutes, and it’s 18-all. So then Melo finds J.R. Smith for a dunk, and an ill-advised Malik Rose bounce pass leads to a Smith 3, and its 23-18, Denver.

Rose tries to throw an awkwardly angled backdoor bounce pass to a cutting Marbury. This is funny. And a turnover.

At 23-18 (for all further noted scores, just assume Denver is ahead), David Lee tries a soft left hook on Marcus Camby. Camby tells Lee, in no uncertain terms, to get that weak sauce out of his former house.

After another Camby bucket, Steph connects twice more. He’s hot—certainly hotter than he’s been all season long. Or all of last season, for that matter. But Camby brackets Steph’s buckets with another of his own, and the Nuggets are still up five.

Just over a minute to go, and Nate Robinson and Earl Boykins are guarding each other. Brilliant! Earl, who’s listed at 5-5, even looks tiny next to Nate. It’s pretty amazing.

Steph comes out with a minute to go (he gets a mild ovation after checking out), and the Knicks offense goes with him. Camby blocks David Lee after a futile series of passes leads to a lousy shot, and Nate fouls Earl with 33.8 seconds to go in the quarter, thoughtfully providing the Nuggets with an extra possession. As it turns out, it doesn’t make a difference. 29-22 Nuggets after 1.

In between quarters, Kelvin Cato alternates between ogling the Knicks city dancers and women in the crowd. For some reason, I mistake Cato for Jerome James with a goatee. Russ lashes out at my egregious faux pas. And I cannot blame him.

SECOND QUARTER

Hey, Eddy Curry’s back! Isiah gets a technical foul called on himself for some reason, and Nate hits a corner three. Earl comes back and sinks a jumper over Nate, then Nate comes back and hits another corner three, this time from the opposite corner.

32-20. Jamal Crawford crosses Eduardo Najera, but Najera slides his feet well enough to prevent Crawford from exploding to the rim. No matter, JC hits an in-rhythm floater. And that would be his only highlight on the night.

Other stuff happens. You know, basketball stuff. Like Jared Jeffries getting called for his third foul while apparently tripping over his own feet.

Reggie Evans, a right handed shooter, always uses his left hand around the basket.

40-38, Eduardo Najera airs a three. Que la chingada?!?!

This closer to capacity MSG crowd responds more obediently than usual to the rudimentary “Everybody-Clap-Your-Hands” demand of the Cha-Cha slide.

The Extreme Team comes out to perform during a time out. They look like *NSYNC, and prove that white guys can indeed jump—provided they’re equipped with trampolines.

The Knicks commit their fourth team foul of the quarter with 8:55 to go. Bad sign.

The Nuggets stretch the lead back out, the Knicks reel it back in. But they can’t quite take a lead themselves. Earl hits a three to stretch it back to five, Nate responds with a three of his own (over Reggie Evans—maybe switch back?) to bring it back to two. Then Yakhouba Diawara, who I’ve never heard of, hits one. Lee gets a layup, Nene catches a dunk, Marbury gets a layup. Defense, not really.

Somehow Reggie Evans is missing the “V” and the “A” off the back of his jersey. They were definitely there when the game started—and I thought they were sewn on—so this is a bit of a mystery.

The Nuggets spend a large portion of the first half cutting across the Knick zone and beating it in any manner they choose. Cutting on top of the zone, Eddy Curry might as well not even be there. It’s like the zone has a marshmallow center—no pun intended.

Andre Miller has eight assists and no points.

Now Reggie’s “N” is gone. So his jersey reads “E S”

Diawara hits another three, and Nene fouls Curry, who misses both. Steph then gets called for a loose-ball foul on Miller, who hits both, The Nuggets lead by 10, 55-45, with four minutes to go. And the Knicks are over the limit.

Jeffries gets another reverse layup, and 1. Although he misses the freebie, and Miller takes it the length of the floor for a layup of his own. Curry fouls Najera, who hits both, and then Miller finds Camby on the baseline, who proceeds to take a large crap on Eddy Curry. Who, by the way, has all of one rebound. He’s actually talented at NOT rebounding.

Steph drives, gets the bucket, and is fouled by Melo. He misses the freebie (sense a pattern here?) and Miller drives the length of the floor for an uncontested layup. Way to get back, fellas.

Eddy Curry gets his second rebound. There is much rejoicing.

Reggie Evans is down to an “E.” No one else seems to be losing letters. This is very, very strange.

Andre Miller is outside the three-point line, but that doesn’t stop him from throwing a perfectly placed alley-oop to Marcus Camby. Personally, I think it should count as a three, but what do I know?

Reggie Evans now has no name at all on the back of his jersey. He celebrates by scoring over Curry. 67-52, Nuggets. On the ensuing Knicks possession, Curry is blocked from behind by Camby, and still tries to dunk the nonexistent ball. It doesn’t really fool anyone.

Halftime. Nuggets up 67-54. Some stats: The Nuggets shot 60 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three, as the Knicks shot 53.8 percent from the LINE. So, they basically played no defense and gave away free points. Good job.

THIRD QUARTER

Eddy Curry airball, Nene three-second violation. Fantastic. Steph hits a J for his 22nd point, tying his season high.

Tonight’s thunderstix are sponsored by Snapple. That’s it, I’m exclusive with Arizona Iced Tea from now own.

Knick fan Konate gets aggressive early in third quarter: “Look at that, there’s no fucking communication.” Dude are you even old enough to say fuck? Konate goes on to say fuck 11 times in the next four minutes as the Nuggets begin to blow the Knicks out of the building.

A Steph turnover goes to Miller, who finds Smith up ahead, who tosses the ball off the glass for Melo. Pretty. 71-56, Denver. And an Eddy Curry travel sets up Melo’s best sequence: He misses a shot over a double-team, gets his own rebound, goes right back in and converts plus the foul (Curry’s third), winding up on the baseline right in front of Jim Dolan. And he HITS his free throw. 74-56.

Nene commits a silly off the ball foul, Crawford misses a three, and tonights 20-point Knick deficit is brought to you by Carmelo Anthony. Who has 18 now.

In his powder blue warm-ups, about to check back into the game, Earl Boykins looks exactly like a gymnast. Seriously, he might as well be a less attractive version of Dominique Dawes.

And now Carmelo’s got 20, and the Nugget lead is 22, and the booing starts. Loudly. Which leads the Knicks to come together and commit an offensive three-second violation and give up another basket to Melo. And Steph fouls J.R. Smith off the ball, and Carmelo scores again. 82-56, Denver. Nate takes it straight at Nene and gets snuffed, and Steph takes it straight at Camby and gets even more snuffed. Then Jared Jeffries mixes it up with a travel. Yes, there is more booing.

This, of course, is when the Knicks decide to start playing basketball again. Or at least start scoring some. They stay even for a while, trading baskets (which doesn’t work all that well when you’re down 28), and slowly sort of chipping away at the lead. To 22. To 20. When it’s down to 20, they go to a full-court press which actually seems to disrupt the Nuggets some. Of course I think it would have been nice for the home team to show some defensive intensity BEFORE being down 20-plus, but what do I know?

We have the obligatory “fan shoots from various spots on the floor to win a flight somewhere” contest sponsored by Continental Airlines. I think someone needs to mess with this concept. If I was up there, I’d just be like, “screw it,” and instead of shooting from the designated spots, I’d start jacking up spinning fadeaways from all angles on the court. I’d mix those with some crossovers and step back J’s. And the crowd would love it.

It’s the energy dudes that bring the Knicks back—Frye, Lee, Robinson, Jeffries and Steph. But with a chance to come within single digits before the end of the third, Nate has to ruin it. He holds the ball for a long time up top before driving the lane and getting emphatically erased by Camby. That’s a 24-second violation and pretty much the end of the third. 94-84 Denver after 3. It was a valiant effort to come back from 26 down, but only a total gain of three points in the quarter. Not enough.

FOURTH QUARTER

100-88. Nate Robinson bobbles the ball in the backcourt, recovers it and barely breaks half court in time. He then spins through two guys and finds a wide open Jamal Crawford for three. Brick. Going the other way, Earl Boykins hits a three. The Knicks follow that with a turnover. For all intensive purposes the game is over right now.

And it’s all pretty much over. The Nuggets hit 100 early, and immediately add to it with a Boykins three that extends their lead to 15. (Earl’s threes look like absolute heaves, but it’s just because he’s so little. He’s got range.) The Knicks then commit a turnover after three passes that were ALL bad enough in and of themselves to be turnovers, and Earl finds J.R, Smith for another three. 106-88.

After a Nate miss, the next 20-point Knicks deficit is also brought to you by Carmelo Anthony. That’s 34 points for the League’s leading scorer.

Since his teammates aren’t feeding him the ball, Isiah takes Eddy Curry out of the game. [This is why Eddy Curry isn’t an All-Star. When his teammates—in this case, Marbury—get hot and the ball doesn’t come to him, Eddy just disappears. He doesn’t block shots, or convert offensive rebounds (um, or get ANY rebounds, for that matter). He just becomes the littlest 6-11 guy on the court. It’s embarassing.]

Steph gets the unusual goaltend and-one on the other end, bringing his season-high total to 31.

5:54. The t-shirt toss coincides with the first mass exodus. Gotta catch those trains. And Macy’s is still open!

Mardy Collins checks in with 3:10 to go. At the time, this does not seem in any way ominous.

Starbury gets blockburied by Camby. I don’t care what the official scorer says, he should have at least 10 blocks tonight. (He officially ends up with 7.)

Why does George Karl have his starters in during the blowout. He must be sticking it to Isiah—OH SHIT! OH SHIT! OH SHIT! OH NO. DAMN.

At 1:15, all hell breaks loose. Seeing I explained enough at the start of this epic, I’ll just give you the notes I took as the brawl went down:

“1:15 – BRAWL. Started when Mardy Collins takes down J.R. Smith by the neck. Jared Jeffries officially loses his shit. Jeffries STILL being held back. Dragged off by Aguirre after going after CA who tossed a shot @ Mardy Collins. Isiah drags off Nate.

A lot of people are getting thrown out and suspended. And this is why you don’t leave starters in at the end of a blowout.

Flagrant foul on Mardy Collins. ALL PLAYERS ON COURT ejected. Best way to deal with it. Some of the guys that got ejected didn’t do anything.

Crowd boos Nuggets, cheers Knicks, even though Collins started the whole thing. And Nate tackled J.R. Smith

Kids next to us – college age – more psyched about the fight than the game. Calling friends.”

POSTGAME

Um, I think we covered that.

Talking point: Crowd suckage: Say what you want about the Knick defense sucking—and it does suck—but the crowd sucks too these days. Maybe it’s the lack of people. Maybe it’s the lack of audible chanting until the Knicks begin cutting into an insurmountable deficit. Whatever the reason, these people are just there to boo and have no idea how to urge a team on—an admittedly garbage team at that, but still…it’s hard to believe this same arena was the NBA’s best environment ten years ago.

Talking point: Marcus Camby: It’s really great to watch an athletic center with a checkered injury history that is still making the most out of his abilities. Blocking shots, running the floor, rebounding, wetting top of the key jumpers, Camby is just fun to watch.

Talking point: Carmelo Anthony. I’d never seen Melo play in person before, and brawling aside, I was impressed with his performance. Like all top offensive players, he makes you pick your poison. Early on, Jared Jeffries was giving him just enough space and he was taking it, drilling jumper after jumper. And, as Russ astutely noted, if you’re single covering him, you have to give him that space or else he’ll burn you. There was a point late in the game when David Lee was guarding Melo, and this dark assassin look overtook Melo’s face. I loudly exclaimed to anyone that would listen, “David Lee…he’s dead! He’s dead!” Indeed, Melo either scored or got to the line.

Talking point: Stephon Marbury: He looked really good on the offensive end. Oh well.