By Russ Bengtson and Jake Appleman

IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE…

LIVE FROM NEW YORK—IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT!!!! (Cue on SNL Music). IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE:

STARRING: A great game; Monologues that blame Canada; A lead that constantly fluctuates; Soccer Jerseys; Open shots aplenty, and absolutely no defense whatsoever; Sage stat man Bob Rosen; The Anti-Knicks; Chris Bosh doing whatever the hell he wants; Tim Meadows.

Featuring: Knicks from ten years ago continuing to soak up the Garden love; Some unnecessary picking on Chad Ford; The Spanish language; Rampant cynicism; Tim Meadows.

Musical Guests: Thuuuuuuuuundeeeeeerrrrrrsticks; Tim Meadows

And Your Host(s): APPLESON (Jake in Italics and Russ in regular font.)

Opening Monologue/Dialogue

Susan Price: You two are going together. Don’t embarrass me.

Jake Appleman: Russ, remind me at the game to make a note that somehow embarrasses Susan.

Russ Bengtson: Yeah, I got the same e-mail. We’re on the same page.

RB: Are you gonna soccer jersey it tonight?

JA: Maybe. Do you want to soccer jersey it tonight?

RB: I was thinking about it. Non essential, though–go for it

JA: I don’t know though. It’s too early to tell. I was thinking it’d be funny if we both wore them.

RB: Only if we wore the jerseys of archrivals and got in a fistfight in the
locker room. Or the press room. I guess if I wear one, it’ll be
Arsenal.

JA: Okay, I was thinking of wearing Ajax. We could go for the twins look here.

RB: Sure. You know it’s an 8 pm start for some reason, right?

JA: Yeah. because Canadians don’t go out on Saturday night.

JA: They watch New Yorkers.

RB: I’ll be going out afterwards anyway. F–k Canada.

JA: By the way, I think we should run this email convo at the beginning just to piss off our Canadian readers.

RB: Haha. Perhaps. You get to put it together this time, so I’ll leave that
up to you.

JA: Sounds good. I think the system should be that weekends I’ll put it together and if we go during the week you can put it together because work is quite time-consuming.

RB: F–K CANADA. I think that’s going to be my theme.

JA: Ok, I’ll roll with “firefighting the impending backlash.”

RB: I hope some Raptor fan throws a rotting moose at Isiah.

JA: Hahaha.

JA: I’m bringing a copy of the Vince cover into the Raptors locker room. That’s not disrespectful is it?

RB: No. If you brought in a blowup of it while wearing a Nets #15 jersey and singing that “Blame Canada” song from the South Park movie–well, that wouldn’t be disrespectful, either.

The monologue finishes and we cut to some Appleson Advertising: Does your favorite team lack defense? Do you often find yourself wondering how the hell THAT GUY was left THAT wide open, or how in the world you favorite player didn’t double down on the opposing team’s star player? If so, DEFENSE IS FOR YOU! Call 1-800 POP-culture for more information! Operators Jeff Van Gundy and Brian Hill are currently standing by!

Note: Commitment to improving team defense may incur the following side-effects: dry mouth, constipated shot selection, watery eyes (from happiness), contact, increase in consistent crowd volume, pride, occasional boredom.

Pregame:

Since it was Asian Heritage Night with Yao in town last week, I’m hoping it’s Canadian Heritage Night tonight. Visions swirl: Bryan Adams performing the Canadian National Anthem, Canadian bacon, fiddlehead ferns and caribou in the media dining room, the courtside seats filled by Nelly Furtado, Pam Anderson, Estella Warren, Kristin Kreuk, Avril Lavigne and Neil Young, a pair of Mounties (one word, fellas—motorcycles) throwing a rotting moose carcass at Isiah Thomas to show their appreciation for his contributions for Canadian basketball. And, of course, a halftime extravaganza featuring the incomparable Celine Dion. Tragically, none of this actually happens. Instead, we’re forced to take in Knicks/Raptors a la carte, which given their respective records is a hard pill to swallow. Eh?

–The Raptor locker room is relatively quiet before the game. The four lockers that occupy the back left corner of the room read the following names from right to left: Bargnani, Garbajosa, Calderon, Ford. That’s like 3 european sportscars sitting next to a mini-cooper that somehow has higher horsepower. Russ notes that Rasho isn’t in this block of lockers because he wouldn’t fit. This is true. For what it’s worth, Chris Bosh and his pterodactyl wingspan has the adjacent two lockers.

–I ask TJ Ford what it’s like to be in the international grouping of lockers, and he responds, “We’re all people; we’re all the same.” Um, okay. But you’re from different places. I guess the bigger lesson is to not bother TJ Ford pregame, especially if you’re taller than TJ Ford.

There’s an Israeli crew here to get some time with Anthony Parker—who starred with Maccabi Tel Aviv for years—and the girl doing the interviews is just…wow. You can ask T.J. Ford.

–Re: TJ Ford, moments earlier: Oh, so I guess I just had to be a hot Israeli woman.

–Over on the Knicks side, Jerome James conducts an interview with one foot wrapped up in a Nate Robinson’s worth of Ace bandage. I’m curious—if he’s not going to come back until he’s 100 percent, does that mean he’s never going to play again? We can hope, I guess.

–As we’re walking to grab dinner, I tell Clyde Frazier, who was later honored for his astounding 36 point 19 assist game 7 performance in 1970, that he was my “childhood’s thesaurus.” I would later tell Mike Breen that we’re gunning for 8,000 words. Foreshadowing: We’ll come close. You might want to print this out…

–There is a discrepancy in opinion re: the pregame chicken. Bobbito loves it, Russ thinks it’s decent, I think it’s rubber. Flipping the coin, the turkey wrap was fantastic. And the tiramisu was pretty good. After watchin Bob do his MSG pregame thing on the big screen in the press dining room, he calls Russ a “real Gene Hackman.” Russ, context? Haha, he was talking about the French Connection Gene Hackman, not the Hoosiers one. FYI. And I believe that was in reference to the fact that I was wearing the watchcap. And the facial hair mess too, I suppose.

–I think it would be interesting if we developed our own clique: Me, Russ, Bob, my man Sahomie Benjamin from WBAI, NBC’s Sam Blake “Here Comes The” Hofstetter. We could walk around mocking the Adidas ads, and asking other sportswriters if they know that it takes five. Actually, cliques suck. So nevermind, although this crew could be the most liberal thing since Oberlin College, word to Chris Broussard.

–We get to our seats and legendary New York Times columnist, William Rhoden, is sitting there. Sorry man, you’ll have to get up. Appleson will not move, no matter how long you’ve been successfully doing your thing—no offense. Oh, and you left your hat by our seats. Here you are… You’re welcome…We don’t understand how this mix-up could have happened either…Have a wonderful evening.

–With the Grizzlies coming in on Monday, it’s la semana de España en la manzana. (Note: I also double as the Man-zana.)

–There’s something very endearing and stale about the way the Garden smells when you walk in pregame. Is it the smell of losing?

–Andrea Bargnani? The first overall pick? He doesn’t start. (He’s also only the second dude named Andrea to appear in the Garden in the past week—Andrea Bocelli was here first. And he probably had more fans—and perhaps more range.) The Raptors start T.J., Parker, Jorge Garbajosa, Rasho Nesterovic and Chris Bosh. The Knicks run out the usual Steph and Stevie, Q, Eddy and David Lee (Channing Frye may have been Wally Pipped).

Russ is wearing shoes. And socks.

And that about covers the pregame. Gametime:

–Raptors 2-0, Raptors 4-0, offensive foul Eddy Curry. (Nesterovic shoves him, Eddy shoves back—emphatically—and of course it’s the retaliation that gets called. Eddy should know that by now.) To compound things, two minutes later, Francis drives baseline and throws a blind over-the-shoulder pass to Curry that ends up in Q’s hands—he misses—and David Lee commits a loose-ball foul on the rebound. Nesterovic fallaway, Raptors 8-0. I’d love to say that the Knicks are better than this, but yeah, they’re not. Finally, four minutes in, Eddy Curry gets fouled and goes to the line. He misses the first, and hits the second—which draws a round of incredibly sarcastic cheers from the crowd. At this rate someone on the Knicks is gonna be screaming on ’em like Michael Richards at the Laugh Factory (with different words, of course) before all is said and done. My money’s on Nate.

–While the Knicks may need a disciplined coach, they need some disciplined season ticket holders, too. People that leave seats empty without giving the tix up or selling them should be charged the face value of the tickets. Who cares how bad the Knicks have been at home? If you have the money to spend, you go to the game. Or you find someone to enjoy your seats. It’s really that simple.

Anthony Parker three. 11-1. Then there’s a stretch of basket trading, which isn’t out of the ordinary in an NBA game, but it’s generally better to not be down 10 first.

–Bargnani checks in and looks lost on D. He floats out to double and then is slow to rotate back to Curry. He would atone on the other end by displaying some consistent 20 foot range. In a related story, Chad Ford just wet his pants. Thankfully, Russ is here to squash Chad’s excited flow…

–After Bargnani and Renaldo Balkman enter, the defensive intensity decidedly doesn’t rise. Balkman does, however, collect a lovely dish from Francis that he converts into a high-flying, two-handed dunk right in poor Andrea’s face. Welcome to New York, rook.

–The Raptors are up big early, which reminds me: A ten point lead is a cushion. A twenty point lead is a sofa. A thirty point lead is a stained futon.

–Cameron Frye is out with a case of “ROONEY!”. It’s just who he is.

-Chris Bosh, SLAM COVER BOY CHRIS BOSH, hits a three. You wouldn’t be able to name another prehistoric dinosaur with that rare combination of height and range. In a related story, Ross from Friends just wet himself.

–Jose Calderon wears number 8. For all of you who’ve seen the movie Dodgeball, he has a new nickname, too: El Ocho.

It’s “50 Greatest Moments At MSG Night”—they just introduced Pearl Washington, who’s sitting right next to John Starks and Patrick Ewing—and you know what? It’s safe to say that tonight isn’t going to be one of them. Then Quentin Richardson gets hot. Three straight threes, putting his total up to 14 and bringing the Knicks to within four. Curry cleans up a Q miss to make it two, and Franchise drives into Bargnani, flips in the layup and draws the foul And, the Knicks lead, 24-23. If it weren’t clear enough, defense isn’t the strong point of this game.

Malik Rose is in the game! Yeah, it’s really not that exciting. And Q’s still firing up threes, although he hasn’t hit one since that stretch of three. In fact, there’s another one—STOP SHOOTIN’, Q! Balkman gets his third dunk of the quarter at the buzzer, and the Knicks lead 31-29 at the end of 1. An aside about Steve Francis. Saw the other day that he was the Knick selected to inform Nate Robinson that an off-the-glass dunk attempt on the break wasn’t exactly what the Knicks needed during a close game. And it made sense that Steve would be the guy Nate would listen to—along with Quentin Richardson, Francis has the most experience and credibility. Can you imagine Stephon trying to tell Nate anything? And Francis is the most effective Knick on the offensive end—taking the ball to the rack and, more often than not, winding up on the line and converting. He may still dribble too much, but I tend to think that Francis doesn’t get enough props for his play.

–Malik Rose crushes Calderon on a screen and slips to the hoop, converting an And-1 after being nonchalantly grabbed by Kris Humphries.

–Though he would end up going 2-11, Anthony Parker can stroke it (No Byron Crawford).

–Nate Robinson checks in and forgets that he’s supposed to guard Calderon. Lil’ Nate runs around the paint confused as shit, as David Lee tries to guard two people at the same time by standing there between his man and Calderon, awkwardly pointing at Jose. This leads to this exchange:
JA: He forgot his assignment.

RB: He probably didn’t have one.

–Robinson breaks Calderon’s ankles. EXPERIENCE NATE ROBNISON. Calderon comes right back the other way and jackknifes his way around a screen before wetting a mid-range J. EXPERIENCE NATE ROBINSON.

–Question for Lang: How has Starbury (the dog) been health-wise ever since Steph stopped shooting?

–Something that confuses me: A few times every game at the Garden the following clip will play: “Let me hear you say,” and then an organ noise follows. Now, I don’t have an organ in my vocal chords so I can’t do that. But maybe a vocal chord is a bodily organ. Man, I’m confused. Though I’m not sure you can blame me—I have friends that write about Britney Spears’ vajayjay.

–Nate Robinson gets called for a bogus charge. EXPERIENCE NATE ROBINSON EXPERIENCING NBA OFFICIATING.

–Remember that Knicks lead? Anthony Parker three, Calderon technical free throw, Bargnani bucket, Kris Humphries free throws, and it’s 37-31, Raptors. The Humphries free throws came off a sequence where Bargnani missed a three, tracked down his own rebound (because no one else went after it), missed a shot closer in, and then Humphries finally wound up with it. Interesting three-point play: Calderon hits a jumper coming off a Humphries screen, in which Nate plows through Humphries. Bucket counts, and Humprhies adds the freebie. The Knicks get called for a 24-second violation when Steph hot-potatoes the ball to Nate in the corner with barely a second left on the shot clock. Not the finest decision making. As they seem to do all too often, the Knicks cut the gap down to one before letting it stretch back out to double digits. With a chance to stop the bleeding, Curry drives the lane and flips up a finger roll—that misses. Some see it as a bad shot by a lazy player. I think it’s a homage to Patrick Ewing’s similar miss in the playoffs against the Pacers so many years ago. And with Patrick RIGHT THERE. Eddy Curry’s a comedic genius! The moment is shattered by a Garbajosa three. Damn Spaniards. 58-49, Toronto.

–I start predicting how many free throws Eddy Curry will make/miss during his trips to the line. The first time I predict 2-2. This leads to this exchange:
RB: You’re insane. (Curry hits the first.) I still think you’re insane. (Curry hits the second.)
JA: I’ll be here all night.
Statistician Bob Rosen, sitting to my right: Now you can stay for the second half.

And stay I did. I guessed correctly on four (or was it five) trips without messing up once. If I was a rabbit’s foot, Russ would know what shoe company was repping me.

–Steve Francis is increasing his trade value as we speak. And we’re speaking with 21.7 seconds left in the first half. It kinda turns out that we may have speaking too soon, as Francis finished with an unimpressive stat line.

–At the half, we’re looking at 64-60, Raptors. And sure, it’s cool that the Knicks are within four, but they’ve also given up 64 points in a half. To the Raptors. This is nothing to celebrate. Also, Chris Bosh has 21 and 9. Ryan’s e-mailed response to that bit of information: “Chris Bosh is good.” Yes. Yes he is. He’s also in the new SLAM. By the way.

–Talking point. International Relations: Jose Calderon is a baller. He can stick the midrange jumper and his speed caught me off guard. He comes back at you. He finds the open man. But most impressively, he seems to have this kinetic energy flowing through him. It’s as if his entire body is always ready to take that quick first step. At one point, I thought I could see his body thinking out his next move; it’s like there’s this visible twitch that indicates he’s about to do something.

My friend Dave called me after the game and asked if I had noticed Garbajosa’s consistent old school ball fake. It didn’t stand out, but he brought up a point that is representative of Garbajosa’s offensive game. Which is, quite simply, solid. And, as noted earlier, Bargnani has range.

I guess what I’m getting at is that all of these guys are sound fundamentally on the offensive end. They’re fun to watch and they should all develop into good players.

Second half

–Steph is playing a whale of a game.

–The Knicks city kids are doing an NSnync dance routine to an “Everybody Dance Now” remix. There is a choreographer in the building that is REALLY out of touch.

–Renaldo Balkman can’t dribble very well. In a related story, though he didn’t wet himself, Chad Ford probably should have.

–Rob Babcock. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

–Kris Humphries is playing like an NBA player.

–Statman BR points out that back in the day teams used to shoot 132 shots a game. Now it’s 89. It really is more of a slow-it-down, ISO game nowadays.

–Balkman, who couldn’t guard Chris Bosh if he had a velociraptor forcefield, has been doing a great job of cutting and spacing himself in the Knick offense.

–Thundersticks, hooo. (That’s a ThunderCats reference for you heathens out there.)…Once again, the Knicks get within two, and once again, Jorge Garbajosa is there with a three for that ass. 67-62. Knicks cut it to within one again, and with a chance to take the lead, Curry posts up WAY outside on the baseline and runs right into Rasho. Charge. The Knicks really have no idea what to do with momentum when they have it. But the Raptors sure know how to take it back—Ford three from right in front of the Knicks bench. 72-68, Raptors. Next time down the Knicks miss three attempts at point-blank range (two by Curry), before it goes the other way and Rasho converts. 74-68.

–Hey, It’s Patrick Ewing! He stands to acknowledge the cheers—for the third game in a row. Is this going to happen EVERY TIME he’s here? John Starks and Clyde Frazier were introduced earlier as well—and while they deserve the cheers, they both do WORK for the Knicks. It’s not like it took much effort to get them to be at the game. Some special night.

The Knicks actually take the lead late in the quarter, 80-79, but predictably they can’t build on it. Or hold it, for that matter. Kris Humphries, who actually looks like a real, live NBA player tonight, makes a couple clutch plays on either end, and the Raptors lead 83-80 after 3.

FOURTH QUARTER

–Jake: “Uh-oh, Nate Robinson’s in.” Nate: Commits foul in first 12 seconds.

Eddy Curry checks back in with 10 minutes to go and 11 points and eight boards to his name. Meanwhile, the Raptors stretch the lead to 87-80 just for fun. It’s 89-85 with 8:05 to go when I realize that Chris Bosh isn’t even on the floor. This does not bode well for the Knicks. Not that I really understand why Bosh is on the bench for so long. Yes, it’s the second night of a back-to-back and he’s probably a little tired, but he absolutely KILLED the Knicks in the first half, and he’s only got one foul. Keep him out there, Sam!

–This is what a dagger looks like: a T.J. Ford three as the shot clock expires with just over five minutes to go. Then a Rasho bucket to stretch the lead to nine with just under five minutes. Here’s the thing, though. The Raptors still aren’t very good. And they’re over the foul limit with 4:49 to go. So this, technically, is still a game. A three-possession game, as Jake may have once said. Then again, the Knicks aren’t very good, either—Q managed to get popped in the nuts AND get called for a foul at the same time. Insult to injury, check. But yes, the Knicks cut the lead back to a deuce with two minutes left, and to one with under two minutes when Curry dunks all over Bosh. The Knicks dodge a bullet when Garbajosa misses a WIDE OPEN three (maybe guarding him would be a good idea?), but Crawford misses on the ensuing possession and T.J. buries a pair of free throws on the other end. Curry scores over Bosh again, but no one makes a move when Ford comes back straight down the lane for an uncontested layup.

Come on guys, at least PRETEND to play defense. Some other stuff happens, but none of it consequential. Final score, 103-100, Raptors (that’s 81-76 Canadian, by the way).

–Numbers. Bosh has 26 and 13, Ford 20 and 10. On the Knicks side, Curry has 27 and 12 (most of the points coming in the fourth) and Q provides an even 16 and 16. The Raptors shoot an abysmal 40 percent from the floor, but score 24 points off of 16 Knicks turnovers. And keep in mind that this was without Morris Peterson, still out with a ligament tear in his elbow. Oh, and the Knicks are now 1-7 at home, with the same record after 13 games as they had last year under Larry Brown. Go team!

POSTGAME

–We go in the Knicks locker room first for a change. Not much going on. I have every intention of talking to Renaldo Balkman—finally!—but he’s dressed quickly and gone before I get a chance. It’s probably for the best anyway. Next time. Really. I also have a nickname proposal for Balkman—”Number Nine.” I know he wears 32, but this is after those Eric Cantona-voiced Nike World Cup commercials celebrating Ronaldo (Rrrrrrrrrrronaldo!). Ronaldo, Renaldo. Same difference. Yo, it was like a funeral in there. At least Jamal Crawford stopped by to say what’s up. As Russ has noted a few times before, he’s really chill.

The aforementioned Israeli TV girl has no trouble corralling Raptor players for interviews. This is not shocking. Anthony Parker is right in the middle of things, interviewing his teammates, trying to remember portions of Tel Aviv fan songs. I mention to Raptor PR wiz Jim LaBumbard that it’s good to know he has an alternate career if the whole basketball thing doesn’t work out. “Yeah, in Israeli television.”Jake goes over and carries on in rather fluent Spanish for a while with Jose Calderon and Jorge Garbajosa. Mostly about soccer, I think. I’m impressed. When I ask him if he got either of them to say “BBBAAAAAALLLLIINNNN'” in Spanish, he looks surprised and goes back in. He comes back moments later, a look of satisfaction on his face. Turns out Garbajosa was more than happy to say “baller.” Dude. Suddenly, I’m not so impressed. Explain yourself, Jake. My explanation will be seen in due time, along with the appropriate sound bytes. You’ll all just have to wait for it.

Bosh is last out of the showers—”Slowest dresser in the NBA,” LaBumbard declares sarcastically—but he’s worth the wait. He speaks eloquently on whatever gets thrown at him, including the thought that in a conference so crappy, any team can come out on top. After the general scrum, he does his turn with the Israeli girl—while various interested parties watch from behind (and they’re not looking at Bosh). I wait it out to the end, curious about (behave!) Bosh’s shoe deal. He was one of the Class of 2003 Converse guys—and is wearing a Cons tanktop and shower shoes—but his game shoes were Nikes. “Yeah, I’m with Nike now,” he says. ” A lot of people were surprised by that.” He wore Converse through the Olympics before jumping to the Swoosh. That’s all she wrote, though. He’s got a bus to catch.

-Talking point. Who you play the night before and why it matters: The Knicks came in after getting beaten up by Detroit, flying across a time zone and coming back to a building that pretty much loathes them. The Raptors flew in after a relatively easy win over the Celtics at home. Given those two unfolding scenarios, and the natural difference in respective mindsets, it would appear that the Knicks were at an immediate disadvantage heading into the game. They had a tougher time in the first game; they played a more physical team, which wore down their bench a little bit (see poor performances by Nate Robinson and Jamal Crawford, not to mention a David Lee, that despite his decent stat line, looked frustrated all night)…which leads me to my next talking point.

The Anti-Knicks: The Knicks were carried by Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry, the two biggest scapegoats on the team. For those of us who can’t help but get swallowed up by all the negativity this team carries with it, it was surreal, to a certain extent. Marbury and Curry bucked the stereotype tonight and the drunks still scream for Steph to get traded at the end of the game. I’m not saying I agree with his demeanor, but dude turned the clock back tonight. As for Curry, Russ will harp on his lack of rebounding presence, but he played a fantastic fourth quarter, and he deserves kudos for that. But, SERIOUSLY, he and his mates will have to kill this propensity to come out sluggish. Regardless of who they played the night before.