by Russ Bengtson

One step forward, 27 steps back. That’s how it’s been all season for the New York Knicks, and apparently that’s how it’s going to be for the foreseeable future. Why anyone would pay to see this poor excuse for a basketball team is beyond me. Then again, with LeBron coming to town tomorrow and Kobe scheduled for Sunday, it may be worth showing up just to see how many points a true superstar can rack up on the Garden floor.

PREGAME

Nothing notable. There are a few Pacer jerseys in the stands (including a classic Reggie Miller), but not many. Spike Lee is here again, and apparently Stephon Marbury will be returning to the lineup.

Introductions, and there must be some leftover goodwill from the Nets game. Isiah is booed, though not as much as in the past, and the players all get cheers.

As they take the floor, Isiah meets Jermaine O’Neal at the scorer’s table to give him a big hug. They couldn’t have taken care of greetings and salutations off the floor? It just seems kind of insulting to the team he’s (allegedly) coaching now.

FIRST QUARTER

Jermaine O’Neal gets the scoring started for the Pacers, Z-Bo (with a 20-footer) for the Knicks. Things start off simply enough, with both teams trading baskets and misses, neither getting too far ahead. Eddy Curry gets his required obvious offensive foul out of the way early, which relaxes everyone.

I’m not sure how he does it, but Eddy gets the ball underneath, goes up, and somehow slings the ball 10 rows into the seats. He looks around for a call, but there doesn’t appear to be any reason for one. A couple plays later he’s beaten twice in a row by O’Neal for easy layups. And with 3:22 to go in the first he commits another offensive foul. Enter David Lee.

Granger puts the Pacers up 22-20 before a Z-Bo three puts the Knicks back on top. Z-Bo actually seems to be looking for threes now—not even just to beat the shot clock—which is more than a little scary.

Marbury gets up off the bench to applause.

And Indiana changes damn near the entire lineup, bringing in Marquis Daniels, Jeff Foster, David “And Confused” Harrison and Kareem Rush.

Zach takes another three. Somehow I don’t think this development is good for the Knicks as a whole—seeing that Zach is generally their best rebounder and should thus be near the basket at all times—but what do I know?

Knicks lead 26-25 after one, Zach has 15, 5 and 2.

SECOND QUARTER

Jamal Crawford puts in a jumper over Harrison, who commits an offensive foul on the other end. Meanwhile, Ike Diogu has yet to play. Isn’t he better than David Harrison?

Marbury, not yet on the board, earns a trip to the line. Misses both.

Jamal Tinsley puts on an impromptu dribbling display that puts both the opponents and his teammates to sleep. This is important, because when he fires a pass to Jermaine O’Neal, the ball bounces off Jermaine’s head and shoulder to Jeff Foster, who finds a suddenly alert and cutting O’Neal for a two-handed dunk. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

Pretty much right after that, on a Pacer break, Marquis Daniels fires a pass cross-court to Jamaal Tinsley that’s either touch-passed back or just bounces off Tinsley. Hard to tell. Regardless, Daniels gets a layup.

Good Pacer ball movement leads to a Jeff Foster layup and the in-arena announcement, “that was Jermaine O’Neal…correction, that was Jeff Foster.” Admittedly, I get them confused all the time as well.

Tinsely, stop-pause-pop in paint. He plays like he’s 43 years old sometimes.

Eddy Curry gets his first rebound of the night, and minutes later is blocked by Danny Granger.

You’ll notice there hasn’t been much mention of any Knick scoring. That’s because there isn’t any. They are currently in the midst of an 0-20 run from the floor. Yes, 0-20.

Z-Bo turns the ball over out of a time out, Tinsley finds a trailing O’Neal, and the boos start to come down in earnest.

Knicks finally call time after a few more turnovers and a Troy Murphy three, down 11 with three minutes to go in the quarter.

Curry goes in for a two-handed dunk, appears to be blocked cleanly from behind by O’Neal. The refs beg to differ. O’Neal goes to the bench for Harrison and Curry goes to the line. Hits a pair.

Z-Bo hits a pair as well after Murphy misses a wide-open three. The thing is, he doesn’t do that all too often, and in fact he hits the very next one.

Steph finally scores on a floater, giving him his first points and the Knicks their first field goal in forever.

Zach hits a 30-foot three from up top with 9/10ths left, meaning he’s two for three from deep tonight. Ridiculous. Pacers lead 53-46 at the half, despite the fact that they’ve yet to shoot a single free throw. They are shooting 54.5 percent from the floor, though.

THIRD QUARTER

Q hits a corner three, and despite the 0-20 run, it’s a four-point game.

Mike Dunleavy, Jr. hits what will be the first of many shots this quarter. How do I know? I just do.

Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora is shown on the big screen to the crowd’s delight. He delivers a pretty good raspberry, cracking himself up in the process.

Jermaine O’Neal scores his 20th point of the game. Shortly thereafter he’s knocked down by Eddy Curry in what may be his most egregious offensive foul of the year. And that’s saying a lot.

It’s 64-all with 5:50 to go in the quarter. This is important.

Dunleavy layup.

Dunleavy fouled (the first trip to the line for the Pacers), hits both.

Dunleavy layup and the foul (Balkman), hits free throw.

Dunleavy layup.

Knicks time out. Crawford is fouled when we come back, hits a pair. No matter.

Dunleavy, fouled (Marbury), hits both.

Dunleavy three.

Finally, Marquis Daniels scores to stop the Dunleavy onslaught. Marbury keeps going strong, keeps getting to the line, (sort of) keeps the Knicks in it. It’s 82-72 Pacers after three, Dunleavy has 29.

But wait.

Dunleavy was fouled by Randolph at the end of the quarter—seemingly after the buzzer went off—but after review, it’s decided there was a tenth of a second left. This has two results—one, Dunleavy gets to shoot two more free throws (and hits both) and two, the Knicks City Dancers are prevented from taking the floor. Neither of these things goes over very well with an already unruly crowd.

Anyway.

84-72 Pacers after three, Dunleavy with 31 (22 in the 3rd quarter alone).

FOURTH QUARTER

Steph drives the lane and instead of taking it hard to the rack, kicks it to no one in the corner. Daniels comes down, hits a jumper, cue booing.

And this time it’s Marquis’s turn, as he runs off six straight Pacer points. 90-74 with 9:58 to go. More booing.

Somewhere in there a “WE WANT NATE” chant starts. Because it appears that Isiah has cut back to his eight-man playoff (haha!) rotation. No Nate, no Mardy, no Jared, no Malik.

Zach scores his first field goal in a long time.

A Granger dunk is followed by a Murphy dunk, the Pacers lead by 18, and plenty of people are headed to the exits with 7:24 to go.

A Jermaine O’Neal turnaround gives the Pacers 100 points with 5:49 still on the clock. Some sort of mercy rule would be nice.

Zach turnover, Dunleavy three, Pacers by 22, “FIRE ISIAH.”

A Danny Granger three from the corner puts the Pacers up 26 with under four minutes left and inspires Jim O’Brien to empty his bench. Shawne Williams! Andre Owens!

And of course Williams drives, gets the layup and the foul. Finishes the three-point play.

It’s been reported in other outlets, I know, but it bears repeating that the Madison Square Garden security guards have apparently been instructed to confiscate signs and eject fans. This is starting to happen more and more. It’s ugly.

With two and a half minutes to go, Mardy Collins gets the nod. I’m sure he’s thrilled. If Isiah tried to put Malik Rose in right now, there would probably be a fistfight on the bench.

The “FIRE ISIAH” chant has grown quieter, but that’s just because three-quarters of the crowd has gone home.

Kareem Rush, three. Troy Murphy, three. Stephon earns a three-point play right at the end, but no one cares.

FINAL SCORE, 119-92, Pacers. Will this finally be enough for Dolan to make a change? Probably not. Which is a damn shame, because Knicks fans don’t deserve this. No one does.

POSTGAME

Brad Miller’s in the hallway, which strikes me as weird until I remember that they’re in town to play the Nets. Ron Artest is not in attendance.

Jermaine O’Neal, who spoke a lot about Isiah—his former coach—the day before the game, has even more to say afterwards. It’s funny, the things he said the day before about it being on the team rather than the coach? You’d think the Knicks would have come out strong, eager to prove him wrong. They didn’t. And I’m not quite sure who that reflects on most poorly. Because while the players are the ones that need to get the job done in the end, it’s ISIAH who brought them all in, ISIAH who’s supposed to be teaching them. Apocalypse now. Anyway, Jermaine:

“It bothers me to hear people saying ‘fire him’ because he’s one of the most competitive people in the game.”

(Some false logic there, if you ask me. Michael Jordan may be the most competitive person on the face of the earth, and I sure as hell wouldn’t want him coaching my NBA team.)

“It’s up to the players. Isiah, or whoever comes in, they’ll have the same problem.”

“I just know that’s not the reflection of the guy I played for.”

“Defense is something that you’ve got to want to play, too. Someone’s gotta take control of the team.”

All of that stuff is bulletin-board fodder, but that doesn’t mean anything if no one does anything with it. Another Pacer was equally perplexed by the apparent lack of effort from the home team: “I don’t think some of these guys realize that they’re playing for the New York Knicks. I mean, this isn’t just any team.”

Couldn’t bring myself to go to Isiah’s press conference, and I guess I missed a good one. He threw EVERYBODY under the bus. Players were told what he said, and they weren’t very happy about it. Understandably:

“As a coach you bring certain things to the table. We say the right things but we don’t gut it out for 48 minutes. We don’t grind, we don’t compete like we should for 48 minutes. A lot of things can be said about me and the teams that I coached and the way that I played, but I have never been accused of not having heart or competing. Tonight was very discouraging for me because we didn’t collectively play with heart and compete like I know I do.”

“I think we have the talent but just because you have talent and skill doesn’t necessarily mean you have the heart. I’m not talking about one individual, it’s a team. You have to have heart as a team. One thing we prided ourselves in last year, I thought as a team we had heart and courage and we competed. I am not getting that out of this group right now.”

“We don’t have the grit to sustain a run. A team makes a run at us and collectively we just cave. We just give in. We had a good basketball game going and then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, our team stopped competing as a team. We just gave in and let it happen. There has to be some individual, professional pride that comes from the guys out on the floor. Tonight we didn’t have that.”

Here’s the thing—I don’t even consider this a new low. It’s the same old low, repeated ad nauseam. Groundhog Day. There’s no improvement, no reason to say ‘oh yeah, it’s turning around.’ Just the same old lapses and discouragement and embarrassing play. And Isiah can say whatever he wants, but this is a team that HE assembled. That HE wanted.

How can Isiah put it all on the team? If the players were so obviously not competing all night, why not go to the bench? In that horrible offensive stretch in the second quarter when you couldn’t make a shot, why not go with Nate Robinson? In that horrible defensive stretch in the thrird quarter when Mike Dunleavy couldn’t miss, why not go with Jared Jeffries? You’re the coach, Zeke—SO COACH!

However, if you DO go to Knick games, and you want to start a chant, try FIRE DOLAN instead. Chanting FIRE ISIAH may be the cool thing to do these days, but let’s try laying the blame in the sloppy lap of the man who’s truly responsible for this mess. Make it his name that echoes through the increasingly empty gym that loses a bit of its hard-earned mystique after every embarrassing loss. Let him know that this is unacceptable and that he’s the one that should take the blame. Maybe that will be what it finally takes to make him take action—God knows nothing else seems to work.