by Russ Bengtson
Good, got that out of the way.
I arrived at the Garden fashionably late (and fashionable!) for the Knicks’s Tuesday tilt with the NBA’s lone Pacific Northwest representative, and in my rush to get to the Blazers’s locker room, I almost ran into one. When I turned the corner leading from the Garden’s bowels to the—I don’t know, the Garden’s esophagus, I came face to elbow with guard Rudy Fernandez, who was in the hallway doing some sort of plyometric exercises. Later on, whilst in the media room, Lang and I watched on MSG Network as Greg Oden stood in the same hallway, balancing on one foot on some sort of tilty block. All in all, it seemed a bit risky for the—if not injury-prone, injury-accomplished big man.
Incidentally, in person, Greg doesn’t look a day over 37.
Unfortunately, I don’t have much for y’all from pregame. Donnie Walsh was surrounded once again, talking about God knows what. Probably his schoolboy days at Fordham Prep, or maybe Rik Smits’s grooming habits. Or which Ray’s Pizza is actually the original Ray’s. Can’t imagine what else there’d be to discuss. And the Knicks locker room was relatively player free, so I just noted the new positioning—Tim Thomas has occupied Jamal Crawford’s old corner digs, with fellow newbie Al Harrington right next door. Al wasn’t there, but there were a pair of unspeakable orange P.F. Flyer hightops in front of his seat. David Lee, whose locker is on the other side of Harrington’s, made a cameo appearance and eyed them somewhat warily. Jerome James’s locker was occupied by an enormous Sean John vest, and Anthony Roberson’s was home to an even enormouser (take that, Merriam-Webster) Polo polo. Given their respective sizes, this came as something of a surprise.
After the whole balancing thing, I stayed the heck away from the Blazers.
Anyway, yes, there was a game. Rather than do the ol’ play-by-play, I figured I’d just run down some players and give my impressions. (Not do impressions, mind you. Very funny.)
BRANDON ROY: I hate to use the word, because it’s such a cliché, but Trouble B-Roy is an absolute stud. Finishes around the basket with either hand, will drive on absolutely anybody, has as good a mid-range game as anyone in the L. I was shocked he only finished with 23—I was watching the game closely enough and figured he had at least 30. You know how some guys can score 34 or 35 and you only notice when you look at the box score afterwards? Brandon Roy is more or less the opposite of that. It’s also worth noting that the No. 7 embroidered on the medial sides of his kicks were almost as large as the one on the back of his jersey.
GREG ODEN: Hm. At this rate he’s not going to be rookie of the year. And if you take Nate McMillan’s words as gospel, that seems to be just fine with him. But still, Oden looked rusty. He missed his first two shots—the second being a wide-open two-handed dunk from right under the rim—and finished with just two points and seven rebounds in 19 and change. What was more worrisome is that Oden never seemed to be looking to score at all. He was content to just catch and redirect, not even glancing towards the basket. At one point he received the ball on the baseline just outside the paint, Quentin Richardson guarding him solo, and he kicked it right back out. He could have at least faced up first. A funny thing, though—at one point the Knicks were doubling Oden on the catch, despite the fact that he was scoreless and obviously not looking to change that. Afterwards, Oden sheepishly explained that “I kinda stopped shooting after that [second] one, because I don’t usually miss dunks.”
TRAVIS OUTLAW: The real-life Patrick O’Brian. At one point late in the game, Sergio Rodriguez drove the lane and kicked an errant pass that was sure to soar out of bounds. Nope. Outlaw just casually leapt-stretched and snared it. No sweat. Note to defenders: don’t even bother going after his jumpers.
JOEL PRZYBILLA: Oden can afford to slum it for 20 minutes a night as long as Ghostface keeps contributing. Dude’s solid. (His presence led to an almost-discussion about who the rest of the NBA-Wu would be. A topic for another time. I also found myself wishing he would marry one of Mike Krzyzewski’s daughters and she would hyphenate her name and become a WNBA player just to torment some poor equipment manager. Yes, I probably need help.) At one point Tim Thomas tried to yoke one on him, got fouled, and they wound up exchanging what appeared to be genuine pleasantries. I thought maybe they’d played together in the McDonald’s game, but they were two years apart. In fact, Przybilla played in the same McDonald’s game as Al Harrington, and merely spent four seasons in Milwaukee with Thomas. Silly me.
RUDY FERNANDEZ: Not shy. The way he was jacking long-range shots you’d have thought the NBA was going to outlaw the three-pointer immediately following the game. Not that they were bad shots, mind you. He (along with Rodriguez) had a large Spanish cheering section up in the 200s that occasionally was louder than the general Knicks crowd.
LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE: Runs like Forrest Gump. Seriously. Watch him sometime.
TIM THOMAS: Ah, Tim Thomas. He had 14 points midway through the second quarter, and had 14 points at the end of the game. That’s the Tim Thomas we all know.
CHRIS DUHON: Solid as a rock. He didn’t get 22 assists again—actually, the entire team managed just 20—but he posted a solid 23 and 13 with just one turnover. Sneaky layups, trips to the line, he even tied up Brandon Roy once, and took Oden off the dribble with a nifty crossover. It’s almost enough to make one forget the Knicks last starting point guard, whoever that was.
DAVID LEE: Turnovers are noted on the running play sheets as “BAD PASS TURNOVER”. Lee had a few that should have been recorded as “TERRIBLE PASS TURNOVER.” At one point I glanced up after a loud groan from the crowd to see Lee with his head down holding his knees. At first I thought he’d gotten popped one, but a replay revealed that he’d merely thrown a simple outlet pass out of bounds.
He did have the best moment of the night, though. Late in the fourth quarter, Lee got blocked by Przybilla, who simultaneously nailed him good across the face with his off arm. No call. Chris Duhon got the rebound and tossed a wild shot over the shot clock. Turnover. Lee came up wiping blood off his mouth, looking questioningly at the refs. Eddie F. Rush then tried to get him to leave the court because of the infectious whatever rule. Lee explained to him that there couldn’t be any blood, because there was no foul. Rush briefly considered this, and let play go on. (Lee told this story better than I did.)
JEROME JAMES: He was ready with his tearaways off and compression sleeves on both calves. I’m not sure what they were for exactly, but his calf muscles looked suspiciously like pork chops.
APROPOS OF NOTHING: Just three quick things. Number one, there was some sort of creepy time-out moment with the under-10 winners of some Dancing With the Stars competition. They danced to jive, apparently. Are there stars under the age of 10 involved? And if so, who? Number two, considering it’s THE NEW YORK KNICKS PRESENTED BY T-MOBILE, you’d think my T-Mobile device would get killer reception in Madison Square Garden, right? Wrong. Someone at AT&T, holla at me. Papa needs a brand-new iPhone. Number three, as usual there were a couple of New York Giants in attendance. And I decided—as impossibly wrong as this is—that on Sunday some receiver needs to do a touchdown celebration that involves shooting himself in the leg with the football, then limping off the field as another player scurries away with the ball. I know.
AND JUST ONE MORE THING: I meant to post notes on the Warriors game from the weekend, but life got in the way. Still, I wanted to mention that the little tribute video the Knicks put together for Jamal Crawford was both terrific and well-deserved. Few Knick players have conducted themselves so well (and hit so many game-winning shots) in these turbulent times. It’ll be interesting to see whether any other former Knicks (and soon-to-be former Knicks) get such treatment. Heck, they could show Jerome James’s entire Knicks career during a time-out, and still have time for a t-shirt toss.