I had two things on my mind coming into this game. What the Knicks were going to look like without Marbury at all and vaguely whether Michael Jordan was going to be in the house. Both questions were answered shortly after the game began.
Jordan indeed was in the house. I was in the Gate 67 press box and he was opposite courtside looking a little uneasy in a tan turtleneck, steel blue blazer and jeans. The Knicks looked better than he did–which probably accounts for the reluctant smiles when the crowd started cheering him during the first timeout when the announcer called him out. It took him 30 seconds to stand up. Made me wonder how good that must make him feel to be able to roll into any town in the world and people show him mad love like they did at the Garden. He finally stood up and waved around to acknowledge the crowd. Bittersweet moment for me having flashbacks of the legendary nights he had in New York. The grin on his face said it all: Damn it feels good to see people up on it.
The Knicks didn’t really get rolling until after that timeout when Nate Robinson entered and changed the game. It was crazy. In the span of five minutes he was the spark that ignited the Knicks run by putting the team on his shoulders and carrying them to the end of the first half with his brilliant play on both ends of the floor. He hit five three-pointers and got the offense into a better flow. Charlotte’s got considerable quickness in the backcourt in Ray Felton and D.J. Augustine (the rookie from Texas saw a lot of time at the one and two guard) but Robinson was too quick for them. The Knicks were less prone to stand in one spot when Robinson was finding open spots on the floor to set up for the three or shaking his defenders off the dribble and penetrating for the dish to Chandler in the corner for the uncontested shot. And Chandler was knocking them down too.
Chandler and Robinson are a great boost off the bench. Not sure how effective Nate would be as a starter. But as a floor general, Little Napoleon is fulfilling the potential that the organization saw in him years ago. He’s making great decisions and making less mistakes and the offense is exciting to watch because he really pushes the tempo whether on the break or the half court set. Every time he comes to the basket, I’m hoping he dunks. Instead he slices through a double off the pick-and-roll and finger rolls so high over Okafor that the ball comes down with icicles before shhhhusshing through the net. Nate was poetry in motion working without the ball too. He’s so small and quick he loses lots of defenders in the crush of bodies cutting through the lane and seems to be getting better seeing the lanes and seams because he beat both Felton and Augustine and anybody else who stepped up a few times.
Every time I see him in the locker room following the game, I can’t stop staring at him because I can’t get over how small he is. But he isn’t slight. He’s tight and compact but not immune to getting bruised up. He was icing his shin from getting knee’d by Okafur twice on picks and both times he picked up the foul. It was the little things he did on defense that gave the Knicks more opportunity to score. His play was infectious because the Knicks were tenacious during the run that Nate sparked. They were contesting shots and stopping the Bobcats from getting many second-chance points. Robinson had a few steals .Yeah, Nate is tiny but not diminutive. He’s got heart and I’m starting to admire him more because of his consistent controlled play and the good decisions he’s making. There were only a couple of times he made the same mental mistakes he’s known for. Like picking up his dribble when he’s double-teamed off the pick and making misinformed passes. Still though, I don’t know how he takes the beating he does night in and night out mixing it up like he does.
Zach Randolph has a big game too with Okafor guarding him most of the night. Randolph was too much for Oak when he squared up to the basket. He couldn’t beat Oakfor off the dribble but he was able to get his shot up over the big shot-blocker by using his body to fend create some distances. He also shot well from the perimeter on the baseline having Okafur on his heels a lot. He had a lot of assists too (relatively speaking).
Chandler had another solid game and demonstrated a lot of dexterity dribbling the ball on a fast break at one point. He also makes a lot of good decisions when it comes to finding his shots. Minimal amount of dribbling to get to the spot, spin move or an up-and-under elevating and releasing at his peak. His form reminds me of Alan Houston.
Randolph’s propensity for creating his shots must be rubbing off because he’s got a lot of moves when it comes to going down low and he’s quick and agile and got great size for his position. Like Nate, he’s getting better and better and more consistent and contributing a great deal. His defense was lackluster, though. He had a ferocious block inside where he pinned the ball against the glass and got the crowd to its feet as he outletted to transition into a fast break but he also gave up two uncontested base line bombs to Gerald Wallace late in the fourth.
This drove D’Antoni up and down the sideline with his lower jaw out cromagnum style speaking in tongues. I thought he was going to blow a blood vessel he was so red in the face and incensed at Chandler’s lack of defense. Kind of good to see that again. Last year Zeke would just shake his head and offer little in admonishment. D’Antoni got on Chandler’s case getting up in his face and stressing the importance of fighting around the pick to challenge shots when Chandler sat down during the timeout.
Quentin Richardson on the other hand was a no show as was Jamal Crawford. Crawford didn’t seem to be looking for his shot and only scored two points in the first half. But he picked it up in the second scoring a dozen points at some crucial moments when the Knicks were trailing by nearly double digits. It was the moment Larry Brown put Matt Carroll into the game. With no hesitation, Crawford took the inbound pass and launches a three so far out, Carroll couldn’t really contest it because he was standing just above the free throw line. He did it a few more times and even got nailed in the attempt and had a chance to complete a four-point play but cribbed the free throw.
David Lee turned in a solid performance too but is still struggling to find his shot on the perimeter. Together with Randolph they were able to neutralize Okafor’s presence inside by getting in the lanes and crashing the boards and keeping the ball alive on the offensive end for some second-chance points.
Robinson didn’t score at all in the second half, but he sparked the Knicks once again when he entered after the first timeout he breathed new life into the sluggish offense. The Knicks barely got over the century mark tonight because their offense stalled late when they went scoreless for a few minutes right down to the end when they finally converted for some points and held the Bobcats at bay.
Charlotte didn’t look good at all. Hardly any Adam Morrison. I nearly didn’t recognize him with his hair shaved off. He doesn’t look like a Kentucky meth lab technician any more. He played a few minutes at the end of the first and second quarter. Wallace was suffering from back spasms and was hardly effective. Okafor had a quiet double-double but wasn’t a defensive force. Felton had a good game too as did D.J. Augustine. His start-and-stop-at-the-drop-of-a-dime quickness and shooting ability will take him far in the League. He’s a good addition to the Bobcats and brings a lot to the backcourt. He’s virtually unstoppable when going to the basket. He consistently beat Robinson off the dribble and to the basket and even pulled off a couple moves that had the crowd oohing-and-ahhing at his finesse. He can also drain it from long range but his small size makes it hard for him to finish strong. Felton’s got that down, using his body to keep an opponent at bay when he’s shooting.
The Knicks showed considerable poise in the end by holding off the Bobcats when they couldn’t score. The crowd was on its feet in the final seconds gnawing their fingertips off at the post-election drama that was about to pop off. But even with the win I was disappointed I didn’t get to see Jordan after the game. It’s really the only reason I visited the Bobcats locker room. Obama’s historic win was one thing, but the Knicks have yet to make me a believer.