Just when I was beginning to think it was safe to believe the Knicks were a semi-decent squad, the Celtics rolled through the Garden and demonstrated what a lousy judge of character I am.
A week ago against the Sixers I thought the Knicks looked good and there was cause for hope. Last night against Boston those hopes were dashed as KG and crew dismantled and laid bare D’Antoni’s offensive scheme, demonstrating that there’s no future to my fronting. It’s gonna be a long, frustrating season at MSG so far as the Knicks are concerned.
The Celtics are a championship team and the Sixers are a team that’s barely up to par. A week ago I thought the Knicks were somewhere within the Sixers’ spectrum, but I was so so very wrong. D’Antoni started off last night’s contest with a small lineup featuring Robinson, Duhon, Marbury, Chandler, and Lee. What started off as “just an experimental thing,” in Duhon’s words, ended as an abject lesson in what can happen to a squad that comes out without the spirit or fight they need to have (D’Antoni’s words) to at least be competitive? Last night was hardly that as the Knicks went down by 24 at the half.
The problem was with the pick-and-roll offense. The Celtics defense swallowed it up and rendered it ineffective and the Knicks settled on a lot of bad shots from the perimeter, which they couldn’t knock down to save their lives. Plus the Celtics challenged a lot of those shots and it had a lot to do with the Knicks shooting just 28 percent from the field and 5 percent from beyond the arc. It was pathetic. D’Antoni must’ve figured his quicker lineup could run circles around the bigger Celtics but I don’t think the Knicks expected the Celtics to come out with their regular season game faces on. But what else would you expect from defending champs who want to send a strong and definitive message to an opponent that beat them on their court last year?
I think everyone except Nate Robinson was shook. As much as they were out-muscled, Nate was the only one who kept bringing it to the hole strong. So huge is the chip on his shoulder. Marbury too. But 9 times out of 10 the big men (Lee and Randolph) rolled away from the basket off the pick-and-roll. When they did roll to the basket, the point guards got smothered on a double team or forced off the dribble and weren’t able to get the ball down low. What was disappointing is that no one on the Knicks seemed interested in forcing the issue and establishing position down low with the refs. KG and Perkins were strong-arming everybody who dared to step in the lane and the only one getting whistle was Perkins who ice-grilled the refs on every call. He’s worse than Zydrunas Ilgauskus when it comes to voicing his displeasure with the refs. Perk is like certain officials within the administration who’ll never admit any wrongdoing even when it’s obvious they’re guilty of misdeeds. It’s hardly endearing and passing him in the hallway after the game it was kind of unnerving how he kept a straight face when asked about the Jedi mind tricks.
More unnerving was how a few of the Knicks played off their lack of aggressiveness inside like it was simply a preseason thing. Paul Pierce made a great point in the locker room afterward about how the Celtics played like it was do or die in order to set the tone for the regular season. It was instrumental to the team’s success last year, and it’s something that has them hungry for a repeat. The Knicks, on the other hand, look like they could very have another terrible season despite the improved chemistry.
Wilson Chandler busted up his knee in the second quarter and never returned. Afterwards, D’Antoni didn’t sound overly concerned but admitted he didn’t know the extent of the up-and-coming star’s injury. He also seems unperturbed by Eddy Curry’s indolence. Curry didn’t play a lick and probably won’t see action until he steps up his game. In D’Antoni’s words, this means Curry needs to pick up his training. When asked about Curry’s status on the end of the bench D’Antoni responded: “The door is never closed, but at the same time we are not going to lower anything we do for anybody. They are going to have to come up to us. If they want to play, they know where they have to go.” When he says “they” I have a hard time believing that extends to someone like Patrick Ewing, Jr., who has yet to see any significant action.
I believe Ewing wants a spot on the team more than anyone else; more than Curry I’d be willing to bet. I don’t presume to know coaching but when I do the math it just doesn’t add up. Malik Rose got 20 minutes, Richardson 16. No disrespect, but it took me a few minutes last week to figure out Richardson doesn’t even have a pulse. Rose is a different story because his mentality is obviously different, but his talent level is another issue altogether. From what I’ve seen of Ewing – which, admittedly, is limited to his collegiate play–his mobility and perimeter shooting could make him a candidate for some minutes in D’Antoni’s system but coach obviously knows something I don’t.
Then again maybe everybody on the roster knows something I don’t. Maybe Crawford is right. Maybe in one week he’ll be ready willing to turn on the lever and mash down the lane when games count. I hope that’s the case even though in my heart I don’t believe it’s true. The Celtics’ mindset is diametrically opposed to the Knicks’–on and off the floor.
All the figurative towel slapping in the Celtics locker room after the game pleasantly surprised me. Brian Scalabrine is obviously the team’s jester because he had jokes all around. He and Eddie House were the most vocal, and Rajon Rondo kept breaking in on Leon Powe’s interviews with some pretty outlandish remarks. Maybe it’s because House and Powe had great games. They led their team with 20 and 19 points respectively and logged major minutes as leaders of the second team.
Powe is incredible. He had 12 rebounds and continued on the tear that started in the postseason. He’s poised to have a breakout year as he steps into the void created by James Posey’s departure. He obviously doesn’t have Posey’s outside shot and defensive game, but he possesses the determination to be a force off the bench.
Tony Allen and Glen Davis were less impressive, but they showed some sides to their game rarely seen before. Allen was out of control most of the time but his aggressiveness on offense is promising. Like Curry, Davis looks out of shape, but he can still get up and down the floor. From far away, it looked like Big Baby slimmed down, but up close in the locker room, he’s still as big as a doublewide trailer and wide as a city block but maybe it’s all muscle.
It goes without saying KG and Ray Allen both looked good during the considerable minutes they saw. Paul Pierce didn’t make a shot in seven attempts, but he did make all his free throws. The refs didn’t show any signs of letting up as Pierce went to the line six times. Powe got to the charity stripe seven times, Garnett only four. And they were getting away with virtual murder–manslaughter in the first degree–but that’s merely my opinion. The Knicks got just as many free looks and even converted more, but it’s the quality and not the quantity that counts. The Celtics deserved the favorable calls because they are the champs. Judging by how they looked last night, the Celtics might remain champs for another season. However, this is only the preseason, and a week ago I was gushing over the Knicks.
Only a week until the start of the regular season and the question on my mind is what does Donnie Walsh have up his sleeve? You can’t teach old dogs new tricks so I hope he has some tricks up his sleeve to get rid of the old dogs weighing down his team before it’s too late.