The Knicks ’06-07 ended Monday night in the same way it started—not with a bang, but with a whimper. Outplayed from beginning to end by their neighbors across the river (there’s no rivalry when one team so vastly outclasses the other), the Knicks went down in unspectacular fashion, 104-95. The sellout crowd didn’t boo much, but they didn’t stick around to give their team an ovation, either. The mood was decidedly ambivalent.
The finale was similar in several ways to their home opener, back on November 4th, which they lost 109-95 to the Indiana Pacers. In both games they were put away early following a horrific first-half quarter—a 22-14 first against the Pacers, and a 28-19 second against the Nets—and in both games they were led in scoring by Steve Francis (25 against the Pacers and 26 against the Nets).
There has been progress, of course. Eddy Curry did improve as a scorer, and both Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins made tremendous strides in their first seasons. Stephon Marbury cemented himself as a leader, David Lee became one of the best rebounders in the League, and Jerome James didn’t eat any of the Knicks City Kids. It’s been a long season—and it’s no surprise that even some of the players don’t remember how things started. Asked to compare November and now, Jamal Crawford starts talking about how, back then, things were better because they were still in the playoff hunt and the fans were into it. The reporter who asked the question looks perplexed. “Jamal,” he says, “they were booing you every night.” “Oh yeah,” Jamal responds. “That was bad.”
Well, it’s over now. Better luck next year.
Lots of Nets around, but they all seem busy with stuff. Preoccupied. Nothing essential, I’m sure, but I still don’t want to interrupt. Over on the Knicks side, business as usual. Jerome James is sitting in his locker, but no one else is. Wouldn’t want to change things just because it’s the last game.
Eventually Crawford comes out and is immediately surrounded. He’s been activated for tonight’s game, his surgically repaired ankle apparently healed. It’s doubtful he’ll get many minutes—if any—but it’ll be good to see him out there again anyway.
Steve Francis sits in his locker, spitting random hiphop verses at volume. He comes over and asks if I have any magazines for him—I’ve explained before that I don’t work out of the office anymore, and start to say it again. “Oh yeah, that’s right,” he says, walking away. Quentin Richardson slides through as well, but everyone pretty much leaves him alone.
Jerome James talks to one of the Knicks PR guys about where he had lunch—someplace called 44, on 44th Street between 5th and 6th. Apparently Jerome lives somewhere on the Upper West Side.
Player introductions. The Nets get cheered MUCH louder than the Knicks. Winning counts.
Stephon Marbury, in uniform but not likely to play, addresses the crowd before the tip. It’s unbelievable that he actually has a talk show. He says something about the season, and how they’ll be back next year. Does that mean everyone should just go home now and wait until then? Not a bad idea.
The Knicks start Mardy Collins, Steve Francis, Jared Jeffries, Channing Frye and Eddy Curry. The Nets counter with Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Mikki Moore and Jason Collins. The fact that Jason Collins still has a starting NBA job—with a playoff team, no less—is possibly THE most inexplicable story in all of pro sports.
The Knicks go up five early, 14-9. They’re getting scoring from just about everyone, good ball movement, Curry has six. Also, this is the biggest lead they’ll have all night. So if you’re a Knick fan, you might want to just stop reading now.
Mikki Moore is hot. He’s like Channing Frye, only cheaper and with much more of a mean streak. He ties it at 16, then hits yet again. He’s got 10.
Jason Collins fouls Frye, then, a minute or so later, gets Ted up along with Malik Rose.
Nate Robinson checks in for Mardy Collins, as slow and steady is replaced with fast and crazy.
Mikki Moore again! He’s got 12, and the Nets lead 24-23. It’s worth noting that Mikki is on pace for 48 points, and if he can somehow score 50 in the Knicks last home game, this will be one of the greatest NBA moments ever. (There’s no way it actually happens, but it’s nice to think about.)
Nate Robinson gets blocked by Josh Boone on an ill-advised drive, and on the ensuing possession Boone gets blocked by Jerome James. It’s like one of those cartoons when a little fish gets eaten by a bigger fish, which is in turn eaten by an even bigger fish.
Jay-Z is in the front row with Beyonce and a whole slew of models. It’s a hard knock life.
End of the first quarter with the Nets leading 27-25. Jason Collins is impressive, logging one personal foul—and NOTHING else—in 10:15 of play. Not to be outdone (by much, at least), Jared Jeffries has an identical line in four fewer minutes. Efficiency! (Clifford Robinson, ever the crafty vet, also has the same line, in just 16 seconds.)
Marcus Williams, who played less than two minutes in the first quarter, hits a three right off the bat. A futile Knicks possession, and Boki Nachbar hits a three, too. That’s 33-25 Nets if you’re keeping track.
The Twinkie Towers are back in full effect, with Jerome and Eddy literally anchoring the front line. Throw in the decidedly doughy Malik Rose, and that’s a lot of weight out there.
Eddy Curry misses a pair of free throws for old time’s sake. Marcus Williams hits another three. It’s 36-27 Nets—someone scored for the Knicks, but I guess I didn’t write it down. VC is fouled by Mardy, hits one of two, and we have the first 10-point Knicks deficit of the night. Brought to you by Verizon.
Somehow Vince winds up in a jumpball situation with Steve Francis. What would have been cool in 2000 is just plain embarassing in 2007. Carter wins it easily, and Uncle Cliffy wets a three. 40-27, Nets.
Then a little luch trickles the Knicks way. Curry is blocked out of bounds by Cliffy with one second on the shot clock. They get a shot off the inbounds—which misses—but the rebound goes out to Francis, who hits a three. He hits one o on the next possession as well. It’s not exactly sound basketball in either case, but six points is six points. 40-33.
The Knicks have the momentum, but the Nets have the Boston Snackbar. You don’t want it with the Snackbar. Another three for Boki. 43-33.
And here’s another wonderful sequence. Ready? Offensive foul, Channing Frye. Mikki Moore checks in for Josh Boone, and immediately commits a foul. Palming violation, Steve Francis. Palming violation, Boki Nachbar. Offensive foul, Eddy Curry. It’s just like Red on Roundball! The Nets ruin it with a great possession that ends in a Boki layup, but the Knicks are dedicated. Offensive foul, Malik Rose.
Mikki Moore checks back out without doing a damn thing. So much for 50. Or 40. Or 30.
Vince Carter runs around aimlessly—looking absolutely confused about what he’s doing—and then fires up an airball three over Malik Rose. The Knicks feel bad and give the ball back with a three-second violation, but the Nets are offended by the charity and have Josh Boone commit an offensive foul to give the ball back to the Knicks. If things are gonna be this bad next season, Jim Dolan should think about installing safety nets under all the luxury boxes.
Suddenly, a flash of brilliance. Jason Kidd, crossing halfcourt at speed, finds his original look blocked off and throws an off-balance hesitation half-look strike to a cutting Nachbar. Who drops it and THEN gets fouled. I don’t quite understand it, but he goes to the line and hits a pair.
Steve Francis somehow banks a corner three-pointer off glass. No, it doesn’t go in.
Mardy Collins hits a three right before the half, so the Knicks only trail by 11 at the break—55-44.
Jason Collins has a much better second quarter. Because he never gets off the bench.
Apparently Eddy Curry is done for the night—something about a hamstring. And with David Lee suited up but inactive, it’s gonna be interesting to see who’s playing at the end of the game.
Mardy Collins for three, Jason Kidd for three. 58-49, Nets.
Francis gets to the basket on a Marbury-like drive, guarding the ball with his arms and his body. He misses the basket, but gets fouled and makes both free throws. He doesn’t miss many of those. Carter scores over Collins, then gets fouled by Frye and gets two more.
Mikki Moore gets hammered by either Jerome James or Jared Jeffries. You know, some overpaid JJ. The Knicks have four team fouls with 8:59 to go in the quarter.
Steve Francis hits a jumper from behind a vast Jerome James screen. He’s got 19, and the Nets lead is cut to seven. I’m sure they’re terribly worried. Two more Francis free throws makes it five.
Jerome James puts the Knicks over the limit with his second foul with 7:38 remaining. He commits an offensive foul, his third, moments later. Then picks up his fourth on Vince, who hits a pair. And his fifth, on Jefferson, who also hits both. He goes to the bench having picked up four of his five fouls in less than three minutes. Efficiency.
In celebration, Vince hits a three, extending the Nets lead back to double figures, 72-61.
Nate Robinson, apparently unaware of the gameplan, actually scores. He must realize his mistake, because on the ensuing Nets possession he fouls the Snackbar when the ball is still out of bounds. I think. It’s hard to tell.
Vince hits a pair of free throws, and I realize he’s got 25, seven and seven.
Nate whaps a corner three to cut the Nets lead back to nine, and someone calls time so the models on “Cadillac Celebrity Row” (when did THAT happen?) can get some time on the scoreboard. Honestly, the way the game’s going, they should just leave a camera on them all night.
Jamal Crawford checks in for the first time with 30.8 seconds left and gets a warm welcome. Hassan Adams checks in at the same time and nobody cares. Instead of getting the ball to Crawford, Francis dribbles for nine hours and misses everything off the glass. Jamal doesn’t touch the ball.
End of the third, Nets lead 79-69. The Knicks won the quarter, 25-24, which would matter if it was the CBA in the ’80s. But oh, that’s right, Isiah Thomas drove the CBA out of business. Not that there’s a parallel here or anything.
Jamal is back on the bench, where he’ll presumably stay for the remainder of the evening.
Steve Francis misses a free throw and yells so loudly you could hear him in Brooklyn. Which presumably is where alleged fan Spike Lee is, ’cause he sure ain’t here.
Every time the Knicks get the lead to five or so, the Nets hit another basket. I don’t think they’re toying with the Knicks as much as they’re just kind of bored.
To make things more challenging, the Nets commit their fifth team foul of the quarter with over nine minutes to go in the game. A pair of Mardy Collins free throws cut the Nets lead to four, so Lawrence Frank sends Jason Kidd and Vince Carter back in.
Channing Frye commits his fifth foul, and is replaced by Malik Rose, who only has five. (Not Jerome James, because he has five.)
Mardy Collins gets a layup. He’s quietly piled up 20 points, six assists and a team-high nine rebounds.
Vince Carter is iso’ed on the wing with Jerome James—who has five fouls—and passes. Ugh.
Jerome James successfully blocks Jason Collins without committing his sixth foul. This is basically a lose-lose situation.
The Knicks cut it to six again. But then Snackbar hits a 22-footer, and Nate misses a three, and Nate flagrantly fouls Snackbar, who hits a pair of free throws. No brawl jumps off, but Nate gets benched.
Mardy Collins grabs his 10th rebound.
Jason Kidd hits consecutive threes, the second assisted by Vince Carter, who is now a rebound shy of a triple-double.
He gets it with 1:50 to go. 29 and a pair of 10s.
With 1:14 to go and the Nets up nine, Nate checks back in. There are lackluster chants for Marbury and Lee—neither of which will do a damn bit of good.
Mardy Collins skies from the wing for a very nice dunk. He’s got 23 points, 10 boards and seven assists.
And that’s pretty much all she wrote. Final score, 104-95, Nets. Carter finishes with the 29-10-12 3×2, the Snackbar has 19 points off the bench, and The Worst Starter in the NBA finishes with zero points and one rebound in just under 20 minutes of “work.” Kidd has an easy 11, six and eight.
For the Knicks, Francis leads all scorers with 26, Collins has the aforementioned 23-10-7, and Frye has 18 and seven. Renaldo Balkman finishes his first year in a suit.
I head for the interview room first, which is a mistake. Isiah takes forever to get there—half the Nets are probably back home before he appears, smiling as usual. He starts, “I can’t complain at all about the effort or the intensity we play with.” Really? Not at all? The intensity and the effort are 100 percent? Well then.
Asked if the delay in his arrival was because he met with Dolan, and what was said, he responds, “Before I came in here, I really needed to collect my thoughts.” He goes on to say that he’s just a competitor, and has to understand that if his team gave their all, he needs to accept that and not just come in and start blasting people. Then someone asks about injuries, and he gets to talk about those.
But he shouldn’t be let off the hook that easy. He shouldn’t. Injuries aside, the Knicks SHOULD have won more games down the stretch than they did. They should be tougher. They should have more pride. They should HATE losing, and find it unacceptable, no matter what the circumstance.
And then, of course, Thomas praises exactly what I feel is missing. Asked what they can salvage from this season, he thinks for a second. “Great heart and great courage. Now we need to combine good play with great heart and great courage.” And with that baffling statement, he’s led off. Um, what?
In the Knick locker room, players in $3,000 custom-made suits walk out carrying the contents of their lockers in opaque garbage bags that they will throw in the trunks of their $200,000 cars.
Nate Robinson, proferred a Sharpie and one of his game-worn Barkleys by a ballboy just looks down at it. “Nah, these are classics. I’ll sign those Jordans for you, though.” He motions towards a pair of white and chrome IVs that are on top of his locker. The ballboy reaches up and hands them to Nate, who has another change of heart. “Nah man, I can’t sign Jordans. That’s disrespectful. Gimme those Barkleys.” He signs the Barkleys. And a jersey for someone else. And a pair of shorts for yet someone else.
Afterwards, in a Yankee fitted and suit, he quietly discusses the season. Eddy Curry, in the locker next to him, just did the same. No anger, no disappointment. Just talk of next year and what’s to come. As if this year didn’t matter at all.