On account of the nasty weather, I figured this game would be poorly attended. But the Garden was packed to the tune of 19,000. The place buzzed, especially in the pressroom, which was so crowded there was hardly anywhere to sit down to eat.
Instead of getting a plate and immediately helping myself to the buffet like I usually do, I stashed my gear, took a stroll around the stadium and copped a brew. It was the most expensive Harp I’ve ever had. I was tempted to drink Bud because at $8 for 22 ounces I figured it had to be special, but my scruples chose the Harp which I slammed back before strolling around the locker room area and then hightailing it back to the press room to have a plate of lasagna which came back to haunt me late in the 4th quarter.
The buzz around the locker room mostly centered on the recent west coast swing highlighted by the nail biter against the Lakers. I sat down with my food and eavesdropped on a few discussions. Al Harrington and Nate Robinson’s names came up a lot. Harrington had big games on the swing and was honored during the first few minutes of the game because he’d been named player of the week. Like a lot of people in the pressroom, I’m impressed by his quick adjustment. He’s worked himself into the offense like he’s been there since day one. In 10 seasons, dude got around—from the Pacers to the Hawks; then back to Indiana in 2006; then to the Warriors a year later; then traded less than a year later to the Knocks for Jamal Crawford.
Whatever made Donny Walsh trade Harrington the first time around doesn’t seem to matter because he fits in well with D’Antoni’s scheme. He’s a quick slasher and has great range from outside. Defensively, his quickness and strength enable him to compensate for his lack of height when matched up against bigger forwards and centers. He doesn’t look like he’s 250 pounds until you see him back opponents down and power it in off a double-pivot to the hole.
Perhaps what fascinates me even more is Harrington’s being in touch with his kinder, gentler side. “In high school, he played cowboy Frank Butler in a production of Annie Get Your Gun…where he performed five solos. Also sang a duet with Rosie O’Donnell—‘Anything You Can Do’—when he appeared on her television show as part of the McDonald’s All-American team. Hobbies include reading, acting, bowling, watching movies, billiards, singing…wears size 17 basketball shoes,” says the official press release. Say what you want about appearances being deceiving, if I’m Harrington I’d edit that last bit except for the shoe size.
Conversely, Nate Robinson wears a really small shoe size. He’s starting to emerge as a team leader who can be counted on to contribute night in and night out. I hear a couple of female journalists comment on how cute he is while dancing/stretching at center court before tip-off. I wouldn’t go that far, but I find him fascinating to watch because he plays fearlessly. When he misses a shot early in the 4th quarter and sprints back on defense to toss Tyronn Lue’s shot into the stands, I jump to my feet like everybody else in the Garden howling like a goon, momentarily forgetting how small he is. He’s come a long way in his three years, especially last season under Zeke when he made great strides in terms of maturity. His game is more under control notwithstanding occasional lapses in good judgment and he’s extended his range around the perimeter. He was perfect from the charity stripe against the Lakers and only missed one against the Bucks. He has an uncanny ability to get his jumper off against bigger opponents bearing down to contest him. A large part of his game is predicated on his leaping ability and quickness but he’s crafty and can sell the foul. Luke Ridnour mugged him from behind every time Nate shook him at the top of the key and penetrated the lane (which was basically anytime Nate wanted).
Harrington and Robinson are both flourishing under D’Antoni’s scheme, but the same cannot be said of a lot of others. Quentin Richardson was emblematic of the sluggish start. He went 0-7 in the first quarter. Q has no conscience and seemingly shares the philosophy of scorers like Larry Bird who figured the only way to get out of a shooting slump is to fire away.
The Knicks were cold, shooting 28 percent from the field in the first quarter. It isn’t until Harrington dropped three straight contested treys that the team woke up. The Bucks are just as limp, but they consistently take advantage of misses and turnovers led by Richard Jefferson and Luc Mbah a Moute (sounds like Lick Ma Booty the more the game drags on).
So uneventful was the game, I barely recognized Jefferson out there quietly scoring. Nobody else stood out except Andrew Bogut who drew the crowd’s ire late in the fourth when he kept flopping (and being rewarded). Someone behind me—a little kid! —ignores the PA announcer’s entreaties to refrain from discourteous language and screams at the tops of his lungs at the ref to get off his knees and stop blowing calls.
The Knicks’ effort is so dismal, the guys in the section beside turn to discussing the Jets postseason prospects late into the game. During timeouts they’re even cheering the lame holiday-themed skits like the one featuring the dancing old man always seen on camera throughout the stadium only this time he’s down on the floor in a dance-off against a break-dancing Santa who he barely defeats by desperately shedding his clothes which the crowd go wild over and leaves me scratching my head. I didn’t like how Santa was up rocking and his broken windmill that culminates in a parody of a b-boy freeze on the floor.
When D’Antoni waves the white flag and inserts Jerome James into the game, the crowd starts going so wild every time he gets the ball. I flashback to my high school daze when I’d get a few minutes at the end, and I shot every time I got the ball because the crowd screamed for me to do it. In the locker room, James was in a cheerful enough mood. Harrington joked about being late to the game because of the bad weather and having to slosh cross-town on foot rather than sitting idle in traffic. Like D’Antoni, Harrington blames the poor effort on coming off a long road swing with a day layoff.
I get déjà vu seeing Jefferson standing outside the locker room engaged in a somewhat intimate conversation with someone not from the press so I keep going to the locker room only to find that there’s really no one there. Everyone’s in the shower it seems except for Andrew Bogut and he’s laughing with some of the staff in an anteroom about something in the showers I think (about the bad acting job and serial murders he got away with I imagine).
But since Christmas is around the corner I still figure the Knocks can still get to the Playoffs because the close game in L.A. last week was a glimpse into the future. Although the Knicks were flat, the team looks committed to and confident about D’Antoni’s system providing the answers. Like Coach, I chalk tonight’s effort up to taking off early for vacation after a long hard workweek. But, like Al Harrington, I’m at a loss to explain why the breakdown always happens.
Merry Xmas everyone and Happy New Year!