by Russ Bengtson and Jake Appleman
No one goes to Madison Square Garden for the Knicks anymore. Not the fans, not the writers, possibly not even the Knicks themselves. Every sports columnist in the Greater New York Area was at the World’s Most Shameless last night, and there was no question why.
The vibe in the Knicks locker room is cool with a hint of the usual awkwardness. Generally speaking, many reporters treat talking to the Knicks as if they were young girls at a 6th grade dance: the two sides stand across from each other waiting for that one player or media member to make the first move. Not that you can necessarily blame either side at all…In fact, you can’t help but feel for everybody involved.
Possibly related, there might be some sort of twisted, MSG home-court advantage thing that forces the pregame media interview with the opposing coach to inadvertently block the players from getting through to the locker room. Wally Sczerbiak damn near broke his ankle trying to sneak past a camera. WELCOME HOME, WALLY! (By the way, after the game Wally World had his hair so spiky, I almost walked up to him and asked him if he was a fire-starter. Perhaps even, AN INSTIGATOR.)
Visitor’s side. There’s a huge crowd surrounding the locker nearest the bathroom door, the one with the fresh pair of Yankee-pinstriped Nikes in the upper compartment. The man himself finally emerges from the back, shirtless, Bose headphones over a black do-rag. LeBron James is in the building. He stands up to a barrage of questions, here’s some A’s without Q’s:
“A team can’t win when a guy puts himself ahead of the team.”
“I just go out and play my game every night.”
“it’s the mecca of basketball—everyone remembers what Reggie and Michael did here.”
“For me it’s always been team-first—that’s how I look at that.”
“I play hard with whoever’s out there in a Cavaliers uniform. I believe we can win with anyone out there on the court—I’m just that confident.”
“I just be myself. I don’t change for the cameras or anything.”
Most of all, Bron states that he wants to compete for a championship every year, no matter what. “I don’t believe in the ‘rebuilding stages’ or anything like that.”
Damon Jones and I were catching up, when he whipped out his Blackberry and started texting while I whipped out my old school piece of crap cell phone to show him how awful it was. Then he said something rhyme-y. “Do you flow?” I asked nonchalantly. Ben Wallace and Billy Thomas burst out laughing.
Malik Rose is announced as a starter, then, before the game can actually start, it’s announced that no, actually David Lee is starting. Perhaps this is a cheap ploy to get cheers. It works.
Joey Crawford in the house.
The Cavaliers roll out a starting five of Delonte West, Devin Brown, LeBron James, Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao. Hm, I wonder where the scoring’s gonna come from?
Julia Stiles is sitting in between Jay-Z and Jeremy Piven. For those scoring at home, if talent and seat charts were equivalent to food, that’d be a multi-grain increda-bread mayonnaise sandwich.
Devin Brown, of course. He scores the first four Cav points—it would have been four of the first six, but Ben Wallace misses a dunk. Of course.
Varejao flops hard enough to attract a Japanese whaling ship and a boatful of Greenpeace protestors. David Lee simply steps in and converts the shot. Just a thought, but if a guy goes down so hard and there isn’t a foul called on the offensive player, shouldn’t the flopper be punished? I vote for either a personal or tech assessed with no stoppage of play.
LeBron hits a jumper.
Ben Wallace hits a pair of free throws (nothing but net) off a complicated play that starts with a Jamal Crawford airball and a LeBron James rebound and outlet.
Varejao flops again, then a Knicks entry pass bounces off Eddy Curry’s head before he regroups and dunks it. You didn’t see that sequence on ESPN.
LeBron fires a pass to Ben Wallace underneath, who skips it out to Delonte for a corner three. Curry hits a pair of free throws, and Devin Brown follows up with another three. And then it’s Delonte’s turn again. 21-15, Cavs.
The Knicks fight back, and it’s 27-all at the end of 1. LeBron ends the first with two points, three rebounds, and five assists.
LeBron scores the first eight points of the quarter for the Cavaliers, getting the pesky double-digit points requirement out of the way.
The Knicks keep up, though. Randolph Morris is in, as are Malik Rose and Fred Jones. Malik has a rough start to the quarter—he’s emphatically blocked by Joe Smith, then is called for a loose-ball foul on a made basket from Morris (two in a row!). Apparently one can be called for a loose-ball foul when there’s no loose ball. Another mystery of the universe.
Time out. The sound blinks out during the fine “Who Wins the Oscar?” segment on the scoreboard, giving the fans yet another thing to boo about. Excellent.
Coming out of the time out, Damon Jones stops by the Knicks bench to greet Stephon Marbury, who’s still wearing his outfit from his new day job as a used car salesman. LeBron is replaced by Devin Brown. Beer sales spike.
Wally Szczerbiak then stars in YouTube’s next “worst possession ever.” First, he awkwardly jumps backwards on an attempted jump shot, trying to draw the foul. He loses the ball, gets it back, drives into the lane, stops, turns, travels.
In celebration, Anderson Varejao falls down. Again.
The Knicks commit their 5th team foul with 7:07 to go, then follow it with a 24-second violation.
A lazy Devin Brown pass is picked off by Jamal Crawford, who streaks downcourt. Damon Jones catches up, strips him clean, and actually winds up catching the ball—while standing out of bounds. Whoops.
Wilson Chandler is getting minutes again, and one has to wonder why it’s taken him for so long to crack the rotation.
LeBron checks back in after a nearly four-minute rest. It takes him a little while to get back going, but then he threads a bounce pass between Q and Lee to Varejao for an easy basket underneath, and follows it with a mean double-clutch two handed dunk. Eddy Curry wisely stays out of the way.
Then there’s this: Drive, fouled by Q. Hits both. Corner three. And with time running out, a fading, running right-to-left, across-the-body three from 35 feet. Absurd. 58-54 Cavs at the half, LeBron with 20 points, six assists, four rebounds.
The Cavs stretch the lead to eight, allow the Knicks to cut it back to two. Re-tie, it, even. Then they commit their fifth team foul with 7:08 to go. LeBron to the line, hits two, has 25.
The Knicks keep fighting. Chandler re-ties with a shot over LeBron, Nate unties with a three from up top. 69-66, Knicks.
A Jamal three stretches the Knicks lead to eight.
I had the pleasure of enjoying the game with my main man Michael Lee, of the Washington Post. By the way, I totally forgot to mention this, but given the fact that his name is MICHAEL LEE (character on the Wire, played by perhaps the best teenage TV actor alive right now, Tristan Wilds) doesn’t that automatically qualify him as the gulliest newspaper man in the biz? Anyhow, Mike noticed that when LeBron went on a tear in the third quarter, Jigga didn’t even look up from his texting. I offered that perhaps Jay was enjoying his texting more than the actual game because he was using “The Blueberry” which won’t come out for another two years. Just to play it safe, we revised that to “The Boysenberry,” which will come out in another 7 years. “The Boysenberry” is so dope that Jay can actually use it to re-program Rihanna.
Then, LeBron. Drives, takes a Lee hit to the chest, floats, converts. Adds the free throw.
A freshly re-entered Damon Jones hits a three. LeBron swipes the ball from Crawford, hits a pair of free throws. That’s 30, with 2:16 to go in the third. Eddy Curry blows an alley-oop, LeBron with another driving layup. LeBron with a deep two. Lebron with a straightaway three over Jared Jeffries. Cavs by three. Jeffries hits one of two free throws, and LeBron misses a three—airball—as the quarter ends. The traditional “AIR-BALL” chant rises, and one can’t help but think it’s a terrible idea. Cavs by two.
Wilson Chandler is out there in crunchtime, and he pops a three over Devin Brown to give the lead back to the Knicks.
Randolph Morris, also seeing the light of day, hits a pretty baseline turnaround over Ben Wallace.
A LeBron driving layup gives him 39 with 8:24 to go. This after he misses a pair of free throws.
The Knicks step it up, committing their fifth team foul with 7:52 to go. If you’re counting at home, that means they’re in the penalty for 22 of the final 36 minutes.
Eddy Curry checks in for Randolph Morris with 4:17 to go and the Cavs leading 99-98. With 3:41 to go, LeBron hits a corner three. Crawford misses, Varejao rebounds, and LeBron hits another three. Curry hits one of two at the line, Wallace hits two of two, and LeBron hits ANOTHER three. Cavs by 11, 110-99, with two minutes left.
Ben Wallace heads to the line again, and LeBron squats down by the announcer’s table, speaking to Jay-Z. One imagines they’re working out some sort of multi-million dollar deal. Wallace misses the second, Varejao rebounds, and kicks it to a suddenly re-animated LeBron in the corner. He misses the three, which is good, because if he hit it they may as well have just closed down the Garden. Um, not that it would be a bad idea anyway.
LeBron catches on the wing
Defender backs off
Another three in your eye
After a Jamal Crawford trip to the line, he hits another three anyway. That’s 52 on the scoreboard, but only 50 in real life. Apparently a Devin Brown basket was credited to LeBron earlier.
Damon Jones hits another three. On the next possession he gets open for yet another one, and Nate Robinson leaps up and catches it. Goaltend.
LeBron is checked out for Billy Thomas, and receives a standing ovation. Then there’s a little chaos as a fan in a white LeBron Cavs jersey runs across the court and actually gives LeBron a pound and a few words of congratulations before security can drag him off. Apparently NO ONE in MSG can guard anyone.
Final score, Cavs 119, Knicks 105. Final LeBron: 50 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, four steals. No blocks, though. What a slacker.
It’s hard to get close to Mike Brown, and he’s sick, so he isn’t speaking that loudly. The snippet I hear is “Jumpshot after jumpshot after jumpshot.” Maybe he’s talking about Damon Jones?
Ben Wallace: “We wanted to get the win for him—didn’t want him to put out that kind of effort and come away with the loss.” Pretty sure he’s referring to Devin Brown.
Hey Delonte West, did you just sit back and watch? “Definitely in the fourth. I had one of the best seats in the house.” Yeah, I wish I could have seen Anderson Varejao from that close, too.
By the way, Delonte may not have the most tattoos in the League, but he sure has the gulliest. He has a barcode on his left hand emblazoned with “GCODE.” Juvenile is psyched.
Anonymous Cav who may or may not have recently named his newborn son “Maximus Jack”: “We were hoping and praying we’d be out of Seattle before the All-Star break. We had our boxes packed.”
“He can get a jump shot whenever he wants cause they gotta guard against the drive. When he’s got the three going, it’s ridiculous.” Wally Szczerbiak on, I’m not sure, himself?
Damon Jones is decked out in full Manchester United regalia—hat and jacket. Anderson Varejao jumps up, brackets Damon’s face with his hands, and says “look, just imagine longer hair—Ronaldihno!”
Ben Wallace pulls on some sort of compression tights under his jeans to wear on the flight, and LeBron can’t resist a crack: “You gonna ride a bike to Chicago?”
LeBron speaks in the conference room, because there just ain’t enough room in the locker room. Isiah doesn’t get attendance like this. Some highlights:
“Tonight I just got that feeling. I wanted to go out there and get the win because we played well.”
On whether the fan coming at him worried him: “I’m 6-9, 260. I’m all right.”
“I’ve dreamed about playing well in this building. To get a standing ovation in the greatest basketball arena in the world is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”
REPORTER: “LeBron, have you ever thought about being a Knick?”
“We have always been overlooked. That’s how we are.”
Jake asks about, of all things, hockey assists. LeBron’s with it: “I attract so many double teams my teammates know they’re gonna get shots on the backside. It opened things up in the second half.”
“I go out there every night and try to be the MVP of our team.”
Elementary math: 50x10x(almost)10=almost 5,000.
Ballparking it, LeBron is about 3,000 years ahead of his time. 50 at the World’s Most Famous? Haven’t seen that since…Cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurtis! More on LeBron tomorrow…