This past weekend, the Knicks played their first home back-to-back since 2003. At risk of ruining all the suspense, they lost both games—the ninth time they’ve done so. Which means they’ve lost more back-to-back games this season than the Celtics have lost games period, and thus while they may not be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet, their chances don’t look very good. Luckily it’s just a short drive to Secaucus.
Anyway, I took notes both nights, and figured I may as well share them even at this late date. Read at your peril.
(Oh, just a few words on the ticket that illustrates the piece. I found it on my way down to the locker room after the Pistons game and was so stunned that I had to take it with me. Seriously? Putting Isiah Thomas’s image (and his ludicrous Knickname, “The Architect”) directly ON the overpriced tickets? Isn’t there an easier way to insult the people who support the team? It would be like putting George Bush’s face on 1040 forms.)
KNICKS v. PISTONS
It was a dark and stormy night. When we first arrive, an hour and a half before the game, the only Knick on the court is David Lee. This is a pattern that has repeated itself virtually every game, despite the fact that the Knick roster is loaded with young guys that could use as much work as they can get. Does extra shooting an hour and a half before gametime make that much of a difference? Maybe not. But it at least provides an illusion of effort, if nothing else. I corral one of the beatwriters to ask his opinion, and he says that that Lee’s solo performances (he’s occasionally joined by a teammate) are something they discuss all the time. Taking it a step further, on the road, there’s an early bus and a late bus to the arena. Allegedly, hardly any Knick players take the early bus. This is not a surprise.
The first thing you notice when you walk into the visitors’s locker room is Rasheed Wallace’s shoes. Brand-new hightop Air Force 1s, they look to be a uniform dark grey, until you look at them from another angle, note a color change, and realize they’re covered front-to-back, top-to-bottom in reflective 3M material. Of course he’s out with a sprained ankle and doesn’t even watch the game from the bench.
Walter Herrmann is a favorite amongst Spanish-speaking journalists and English-speaking teammates. He enters the locker room, ponytailed head held high, and is instantly surrounded by the former and cat-called by the latter. Jarvis Hayes uses his common nickname, Fabio, while Amir Johnson comes with the slightly more esoteric “Conan,” referring to the barbarian, not the talk-show host. Along with the ponytail, Herrmann has an enormous fur-collared coat hanging in his stall. Point, Amir.
Zach Randolph is on the inactive list with both a bruised foot and the more ambiguous “personal reasons.” The bruised foot info would have sufficed.
We’re in a corner of the Pistons locker room discussing how ridiculous drink prices can be at clubs in NYC when Juan Dixon—sitting in front of the TV—expresses in no uncertain terms how he feels about New York City. These feelings are not positive, so the Knicks may want to look elsewhere for a point guard.
Jarvis Hayes, who’s only been half-following the, um, highlights from Wednesday, is entirely unaware that LeBron ended up with 50, 10 and eight. Or even just the 50, for that matter.
Just a note—since this game is already ancient history, I’m blowing right past a lot of it.
Starters: The Pistons roll out the ridiculous Theo Ratliff/Antonio McDyess frontcourt, the Knicks counter with a fave five of Lee, Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford, Fred Jones and Wilson Chandler.
Theo gets an easy dunk from Rip Hamilton on the opening possession, and fails to drop to his knees and thank the basketball Gods for being freed from Minnesota.
I’ve previously joked that it looks like Wilson Chandler has gotten tattooed between games. I’m starting to think that’s exactly what he’s been doing.
Chauncey Billups eschews the adidas team shoes for his signature shoes from last year. Brotherhood is for suckers.
Jason Maxiell gets low and shoves Eddy Curry right out of his comfort zone. Kid’s a truck.
Tayshaun Prince loses the ball in the front court, and Jared Jeffries is all causal about picking it up, so of course he manages all of one dribble before Rip steals it right back. JJ then yells at Fred Jones for not warning him that he might want to be more careful with his dribble. Jared needs to chill.
Pistons lead 28-25 after 1.
Renaldo Balkman commits an atrocity against basketball by simultaneously committing a charge and sending a “pass” flying five feet over Nate Robinson’s head.
Enter Randolph Morris.
Renaldo commits another charge.
Actually, it’s more like new york basketball (capitals intentionally withdrawn). Turnovers, goaltends, offensive fouls. The Pistons are up 12 when the Randolph Morris/Eddy Curry twin towers experiment comes to a merciful close.
With 43 seconds to go in the first half, Rip Hamilton loses his shit. Gets a pair of techs, exit Rip. This has happened to Rip in New York before. Better luck next year.
But the Knicks have clawed their way back, and it’s 53-all at the half.
The Pistons open the half with two dunks, a runout from Prince, and a screen-and-roll with Billups and Ratliff.
Wilson Chandler misses some free throws, gets a block, commits another foul, goes out for Balkman. WC & The Maad Circle (of Life)? Curb served.
The lane opens in front of Renaldo Balkman, and, unable to commit a charge on anyone, he travels.
It’s a close game—in fact, the Knicks actually go up 66-65, and “DE-FENSE” chants rain down from the rafters (the Garden fans are incredibly resilient, it seems), but the Pistons seem content to give plenty of minutes to (relatively) new guys Ratliff and Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Afflalo. Yet they still lead 76-70 after three.
A little ways in, the Pistons are going with Stuckey, Afflalo, Johnson, Maxiell and Prince. The kids are most certainly all right.
Eventually Chauncey Billups and Ratliff rejoin the party. And it’s just so much fun to watch when the Pistons are clicking—I know they play at a slow pace and all, but you have to love watching them work. Billups drives, draws, dishes—textbook—for a Maxiell dunk.
By the way, if there isn’t a ‘MAXIELL” shirt/poster with him sitting in a chair getting blown back by a speaker, I’ll be very disappointed. And if there IS such a shirt/poster, I want one.
The Knicks commit their inevitable bad turnover directly out of a time out. Amazing. To their credit, they get back on defense and force a 24-second violation.
Tayshaun drives by Fred Jones on the baseline, and Jones just grabs him. Interesting. Prince knocks down a pair, has 26.
And, yeah. The game stays close the whole way, the DE-FENSE chants rain down like it’s ’99, and the Knicks lose, 101-97
That’s 18-44 if you’re keeping track.
Flip Saunders wastes no time, and sounds like a high school coach. “Our team was great, they did some real positive things. Those guys played some real extensive minutes.” And, as a high school coach would do, he goes on to praise the opponents. “They can play very well at times, they’re very talented.” (“Of course they’re also completely f*cking insane,” he doesn’t add.)
Dave Cowens is sitting in the back, drinking a Bud Light out of a can. He DID play with Don Nelson.
Theo Ratliff is surrounded and giddy. On the first basket, and whether it was a play intended to get him going right away, he responds “Rip just made a great read.” On Eddy Curry, “I just tried to play good defense—he’s probably got 100 pounds on me.” Every one of his answers are punctuated with the laughter of the freshly paroled. After the horde leaves, I mention to him that he must be relieved the Pistons redesigned their uniforms since his last stint. I don’t think he even hears me. He then proceeds to put on his shirt with his tie still tied.
Talking to Tayshaun, I look into the trainer’s room, and there’s Stephon Marbury, in a perfect grey suit, with Chauncey Billups, who’s wearing a couple of towels. Billups eventually comes out to do his media time, and Marbury sits down in the back with Flip Saunders for what has to be a 10-minute-plus chat. I’m guessing he hasn’t spent that much time with Isiah lately.
Steam from the shower is filling the entire locker room. Prince comes out of the shower area shouting “Oh man, it’s like 150 degrees in there!” Um, yes. Out here, too.
Rip Hamilton is nowhere to be seen, and I don’t see Rasheed until long afterwards. I run into him randomly in the tunnel, exchange greetings—and fail to steal his shoes.
KNICKS V. BLAZERS
Once again, David Lee is out there by himself. On the Blazers side, Greg Oden—who won’t be playing in a real NBA game for quite some time—is putting in work. He’s still got that sketchy Mohawk.
Also, I haven’t seen a lineup sheet yet, but it’s apparent that Jamal Crawford won’t be playing, as he’s in a shirt and tie with a sweater over the top. Kind of a mini-KG thing going on.
Clyde Frazier walks by in some absurd Clyde-only outfit topped off (bottomed out?) by a pair of ostrich leather shoes. And I have to wonder—wouldn’t it make sense for Clyde to have a combination ostrich/gator farm? Sure, you’d have to keep them separated, but that would provide the material for plenty more shoes.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye are seated next to each other in the locker room. Jake asks Frye who he’s blogging for—he just has a regular old blog—and I tell him that it’s a bummer that he didn’t have one last year. Of course the Dolans would have had him killed, but still.
Whoops, Eddy’s inactive tonight too. OK, he’s always inactive, but tonight he’s not even in uniform. The Knicks start Chandler, Lee, Malik Rose, Quentin Richardson and Nate Robinson. The Blazers counter with Brandon Roy, Steve Blake, Ghostface Przybilla (I wish I knew which of us graced him with that name), LaMarcus Aldridge and Martell Webster.
The Blazers are crazy in that they seem to have an endless supply of long, rangy 6-8 athletes. They’re like Hawks West, only good.
The boos have hardly stopped from Isiah being introduced before the Knicks are down 15-6, calling for time, and getting booed some more.
Channing Frye checks in at 5:40 to healthy applause and a smattering of boos. We asked him about it before the game, and he was hoping to get a welcome reception, but wasn’t sure how it would go. It went well.
29-15, Blazers, after a Webster trey.
Too bad they’re not all active, or else you could have lineups on the floor featuring Jarrett Jack, James Jones, Jared Jeffries and Jerome James. Is there a way to get all four of those guys on the same team?
Strangely enough, at the time I write that down, Jack and Jones check in for Roy and Webster. Jones immediately buries a three and stretches the Blazer lead to 32-18.
Nate Robinson puts some points on the board, but the Blazers lead 36-24 after one. The complete inability of the Knicks to guard either the three-point line OR the basket is stunning. You’d think one of the two would get protected by accident, at least.
Twelve minutes pass by, never to be seen again.
Nate Robinson catches what has to be his third and-1 of the night on a dribble-drive around Steve Blake, hits the free throw. He’s got 15, 5 and 3.
Brandon Roy then goes bonkers. Jumper, driving layup in traffic, three-pointer, another jumper. Nine straight Blazer points.
But the Knicks don’t stop coming. Nate catches Blake for ANOTHER and-1, then gets t’ed up for excessive celebration, i.e. yelling in Blake’s face. He’s got it going, though. Gets fouled by Roy on another drive, hits a pair, ties it at 68. Webster hits a pair off a bailout, and Nate catches a wide-open three. Then again—27, 6 and 4.
Lee drops in a great pass to Jeffries on the baseline, only he’s LITERALLY standing on the baseline, and that’s a turnover.
Fabolous is sitting in the main celeb seat on the sideline wearing what appears to be the worst Kings (either Kansas City or Omaha) hat ever. White with green and black. And why the Kings? Why tonight?
Nate drains a three over Blake, then, with time running out in the quarter, wets a deep two over Jack. Blake gets a shot off on the other end, but it’s off. Blazers lead 88-84 after three, Nate’s got 34.
Steve Blake misses consecutive corner threes in front of the Knicks bench, linked by an Aldridge rebound.
Chandler uses a nifty spin move on the baseline to get to the hoop, is fouled by Frye. It’s hard to say whether Randolph Morris will ever amount to anything, but Chandler seems to have something—he’s quick, he’s big, and he’s got some touch. And while he’s not as puppy-dog eager as Balkman, he’s not as foul-prone either. Why Balkman isn’t out there before every game working on developing a corner three is a complete mystery.
Nate Robinson gets his first points of the fourth with 6:31 to go.
With somewhere around three minutes to go, Isiah pulls Nate for Jeffries, and a cacophony of boos and “FIRE ISIAH” chants rain down. Nate runs over and collapses into the corner—maybe he’s cramping up. Jeffries grabs a rebound, calls time, and Nate checks back in, so maybe those boos were unnecessary. As much as they ever are.
Blake splashes a corner three (assist, Roy) with 2 minutes to go, stretching the Blazer lead to five.
Nate! Crazy through-the-legs, change-of-pace dribble that gets him past Blake, into the lane, with a floater up and over Aldridge. He’s got 38 and it’s a one-point game with 1:11.
The Garden is going nuts, once again, playoff atmosphere. Sellout crowd. They deserve much, much, MUCH better. I hope that Isiah understands that this reaction is in spite of him, that it’s for the players and the players only. Of course he doesn’t. If they somehow win this game he’ll probably hold his postgame press conference in front of a “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” banner and talk about how they can still make the playoffs and how progress is being made. It would be funny if it weren’t entirely possible. I promise you, the reader, this—I will never quote Isiah again, not even to make fun of him.
Nate tries a ridiculous driving over-the-shoulder hoist that doesn’t come close, the Blazers call time, and Isiah puts in Jeffries on an offense/defense switch. And of course Blake drives straight in and hits a stop and pop over the 6-11 Jeffries. Good switch. Re-enter Nate.
Up 3 with 9.3 to go, the Blazers let Nate get a layup, then Q fouls James Jones. He hurriedly puts up the first…and misses. He hits the second, Lee inbounds quickly to Nate, who’s already got the afterburners on. He streaks from end to end, flips it up and in with 2.3 ticks and the Blazers out of time outs. Blake misses from halfcourt, and we head to overtime at 108, and Nate with a career-high 42.
This is where things fall apart for the undermanned Knicks. Roy starts the scoring, Webster catches a great block on Lee, and the Blazers go up five in a hurry.
Martell misses an open corner three, and Aldridge rebounds, dunks. Nate comes back, hits a 20-foot pullup. 45.
Off a loose ball, there’s a jump between Nate and Przybilla. The remaining fans stand to watch. First time no one gets it. Second time Ghost gets it.
Final score, 120-114, Blazers. 18-45.
Maybe it was just matchups, but this game seemed to mark the end of The Randolph Morris Inexperience.
Nate McMillan: “Our guys hung in there, we’ll take it.” He’s very complimentary about the Knicks, though—naming Nate, Fred Jones and David Lee.
Channing Frye must be heading downtown—he’s wearing lowtop black Chuck Taylors with his suit.
Jamal Crawford is over on the visitor’s side tonight. Jamal, who grew up in Seattle, is deep in conversation with B. Roy, who went to Washington. Frye joins in for a few minutes as well.
Frye, sitting at his spot, reaches over Martell Webster, and Webster looks at him funny: “You’re reaching over me for body butter?” See, this is the kind of stuff Mark Cuban doesn’t want you to know about.
LaMarcus Aldridge has a relatively small “Me Against the World” tattoo across his shoulders and a huge thread off a towel in his hair. I alert him to the latter while Jake asks him about the former. “It’s just the way I feel.” Jake, looking for something about Pac, presses. “Yeah, I like the song.” He also says something about the thrill of playing here with Spike and Fab on the sidelines, just the whole Madison Square Garden experience. The natural follow-up is “so wouldn’t you want to play here all the time?,” but the natural follow to THAT would be a punch in the face. LaMarcus is bigger than me, and I don’t have dental insurance, so I pass.
B-Roy on fellow Husky Nate Robinson, who became only the second under-six-foot guy in NBA history (Calvin Murphy) to drop 40-plus (because the NBA refuses to list Allen Iverson at his real height): “He knew it was gonna be a chance for him to come out and shoot as much as he wanted.” Not a trace of jealousy in his voice—after all, he left with 25 points of his own. And the W.