The funny thing about expectations is that they’re hardly ever met.
But around this time of year, for a little while, anyway, we New Yorkers shed those cloaks of cynicism, and allow ourselves to bask in the glow of hope. Holiday-fueled optimism was (mostly) on full display in the Garden during yesterday’s season-opening tilt against the Boston Celtics, but wrapped up in the shiny Christmas victory-package was something altogether more wonderful: legitimacy.
You could hear it in Mike D’Antoni’s voice during his post-game press conference. You could see it in the way that the Knicks gave it their all on defensive rotations. You could sense it as Carmelo Anthony lined up another “no, no, no, no, no… yessssssss” three-pointer. You could literally feel it in your Elven-slippers as the Garden shook under the weight of the fans’ raucous cheers.
This is a legitimate basketball team that now resides in the World’s Most Famous Arena, and everybody knows it.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- Criticism of Carmelo Anthony, by the media and fans alike, is nothing new, but if yesterday was any indication, the Knicks’ “best player,” as anointed by D’Antoni, is on a mission to dispel any notion that his game is flawed. The man was a force on both ends of the floor, an assassin in crunch-time, and if there was any doubt that ‘Melo is capable of being an efficient player, that doubt was erased. Anthony dropped 37 points on Boston (10-of-17, 4-of-4 from downtown) and grabbed 8 rebounds, but the most telling number for the Knick forward was his team-leading +15. What should alarm Knick fans, however, is how the team absolutely lost its way when ‘Melo was on the bench (he may need to play 3,000 minutes this season), so don’t be surprised to see MDA stagger his rotation to feature Amar’e Stoudemire when the former needs a blow.
- “D-FENCE!” Not since the days of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason has that chant actually meant something in the Mecca, but yesterday’s defensive effort by the Knicks – absent that horrific 3rd quarter – was relatively outstanding. The newly-acquired Tyson Chandler played far better than the stat sheet indicates – just 7 points on 1-of-2 shooting with 3 rebounds – and his vociferous direction of the team’s defense was heard early, loud and often. Oh, those six blocks? Yes, please! Anyone watching yesterday’s game also surely noticed a distinct temperance emanating from Kevin Garnett (at least during the game), and one can’t help but think that the presence of Chandler has irrevocably altered the dynamic in the paint between the two clubs.
- Throughout D’Antoni’s tenure with the Knicks, we have seen a fairly consistent pattern of highs and lows, both in-season (typical for any team) and in-game (worrisome for any alleged contending-team). Yesterday was no different. New York came out with a sense of purpose initially, lost their way before the half, and practically imploded in the 3rd quarter – 20-2 runs by your opponent do warrant the oft-used implosion-reference. The striking difference yesterday was in the way that these Knicks summoned their intestinal fortitude in the 4th quarter, and despite bending farther than than your average contortionist, refused to break. Not when KG was repeatedly draining 18-footers as a result of New York’s proclivity to switch on man-to-man defense, not when everyone in the building expected Ray Allen to start hitting three-pointers, not even when Anthony inadvertently dribbled the ball off his leg with 53 seconds left on the clock. If these new-look Knicks play with the same level of heart and determination that was on display versus the Celtics, good things are going to happen.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
- Santa left a lump of coal in Iman Shumpert‘s Christmas stocking. The rookie, who despite missing some easy shots – and taking way too many attempts (13 shots in 22 minutes) – was perhaps the most athletic player on the floor before straining the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Shumpert will be out for two to four weeks, and an already-thin New York backcourt must now rely on (gasp) Mike Bibby. Ironically, the injury was caused by a clumsily-falling Chris Wilcox, which is pretty much how most fans remember the former-Knick.
- Landry Fields (7 points, 2 rebounds and a telling -11) remains enshrouded in last season’s fog, and considering the team’s lack of backcourt depth, there isn’t much that can be done about it. Fields was mostly invisible throughout the game, connecting on a first half three-pointer and then proceeding to look mostly confounded on defense by Ray Allen (20 points on 7-for-12 shooting), who put on a screen-clinic. My position on Fields remains the same. He is a smart and likeable player, who at this point in his young-career does nothing to distinguish himself on the floor. Put-backs are fun and all, but he is going to need to demonstrate more at this level to survive as a starting SG.
- Just as Chandler’s stats didn’t tell the complete story about his game, Amar’e Stoudemire’s line was more misleading than it was impressive. Sure, he poured in 21 points on 8-of-11 from the field (he also made good on that rumored prowess from long-range, hitting on both of his attempts), but as usual, his defense and rebounding left a lot to be desired. For me, Stoudemire’s inability or unwillingness to box anyone out is the most glaring defect in his overall game. It’s almost as if STAT’s goggled eyes instinctively follow the arc of errant shot attempts, rather than immediately locking onto an opposing player that needs to be bodied-up. Whether it’s intentional, or simply a lack of coaching, there is no excuse for a 6’11” athlete with Amar’e’s physical gifts to be out of position on the defensive boards. On the offensive end, especially considering the lack of chemistry between Stoudemire and Anthony to date, crashing the boards would seem an obvious way to make good things happen.
- Toney Douglas is not a point guard. And neither is Shumpert, as least not yet, he isn’t. The two Knick guards combined for a whopping 32 shot attempts – and Shumpert only played 22 minutes! To put that into perspective, STAT ‘n ‘Melo took 28 shots in total. Enough said.
- The Knicks have no answer for Rajon Rondo. That said, if Rondo demonstrates consistency from the mid-range, as he did yesterday, no one else in the league will have an answer for him, either. The Boston PG is one of the most dynamic talents any of us have ever seen, and Danny Ainge would do well to figure out a way to move beyond Rondo’s alleged attitude problems. There is simply no reason not to rebuild around him once their Big-3 is no more.
- Kevin Garnett is still a complete (insert adjective here).
- It didn’t take Amar’e very long to pick up his first technical foul of the season, but this one seemed fairly unjust from the whistle-happy Joey Crawford; the league may rescind it.
- The surviving member of the legendary RUN-DMC, Darryl McDaniels, performed “Christmas in Hollis” during the halftime show. The fans were disappointed that John McClain’s limo driver, Argyle, was not invited to appear.
- There are rumors floating around that Nate Robinson, recently waived, might be an option for the Knicks. No, just no.
- I survived my first game as a credentialed “journalist,” and I can’t wait to build on the experience. It seemed like most of writers are fairly immune to the wow-factor of the entire process, but for a Bronx-born, non-professional like me, the entire day was fantastic. Oh, and regarding that certain brash and controversial television, radio and internet personality, yes, he’s just as insufferable in a real life as he is on the airwaves and Interwebs.
Don’t forget to follow @LoHudKnicks on Twitter.
Photo by UPI/John Angelillo