So finally, after five seasons of writing an NBA column, I got to go to a game and what an interesting game to start with.
Coming off of an embarrassing, no humiliating defeat in Boston, the Knicks figured to either mail it in to a chorus of boos, or provide the Garden faithful with a rousing and maybe empathic confirmation of their loyalties.
Somehow they did both.
For three quarters the Knicks played the same caliber of lethargic ball that got them hammered at Boston. That Milwaukee was only up by 15-20 points tells you more about the difference between the Buks and Celts than anything else.
Then in fourth quarter Fred Jones--yes Fred Jones--came in and sparked a rally. He d'ed up on whichever Buck guard he was marking and Balkman and Jeffries combined to shut down the middle. Suddenly the Bucks could no longer waltz through the paint for easy buckets, and the outside shots were now contested and not dropping so readily. Jamal Crawford got hot, and the Knicks got a win.
But this win was a guilty pleasure.
The first three quarters made two things abundantly clear. The coaching staff has quit trying. The Bucks played the game as if they'd read their scouting reports on the Knicks. The Knicks showed no such preparation. It was as if they were shocked to see Desmond Mason driving the lane. Most teams know that the right approach is to challenge him to hit outside shots. The Bucks on the other hand, backed off of Lee and Balkman whenever they had the ball on the perimeter, knowing that neither possess the range to hurt them from out there. Hell, I could see Yi Jianlian tell Balkman "go ahead" when he backed off of him as Balkman held the ball 20 feet away. There was no urgency to get the ball out of Redd's hands either.
Further abettting the sense that the coaches were not "in the game" were the substitution patterns which pretty much went according to fouls. Any player with two fouls in the second quarter was benched until the second half.
The other thing that's painfully obvious from being present at the game is how poorly the Randolph/Curry thing is going. You can't have two guys calling for the ball in the low post simultaneously. They cancel each other out and clog the middle with defenders.
The crowd was feisty, and often during the first three quarters fans stood up and went on LONG rants at the team. Even with the dramatic fourth quarter and the standard Garden chants of Dee-Fense and what not, the loudest cheers of the night were the Fire Thomas ones, the second loudest for the Knick City Dancers. The third loudest were for Jianlian who seems to have an Ichiro effect. There were large contigent of Asians, often wearing Yankee or Mets hats, cheeing Yi's every move.
The game reinforced my suspicion that when Thomas is let go (I don't thnk "if" is in the equation anymore), the Knicks will start to win a respectable amount of games.
The talent is there but right now it's being very badly used.