Five days, three games, three overtime periods, two terrible starts, two stirring comebacks, one sorry blowout and, most importantly, three losses. That’s the tale of the first week of the New York Knicks’ opening week and it looks like being a saddening, maddening and occasionally gladdening microcosm of their 2009/10 NBA season.
Offensive speed and fluidity was the calling card of Mike D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns teams but for long periods against Miami, Charlotte and Philadelphia his current Knicks attack looked stagnant and uninspired. An over-reliance on settling for three pointers combined with atrocious long-distant shooting from everyone bar Danilo Gallinari led to long scoring droughts in all three games. Combine this with their trademark failure to produce consistent defensive stops and you have the cause of the blowout in Miami and the 20-point first quarter deficits against Charlotte and Philly. The maddening aspects of the Knicks psyche were on full display against the Bobcats and 76ers. They drifted through the opening quarter of both games like a late season team in full ‘tanking’ mode only to mount stirring comebacks to force overtime.
In both games, establishing some form of inside scoring enabled the outside shooters to swing the momentum of the game when all looked lost. It’s obvious that players like Al Harrington and David Lee are trying to provide the leadership and inspiration the team sorely needs. But the Knicks have to take the court with this level of intensity, not discover it when they are 20 points down in the middle of the third quarter.
Another concern is the Knicks unerring ability to shoot themselves in the foot. In last night’s overtime period against Philadelphia, they had all the momentum in their favour leading 124-121. Harrington was on fire and had scored 42 points. More importantly, the 76ers had no one who could guard him. After not getting a foul call on a drive to the hoop, Harrington, playing with five fouls, raced down the court looking for retribution. He was called for his sixth foul and extinguished the Knicks’ hope of a first win. Without Al on the floor, the offence again stagnated and Philly took over, racing to a 141-127 win. If Harrington stays on the floor, the Knicks win this game.
In spite of three successive defeats, there have been undoubted plus points from the opening week of the season. The outside shooting of Gallinari stands out the most. The 19-year-old made seven threes against Miami and a franchise record-tying nine against the 76ers, going a little way to backing up D’Antoni’s confidence-boosting claim that the Italian was the greatest shooter he had ever seen. In admittedly small stretches, the offence has clicked, but only once the Knicks have shown a willingness to take the ball to the basket. David Lee’s pick and rolls and Wilson Chandler and Harrington’s willingness to draw contact inside remain key if the Knicks are to run a balanced and fluid offence.
The real surprise of the Knicks’ opening week was the re-emergence of Larry Hughes against Philly. The former Washington and Cleveland guard didn’t make it off the bench in the first two games, looking about as welcome as a fart in a crowded phone box. Last night in the Garden, he had an excellent game, taking sensible shots, making some good passes and playing relatively decent defence. The poor play of Chris Duhon and Nate Robinson offered Hughes this opportunity and he made the most of it. Only D’Antoni can know how much more of him we’ll get to see. If you thought the Knicks would go quietly into the 2010 Summer of Lebron, you thought wrong. Although wins look like being hard to come by this year, there is fight in this team, more than enough for fans to keep the faith despite three opening week defeats.