I know that there's "no such thing as a moral victory" and whatnot, but I'm gonna go ahead and take the moral victory on this one. For the most part, this game was the usual fare: a truly horrid start followed by a spirited comeback that fell just short. We've seen that before. There were a couple elements of this one, though, that made it stand out. The primary one, as you might have heard, was the performance of a particular "precocious neophyte".
Yes, for perhaps the first time in his young career, Toney Douglas did what Toney Douglas do. It wasn't a revelation, really. Toney played 23 minutes of steady, determined basketball, and ultimately took the fall for a heartbreaking loss. The contrast, though, between TD and Chris Duhon was a sight to be seen. I know Chris means well, but he's been playing like he doesn't care. Most of us picked up on it, and I think Mike D'Antoni finally gave into the suspicion as well. He benched Du for the entire fourth quarter and handed the keys to Pretty Toney, who very nearly won the game by his damn self. Throughout the evening, but particularly in the fourth quarter, Douglas showed his full arsenal- three-point bombs, pull-up twos, and speedy drives to the rim. Though Toney threw away more turnovers (2) than assists (1), it was immediately evident that his ability and willingness to score prevented the D from sagging and made for many more passing opportunities. Should he continue to score so successfully, the pick-and-roll options and team-wide ball movement should thrive in turn. This isn't even close to Toney Douglas's team yet, but he made it very clear that he deserves a chance at taking the reins. His playing the full fourth quarter suggests that D'Antoni is fully willing to grant him that chance. As for that last shot, one more dribble and he could have splashed a nice running floater off the correct leg. Toney's a rookie, though. These things happen. If he keeps up this nerve, I'd be more than happy to watch Toney Douglas learn on the fly. DWTDD.
The rest of your game notes are after the jump...
- This was mentioned in the comments, and it's really a splendid thought. I see two ways to deal with the Knicks' tendency to fall behind early then storm back late. One would be to make them play two or three quarters of five-on-five before the game starts so they're in endgame mode by the time tip-off rolls around. Another would simply be to change the scoreboard to indicate that they're down 18 in the fourth quarter from the outset. You could totally pull that off, at least at home.
- I asked my team of trained genius badgers to run some numbers and found the following: The Knicks have lost every first quarter except for two (vs. Indiana and New Orleans). Through 8 games, the average first quarter margin is -9.4. Meanwhile, the Knicks have won every fourth quarter except for one (against Indiana), with an average margin of +7.6. That just goes to show that my first bullet point is no joke. The Knicks have really clicked in fourth quarters, but never enough to crack the eggs they collectively lay in first quarters. Part of this is that the opposition gets sloppy in the waning moments of a blowout, but part of it is significantly better New York basketball. Like I said, start each game with a fourth quarter and the Knicks would be a pretty solid team.
- Danilo Gallinari had a quiet night. His outside shots weren't really in rhythm, and he didn't get nearly as many touches as one would hope. It's tough for a youngster to demand the ball on offense, but I'd rather watch Gallo go iso for 20 seconds than see most anyone else try and create offense. Danilo also had two fantastic blocks (he's better at that than I expected) and was seen pounding his signature dish- scaloppini di Gallo- with Tina Cervasio in a pre-game feature. It's gnocchi with veal, if you're curious. I would love some right now.
- The presence of both Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer nearly made Walt Frazier's head explode. By the end of the game, I'm pretty sure he resorted to calling both of them "Broozum".
- One thing that distinguished tonight's loss from every other loss was that the Knicks got back into it with zone defense. D'Antoni saw the opportunity to create turnovers and exploit Utah's lack of shooters by employing a 2-3 zone for very lengthy stretches. He was successful on one of two fronts. With Toney and Larry Hughes in the backcourt, New York was able to disrupt a lot of passes and even turn some steals into fast break buckets. At the same time, though, Utah accepted the challenge to shoot and did so with considerable success. Andrei Kirilenko hit 5 of 8 threes, many of which were so wide open that the nearest defender was someone in the crowd. Jerry Sloan also made his squad stack one side of the floor, which meant that one guard (often Douglas) found himself stranded at the top of the zone. The ensuing scramble repeatedly left Ronnie Brewer open for a mid-range J, or one of the big men open off a backdoor cut.
- That was the other big thing. Be it laziness or a child-like understanding of object constancy, the Knicks were completely baffled by backdoor cuts. I don't have much more to say on this. If somebody disappears for a second, that doesn't mean they're completely gone. I thought that was a given.
- This movie 2012 shouldn't be advertised on MSG. It almost makes me think Walsh should be clearing cap space for John Cusack, since it seems like he'll be the only dude around in a few years.
- Jared Jeffries has a new haircut. It looks fresh. Jared Jeffries's free throws look like the opposite of his haircut.
- Al Harrington really troubles me. He's trying very hard to be the difference and provide energy, but his shots just ain't falling of late. It's problematic, but I'm not as ready to bench him as some of y'all are.
- I guess Larry Hughes (and Toney, right?) deserves some credit for holding Deron Williams to 2-10 shooting for just 5 points and 7 turnovers. D-Wil did have 16 assists, though.
- Listen, I think the fact that the Knicks promote the Lustgarten Foundation is really, really excellent. Pancreatic cancer is a serious problem and it's a worthy cause for the organization to advocate. All that said, I can't help but single out Mike D'Antoni's performance in his ad spot for the foundation. Where Channing Frye's former rendition of "sometimes, dinner was just crackers" for the Garden of Dreams foundation was classically deadpan, D'Antoni's gratingly loud delivery of "WORKINGTOGETHERASATEAM (beat) THAT'SHOWWE'LLBEATPANCREATICCANCER." lacks nuance and prosody to the point that I have to laugh. The cause is truly noble, but the execution is downright hilarious. Am I a bad person for thinking that? Probably. Just to clear my conscience, why don't I link you over to the foundation one more time.
- In her regular halftime interview, Jill Martin asked Darryl Strawberry what trend from the 80's he'd most like to have back. Once more, I felt like a bad person for thinking the thoughts that I thought.
- It's funny how a 17-point deficit feels like nothing at halftime. That's practically a tie game in the context of this early season incompetence.
- I couldn't have told you without looking that Wilson Chandler (33 minutes, 17 points on 8-15 shooting, 10 rebounds, 2 assists) had a good game, but I guess he did. I'd prefer he not shoot 4 threes and 0 free throws, but hats off to Wil, I suppose. That's a nice line.
- According to the boxscore, Jordan Hill played in this game. I must have been blinking.
I don't have much else to say. The Knicks, as usual, hung tough when they hit open shots and play defense with even a hint of conviction. As usual, that occurred in the fourth quarter. As usual, it wasn't quite enough. Luckily for us, this game was distinct because of a compelling stretch of zone defense and an intriguing breakout performance from Toney Douglas.
Next game's on Wednesday against the Hawks.