"Zombie ball" sounds like a themed party or a musical my high school would have done, but it's really a perfect descriptor for the way the Knicks are playing these days (Thanks be to KnickChick). Whether our Knicks are hurt, tired, or rumor-weary (or all three), it's hard to shake the feeling that they're just going through the motions on the court. There are moments in any basketball game that serve as indicators for energy-- loose balls, broken plays, times that call for a big bucket or big stop-- and New York has failed pretty regularly at each of those tests. They are zombies: lurching, undead shells of basketball players that look scary from a distance but are actually pretty easy to fend off if you've got any will at all.
So...yeah. That wasn't going to work against the Lakers. Kobe Bryant and friends were already feeling important because they'd beaten the Celtics just 24 hours prior, and the added majesty of the Madison Square Garden stage had them pretty energized. The Knicks came out of the locker room with the appropriate spunk (Kobe dropped 19 in the first quarter alone, but New York was down just 2), but by the second quarter, the whole ordeal had become borderline unwatchable. The scrappy defense and snappy offense disintegrated, and we sat through about two and a half quarters of garbage time before the Lakers packed up their win and departed.
Take the jump for some notes.
- While I found the home/road reversal somewhat offensive, those throwback jerseys were fly as HELL. I'm talking about both teams. The Knicks sported their Ewing blues, the Lakers donned their uh...Goodrich golds?...and everybody looked quite spiffy.
- Though dressed spiffily, the Knick offense was anything but. After a first quarter during which they shot well over 50% (the number I have written down is 57.9%, but I don't trust my own notes), they just hit a wall. New York shot just 41.2% on the game, including 5-20 from downtown. That's less than ideal. What's funny about all this is that rebounding-- not shooting-- was supposed to be the big issue (or at least that's what I supposed), but the Knicks actually out-rebounded the Lakers 44 to 41. Amar'e Stoudemire and Timofey Mozgov each pulled down double-digit boards, and the team got 13 second chances on the offensive glass. It was an equal opportunity evening in that New York and L.A. attempted the same amount of shots (85 and 84, respectively) and free throws (24 and 25). The Lakers just seized all those opportunities to score and the Knicks politely declined.
- How did the Lakers score so freely? Well, for one, the Knicks didn't really have a chance inside. Timofey Mozgov was (and presumably still is) tall and determined, but Andrew Bynum was big and bigger. Bynum and his ass easily displaced Timo on possession after possession, and he got right to the rim for easy finishes. Mozgov didn't stand a chance in traditional post-ups, and he didn't do much to deny Bynum the ball and delay the inevitable. The Lakers' other sequoia, Pau Gasol, got more of his buckets off the catch. Kobe Bryant would shake his defender (usually Danilo Gallinari) on the baseline, draw help defense from Stoudemire, then dish off to a streaking (in the locomotive, not the sartorial sense, thankfully) Gasol who thrashed dunk after and-one dunk over the late-arriving recovery. Predictably, when the smaller Shawne Williams and Wilson Chandler stepped in, they didn't have much success either.
- And then there was Kobe. He, like LeBron James, seems to be empowered by the MSG atmosphere. Gallo really didn't do a bad job on Bryant, diligently shadowing his every move and getting a hand up when Kobe coiled to fire. It just didn't really matter. The guy had 19 points in the first quarter, most of which came from outside, and finished with 33 on the night. You did what you could, Danilo.
- On offense, Gallo was pretty aggressive, wheeling inside for some impressive finishes and 6 free throw opportunities. His outside shot has officially gone missing, though. Just 0-6 from downtown last night. A couple of them seemed rushed or off-balance, but for the most part, he was just rimming stuff out. Keep in mind that Gallo's been playing with an enormous brace on his knee.
- The other offensive weapons, Stoudemire and Raymond Felton, were more or less adequate. Amar'e turned the ball over 6 times and shot a below-average 9-20, but he pulled down 10 boards and looked pretty sharp with his jump shot. Raymond caught fire in the first quarter, but didn't shoot as well later on. He finished with 20, 7, and three steals. The captains are putting up decent enough numbers and voicing the appropriate frustration after each game, but they just don't look as vigorous as they one did on the court. Zombie ball.
- Mozgov fumbled an early pass out of bounds, which got a very angry reaction from the passer, Amar'e Stoudemire. He looked a little bit shook from that point forward. Timo moved well, but missed some point blank finishes and even shanked two putback dunks. Mozgov is still at the stage where he gets a little overwhelmed now and then, and last night was one of those times.
- I missed the full Walt Frazier-Phil Jackson conversation, but I did catch the snippet they replayed in which Jackson suggested that he'd visit Clyde in St. Croix during his retirement. I would love to be a fly on that wall if there weren't terrifying spiders in the Virgin Islands.
- I'm definitely in favor of Spike Lee's courtside attire last night: the usual Landry Fields jersey and what appeared to be a Knicks-orange ushanka. I'm definitely not in favor of MSG's decision to mic Spike during the early second quarter. For all of his enthusiasm and legitimate fandom, the guy just didn't have anything interesting to say. That's understandable, since he was sitting courtside at a basketball game with his child. Spike also couldn't hear the broadcast booth very well, so he interrupted Clyde and Kenny Albert all the time. It was an interesting idea, but I don't think they'll be trying that again, at least not with Mr. Lee. Tracy Morgan, on the other hand...
- Landry Fields tipped in a missed free throw at the second quarter buzzer while Pau Gasol was, no joke, talking to the baseline referee. Very Landry.
- At one point in the second half, Derek Fisher drove on Raymond Felton and Walt Frazier remarked on the physical nature of the game. What Clyde meant to say: "lot of contact now, officials letting them play". What he actually said: "lot of contact now, a Fisher's letting them play". Those unfamiliar with Clyde's idiosyncratic accent were probably very confused. I loved it.
- Amar'e picked up his 14th technical after arguing a charge call. I think it occurred during a commercial break or something, because I didn't really see what happened. That's not good.
- The NBA marketing bros have officially outdone themselves. Somehow, the new time machine spot with a creepy little baby soothsaying to a little baby Stephen Curry is even sketchier than the Amar'e and Kevin Durant spots.
- Anthony Randolph played in garbage time. He missed a jumper, caught a cool alley-oop from Chandler, and had a nice uncontested dunk.
And there you have it! The Knicks are in pretty bad shape, and they'll have to fight to avoid another loss tonight against the Nets. "Fight" hasn't been on the agenda of late, but maybe the prospect of falling below .500 will shake them out of zombie ball. I hope so.