The above comment by moose35 knows what's up. When I read that after the final buzzer, I nodded deeply, went "mmmHMMM" and maybe gyrated my hips a little. That was my feeling exactly. The Knicks, suddenly laden with offensive talent, exploited only a tiny portion of said talent. If it were a Jack LaLanne's Power Juicer commercial, New York would have been the traditional model on the left that requires far too much chopping and peeling and doesn't even get the maximum amount of juice. As play after play unfolded, we saw windows go overlooked, alternate realities full of crisp passes and easy finishes realized only after the fact. That squandering of opportunity indeed resembled a scrimmage-- maybe even a run of pick-up-- by a pack of capable but disjointed bros.
I don't think we expected any different. Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, still reeling from a rapid Rocky Mountain descent, were out of sync with their teammates and internally arrhythmic; understandably so. The allure of this trade, though, was the addition of a guy (a pair of guys, perhaps) capable of taking the reins in the game's closing moments. For all of their shakiness, Carmelo and Chauncey made plays-- singular feats of excellence-- when plays were needed. That flurry of individual brilliance, coupled with fine bench play and driven by the giddiest crowd I've ever witnessed, was enough to overcome a relentless Bucks team intent on tarnishing history. 'Twas positively intoxicating. It's almost tomorrow and I'm still speaking in tongues.
I managed to take down some notes between fainting spells. Take the jump to read about 'em.
- Clyde busted out the tiger stripes for the occasion. I didn't catch his sartorial remarks, but I'm assuming it was tiger print, not, you know...tiger. I don't think they let you do that unless you're KT Tunstall. Anyway, the get-up was overwhelming somehow. Clyde's set an unbelievably high bar for himself. He's going to have to bust out some seriously ungodly materials to continue amazing us. I'm talking about vests of chain mail, ties of eucalyptus, scarves of archaeopteryx down. We're nearing uncharted territory here.
- The Knicks entertainment pulled out all the stops for the introductions. Melo led the starters out of the tunnel in a procession flanked by Knicks City Dancers and scored by Diddy. It was corny, sure, but godDAMN was it exciting. By tip-off, I'd chewed off both of my hands in anticipation.
- The first thing that struck me about the image on my television was a seizure-inducing array of Al Harrington optical illusions. Occupying about 6'8" and 250 lbs. worth of space and sporting a headband and #7 uniform, Melo struck a frightening resemblance to the league's foremost importer of buckets. This is not okay. I was never a fan of the cornrows, but Melo needs to distinguish himself immediately.
- Okay. Important things. How did the team play? Like I said, it was pretty disjointed. There were a few bumper cars moments and some passes gone astray, but it was mostly a matter of awkward timing and positioning. Typical issues for new teammates. We saw a few sparks of synapse, but no full-blown chemistry. Defensively, poor communication and team-wide lag let Milwaukee hit 11 of 23 (mostly open) threes. The Knicks were, however, active enough to force turnovers and pester folks around the basket. The Bucks shot just [mathmathmath] 25-59 (42%) from two-point range. That's not bad. Oh, and New York out-rebounded Andrew Bogut and company, 43-40! Not bad either. So, who contributed?
- Carmelo Anthony did. Melo's offensive breakdown is pretty simple. Through three quarters, Melo connected on short attempts resulting from fast breaks and offensive rebounds and missed pretty much all of his jumpers off the catch and off the dribble (and committed charges when he wasn't missing). Carlos Delfino and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute defended his isolation stuff quite well. Momentarily betrayed by his outside touch, Melo worked his ass off for buckets. A lot of it was the result of incredible strength and body control, something we've seen from him for years, but never in orange and blue. Truly a sight to behold.
- In the fourth, Anthony blew a few contested layups when he could've kicked out, but also drilled a pull-up three, shimmied baseline for an isolation score over Delfino, and willed in a tough floater in Andrew Bogut's face. Those last two baskets came in the final two minutes. Amar'e Stoudemire had fouled out at that point (more on him in the next bullet), so Melo quickly assumed the role of late-game soloist. He played the part with aplomb. On defense, Anthony was pretty easy to lose off screens and quick cuts, but he did grab ten rebounds.
- Amar'e, perhaps wanting for touches, got a bit overexcited with each catch and forced a few ugly efforts. He back-rimmed a couple of his jumpers and drove right into the thick of the defense on more than one occasion. In a way, this was probably just as jittery an experience for him as it was for Anthony and Chauncey Billups.
- Well, maybe not for Billups. Chauncey's constant schvitzing belied what was, for the most part, a typically cool and collected performance. He shot just 4-12, including five misses on pull-up threes (shots that he can and will hit) and a few rim-outs on the drive. However, he threw some absolutely sensational passes (including a a few fancy-pants look-aways in transition) and hit 12 of 12 free throws, several of which came down the stretch. Billups had, I thought, the game's highlight with a somewhat out-of-control nutmeg of Delfino culminating in a difficult and-one finish. Look:
Yeah, yup. I like that. Mm-hmm.
- The only challenger to that play was this incredibly Landry posterization of Carlos Delfino (jump to 0:47). Fields had an otherwise quiet evening, but got his 7 points and 6 rebounds in a team-leading 42 minutes.
- At 1:50 of that video, you can see perhaps the best team play from the three top guns. Amar'e, Billups and Melo form a strong side triangle (something they did a couple of times). Amar'e receives the ball in the corner, then Melo slips an off-ball screen for Billups and rolls to the basket for an easy catch and finish. Very promising.
- Other than that, we saw minimal structured halfcourt stuff for the new guys. Billups did a lot of driving and kicking and Melo participated in a few iterations of the "Elbow" set and worked the hand-off with Ronny Turiaf (those two have a nice little rapport already), but it was otherwise kind of a free-for-all. Not surprising, given minimal practice.
- Presumably because of that minimal practice, none of the less illustrious ex-Nuggets played. Shelden Williams, Anthony Carter, and Corey Brewer kept their warm-ups on while Renaldo Balkman was inactive for the evening. They were all good to go, but with eight available guys who were either familiar with one another or so talented that it didn't matter, there was no need to throw the lesser newbies (and Balkman) into the fire immediately. Don't go thinking D'Antoni dumped part of his gift basket directly into the trash or anything.
- Perhaps the most underrated thrill of the evening was a session of Toney Douglas doing what Toney Douglas do. Douglas was deadly from every range (3-5 from outside, 10-12 overall), dribbling into pull-up jumpers and lay-ins like his November self and pestering the Bucks backcourt into a few turnovers.
- A lot of Toney's best work came as part of a small lineup featuring him at the point and Anthony/Shawne Williams in the frontcourt. That unit predictably struggled to defend and rebound, but they found much better looks than the second quarter lineups of old. Probably something to do with Melo.
- I do not, however, want Jon Brockman on the Knicks. The combination of Brockman and Balkman would knot Walt Frazier's tongue.
- Speaking of which, Clyde's best line of the night was a reference to "the ubiquity of Douglas". Oooh, or it might have been when Earl Monroe joined in the broadcast and Clyde reminisced on his days guarding the Pearl by calling him "the only man I ever dreamt about".
- Don't forget the contributions of Ronny Turiaf (5 rebounds, a block, a few point-blank finishes off feeds from Melo), and Shawne Williams (8 points, 6 boards, 1 poop, rugged interior D). Bill Walker, too.
- Your Malik Rose Memorial Chair-Pull of the Night goes to Amar'e Stoudemire, who's improving at that particular maneuver (he used to just get out of the way), and got Bogut to travel with a particularly nasty one.
- Oh, and I forgot to mention: Amar'e was whistled for a technical for spiking his goggles upon receiving his sixth foul. Not recommended.
I don't know. I'm kind of at a loss right now. It was all just really, really cool. There are times in close basketball games when the defense tightens up and somebody has to be relied upon for a tough basket. We got a clear glimpse of how Anthony and Billups can shoulder that burden when Amar'e is hampered by multiple defenders, foul trouble or, at some point soon, suspension. For the moment, that's pretty much the extent of it. That individual brilliance, combined with a surge of TDDWTDD and the support of the wild Garden crowd, was enough for a bunch of relative strangers to scrap together a victory over a very disciplined and determined club. We got hints of how those guys can wreck shit as a team, though, and Gian will have more on that in the afternoon.
What we saw tonight? That's a taste of how it's going to be now. I'm so excited.