Losing is familiar now. Not familiar like friendly, familiar like routine. Like a commute to work. We sit down, we watch the Knicks march grimly into the abyss, then we get up and resume baking scones or whatever it is we do when we're not watching the Knicks embarrass themselves. I think our thresholds for feeling anything of any valence have been set pretty high at this point. And when the Knicks returned from a week-long hiatus by picking up that grim march as if they'd never stopped, it felt comfortable. The All-Star break is a prism, and you never know which your team is going to bed coming out of it. The Knicks came out looking like a straight line, taking to Memphis with all the usual shortcomings. Carmelo Anthony was cold, his shooters offered no support, and the defense guarded only four Grizzlies at a time. Same Knicks. No new reason to feel excited, but also no worries. Those of us still bound by our hearts to watch this team could just sit back and wait, the rest of us could call bail and change the channel.
But fuck, they got us. They got me, anyway. I talk about a high threshold for feeling anything, and I mean that. The Knicks have made comebacks all season long without even a moment's consideration-- not one heartbeat-- from those of us watching. Right? They cut a lead, you roll your eyes, they slip away and lose and you take some solace in never having cared. And yet, there I was in the mid-fourth quarter tapping my foot and tugging at my hair and gnawing on my fingernail and generally giving a shit about a team that's warranted nary a shit all season long. Was this a different brand of comeback? Or did a week away from the Knicks just increase my sensitivity? I don't know for sure. All I know is the Knicks' defense suddenly pulsed and generated fast breaks, Tim Hardaway Jr. started slinging rainbows out of nowhere, Carmelo Anthony finally found some leftover touch from New Orleans, and when I was shown a photo of a puppy, I refused to look because I was too engrossed in the Knicks game. A puppy! The Knicks game!
I really, impossibly thought this was different. Mike Woodson stuck with his small starting lineup for a while, then stuck with Pablo Prigioni at point guard down the stretch. The defense really swarmed and-- to a man, like even Amar'e Stoudemire at times-- plugged holes to contest Memphis pick-and-rolls. The ball found the weak side of the floor on offense and the Knicks finally hit jumpers. And all that sustained for more than just a few minutes, such that what had been an 18-point deficit turned into a seven-point lead after first-unit-y lineups ran off 14-2 runs in the early third and mid-fourth quarters. The Grizzlies were collapsing and the Knicks were actually capitalizing. They pulled me back in, like Section 336 said after the fact.
That was all very foolish. Prigioni, Stoudemire, and J.R. Smith all committed some errors that helped feed Memphis buckets to draw the game even again. Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a huge late three over a Tyson Chandler flare to put the Knicks up two in the final minute. Then Pablo erred again, sloppily switching with Smith only to leave Mike Miller open as hell behind the arc because of a weak and needless double team. The Knicks boned the ensuing two-for-one, then missed all the open jumpers that would have kept the game alive anyway. Good on them for getting decent shots, I guess.
So, shit. 50 games into this horrid season, I thought I was done feeling, but I felt. I felt hopeful, then I felt crushed, and now I feel stupid. Just a few notes:
- I'm inclined to trust Spero Dedes when he pronounces Nick Calathes's surname (typically Ca-LAY-thiss) differently. He said it like Ca-LAH-thess, I think. Clyde even tried to emulate him at one point. Oh, and the Knicks made Nick Calathes look like goddamn Oscar Robertson at times in this game. He didn't drop a career-high, though. Small victories.
- Melo started the game 0-7, I think, then ended up 8-22. Hardaway started the game 2-6 through three quarters, then went 5-8 in the fourth. Melo kinda held the ball early, Hardaway was just missing clean looks to start. All-Star Weekend is poisonous?
- Tyson Chandler did a decent job on the offensive glass, a decent job on Zach Randolph (though I was surprised to see him matched up with Randolph while Melo took Marc Gasol), and a decent and momentarily creative job on offense when he played, he just didn't play much (only 26 minutes) because of foul trouble. He actually fouled out, but that somehow evaded my notice.
- Pablo Prigioni threw some outstanding extra passes and cross-court feeds out of the pick-and-roll. He also straight-up gave the ball away several times, some of them crucial. All is forgiven by this transition effort, via BJabs
- Jeremy Tyler hit a truly beautiful turnaround and bounced in a righty hook, but looked physically over-matched against even the bench parts of the Grizzlies' front line. Then again, so did Amar'e Stoudemire. Like, he just got physically overpowered by Randolph on a couple occasions. Happens to the best of us.
- Come to think of it, I was once actually knocked backward by Zach Randolph. Not, like, onto the floor, but he bumped into me and I stumbled what felt like several miles backward. He is a large and forceful body. Amar'e tried to shove him on a box-out at one point and couldn't, really (but Randolph sold the contact a bit and drew a foul).
- Raymond Felton sat the whole fourth after a typically stinky outing with the ball in his or his man's hands. I feel like we shouldn't be allowed to know these things, but a possible background for the off-court issues Ray'd been talking about a couple weeks back emerged during the game. That's a sad thing to read.
- Amar'e is now buzzed on every part of his head and face, and he looks much meaner. J.R. Smith is wearing a mask now. He shot 2-8, but I don't know whether to blame that on the mask or just...ya know, life.
- According to this box score, Iman Shumpert played in the game. I can neither confirm nor deny this.
That's all. They lost. I'm sorry I cared. I suppose I needed acute exposure to Knicks feelings to build my tolerance back up again.