In the most petty bit of Anglo-American revenge since that one time they burned down the White House, the British have blatantly stolen a game from next season's Knicks-Bucks series, which will be played in London on Jan. 15. You've got to hand it to the Brits: They know how to appreciate the finer things in life (except food and weather).
The Knicks and Bucks are two organizations that share a great deal in common. They have similar title droughts ('71 for Milwaukee, '73 for New York) and Conference Finals droughts (2000 for New York, 2001 for Milwaukee). They both recently bade farewell to a guy named Herb (Milwaukee -- Herb Kohl, owner and longtime U.S. Senator; New York -- Herb Williams, assistant coach and longtime Dolan survivor).
Most important, these two club fell way below expectations in 2013-14. The Bucks finished with the worst record in the NBA, and the Knicks...well, you know what happened.
However, the Knicks and Bucks did get together and produce a series of basketball spectacles that challenged the very notion of competitive sports. You can keep your precious Heat-Spurs series, rest of the world -- personally, I find them to be rote and predictable. It's simply a collection of good, well-coached basketball players doing awesome things, over and over. Oh, look...Ray Allen hit another clutch three. I've never seen that before *yawn*.
With the Knicks and Bucks, you got blown 25-point leads, shooters shooting shots that by no means should have been shot, and a realization of the American Dream so potent it gave Horatio Alger an erection (and that dude's been dead for over 100 years).
Knicks-Bucks posed some deep philosophical questions. Who would win a game between one team that should be tanking, but doesn't realize it, and another team shouldn't be tanking, but doesn't realize it? How much should one congratulate a mediocre player who dominates a far worse opponent? Why is there blood coming out of my ears?
With that in mind, we here at P&T have partnered up with Eric Buenning over at Brew Hoop for an oral history of a series which probably should be forgotten, from the people who only wish they could forget.
Eric: I tried my best to erase last season from my memory, but I do still have a few hazy details from that time of the year. I remember that the Bucks only won one or two preseason games (one for sure against the Knicks, of course!), but that didn't stop Bucks fans from repeating the "well maybe these average players can gel and get hot but probably not but maybe!" pep talk to themselves. They were projected at 29 wins to begin the season, and I remember most of us thinking that was a little bit low.
Joe: As I recall, there was this sentient computer called SCHOENE that picked the Knicks to finish 37-45. We all just laughed and said, "LOLZ yea right, computer bro."
We did indeed lose to the Bucks (though we still maintained a 3-2 edge in the 2013-14 series #SWAG), and new acquisition Andrea Bargnani looked like a guy who couldn't hit a three to save his life. On the other hand, Iman Shumpert looked like the team's best player, poised to build on his breakout playoff campaign. Oh, those were the days...
Game 1: Oct. 30, 2013 -- Knicks 90, Bucks 83
Joe: The 2012-13 Knicks won their first seven games in a row and never dropped below .500. The 2013-14 Knicks were above .500 for exactly one game this season -- this one, the first game, against a team that would finish the season 15-67.
And this was really only one half of an enjoyable game for Knicks fans, as the team sprinted out to 56-31 lead at the break, only to debut their new-fangled 2013-14 form in the second half.
Eric: Less than two minutes into that opener, Brandon Knight tried to maneuver his way through some traffic on the break but was halted by his hamstring exploding. Bucks fans didn't have huge expectations by any means, but that early-season excitement got sucked out of their hearts and ripped to shreds like a misguided seagull near a plane engine. This meant rookie Nate Wolters was about to get thrust into some premature and intense action (backup PG Luke Ridnour was out with injury). Wolters predictably struggled in the first half, looking (again, predictably) overwhelmed by the moment, and the Knicks lead continued to grow and grow as the Bucks tried to hastily patch the bleeding.
The second half started and, though Wolters looked much more savvy, the lead wasn't shrinking fast enough. Eventually, the offense got in a bit of a groove and Milwaukee kept chipping away and my tweets transitioned more and more towards a caps-locked kamikaze."
Joe: Every once in a while, Mike Woodson would break out the trick defense, and his players would half-ass it -- seriously, their zone defense was like asking a 3-year-old to draw a trapezoid.
In this game, they went for the full-court pressure defense, and the Bucks tore through it like tissue paper. I never really minded their half-assed press, however, since the other team would usually end up with a wide-open shot in the Knicks' standard halfcourt man-to-man. You might as well take a chance and let Pablo do his sneaky thing.
It shouldn't really come as a surprise that they blew a 25-point lead to the worst team in the league. Once they stopped hitting shots, they could blow a lead to just about anyone.
Eric: I do believe Caron Butler hit a three that either tied the game or put the Bucks ahead by one (Ed. He tied the game, and then the Bucks went up one on the next possession. Also, Caron Butler played in the Western Conference Finals...weirdness.), but after that the Knicks made a few more positive plays than the Bucks, and they were able to hang on and seal the victory.
Seth (from the recap): "Tyson Chandler keyed a game-closing run with deflections down low and rim-splintering finishes at the other end. Raymond Felton's passing, Pablo Prigioni's peskiness, and a couple Carmelo Anthony buckets factored into the final stand, but Tyson felt like THE man who made certain the Knicks wouldn't get humiliated.
"Iman Shumpert played a very good game with plenty of room to improve. The good stuff we saw included some newly refined work off the dribble, both in transition and slicing diagonally over picks. He kept his dribble low, changed pace appropriately, and showed comfort finishing with either hand. My main offensive gripe was that Shumpert -- perhaps showing some nerves-- appeared drained of the perimeter confidence we saw in the preseason. He hesitated before pulling from outside, and sometimes opted to swallow open looks entirely, going just 1-5 from outside on the night. Iman already looks much more comfortable driving than he did last season, so I'm all for it, but if you're open, you shoot that three, Shump! You're good at it!"
Eric: After that game though, you could say the Bucks came away with a decent deal of confidence in their guys and that things would turn out okay.
(Hint: They did not.)
Joe: In retrospect, this team that played on opening night little resembled the squad that sputtered and farted their way through the rest of the season. Shumpert finishing at the rim? Chandler giving a crap? Who were these guys?
Shumpert actually took four more field goal attempts than Andrea Bargnani, who came off the bench in his first regular-season game for New York. Bargnani was terrible, shooting 3-of-9 from the field (0-of-3 from beyond the arc) with two rebounds, one assist and three turnovers, and a -11 on/off rating.
Clearly, Mike Woodson never intended to just sit there and leave a stud like that out of the starting lineup. Bargnani started the next game (a loss) and 39 of the team's next 41 games (mostly losses). He shot 27.8 percent from three -- seventh-worst among players with at least 100 attempts.
These two clubs would set out on different paths for a while -- dropping games and generally embarrassing themselves. Chandler would fracture his leg one week later, not to return until a Dec. 18 clash with this very same Milwaukee squad.
The next two games of this series -- both played in the City of Sprewell -- would go a long way to defining the season for both teams, as the Knicks found new depths to plumb, while the lowly Bucks got a bit of redemption.