First, I should recap last night's game. It was rather the opposite of Thursday's loss, with the Knicks going cold and falling behind early, then storming back in the third to draw even and eventually win. David Lee led the way with masterful finishes and boards (25 and 11), while Chris Duhon set the table effectively, looked for his own shot late, and even did some rebounding of his own (17 points, 10 assists, and 8 boards!). Danilo Gallinari continued to undercook his shot attempts, but was more aggressive later on, and finished with 14 points to go with 6 nice rebounds and 3 steals. The Knicks won. It was neat.
Most of all, though, I found myself captivated by Jonathan Bender's unexpected return to basketball. Disgusted with a double-digit deficit, Mike D'Antoni spat Bender out onto the court with about minutes left in the first quarter. It didn't take long for my little heart to flutter.
I should rewind. As I've mentioned, I have little love for comebacks. Injuries are second only to this fellow on the list of things I despise about basketball, and a player with any visible signs of hindrance or hesitance is tainted in my sick little brain. (I have very small organs.) It could be residual uneasiness from the Allan Houston and Patrick Ewing injuries that haunted my childhood, or I might just be evil. Anyway, all that being the case, my immediate response to the Bender signing was somewhere around the intersection of indifference and displeasure. Why bother with a crumbly-kneed veteran when a stable of young, unsigned talents is close at hand?
This was my mindset going in, but I was hyperventilating in no time. I failed to appreciate this during his stint with the Pacers, but Jonathan Bender is a spectacular creature. He's every bit of 7-feet, with limbs that branch in all directions and the gait of a caffeinated praying mantis. His head is small and bony, with elfin ears and a face far too crotchety for a 28 year-old. In my eyes, that's the basketball equivalent of 36-24-36. The minute he stepped on the floor, Bender had my attention.
Experience told me to expect the typical constellation of jitters, rust, and pussyfooting on those fickle bones. Houston, Ewing, Antonio McDyess, Penny Hardaway...they all taught me well. Jonathan cared not for my expectations. The guy is rough. Bender put two playoff fouls on Clipper guards, one of which was a called a flagrant. He also rejected a Baron Davis layup attempt with more gusto than all Knick big men in the last ten years have managed combined. Bender's offense did not lag behind. His very first touch was a loping lefty drive with an offhand finish at the rim. He also canned an open three from the corner, threw an assist, and went 4-4 from the foul line. Bender's appearance was an exciting, productive 14 minutes, and he may very well have inspired a Knick win with his unforeseen excellence.
And that, friends, is how my tendency to overreact to small sample sizes from exotic players trumped my distaste for the comeback story. Jonathan Bender is a monster. He is part Anthony Randolph, part Ent. It's very, very early, but my first impression of this second chance is a good one. Yes, I'm that easy.
I wouldn't expect everyone to be as easily impressed as I am, but a smattering of "DWJBD"s in the comments tells me I'm not alone. Share your first-glance thoughts in the comments.
After the jump, Big C's video of the performance.