Good morning from Montreal, banditos. I'd like to tell you a few things about my experience watching the Knicks get thumped in Le Centre Bell last night, but I guess I should talk a bit about the game itself first. Quickly, some notes:
- Yes, I'm that tool at the basketball game taking notes on his phone.
- Amar'e Stoudemire played for the first time in a long time, and he looked okay. He cut nicely off the ball (often as the third wheel of 1-5 pick-and-rolls) to turn broken plays and attentive passing into easy finishes inside (and it sure was nice to watch him cram a few). He connected on a few jumpers, even if he looked a bit reluctant to shoot them. His defense on Jonas Valanciunas was downright unseemly at times, but he had his moments. On the other hand, anything Amar'e attempted with the ball already in his hands-- moves off the dribble or in the post-- got handily disrupted by converging Raptors. He rarely even got his shot off in those situations. Amar'e's court time with Carmelo Anthony generally came down to them each taking a side of the floor and sort of alternating quarter-court sets (with some switching of sides. The motion was decent enough, at least early on.), and during moments in which they both occupied the strong side of the floor, the spacing was pretty terrible. They were talking, though, and the Raptors played some pretty effective defense to my eye. We all know that chemistry isn't going to appear suddenly. We've just got to hang on additional bits and pieces each passing night. On Night One of Year 2.5, there were very few bits and even fewer pieces.
- Oh wait...one piece: Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler ran a pick-and-roll up top, then one of them kicked the ball to the left wing, where Melo and Amar'e ran another pick-and-roll that ended in Melo feeding Amar'e for a baseline dunk. That was lovely. I think it was in the first quarter.
- By the way, we saw a lot of pick-and-roll, no matter the point guard on the floor. I'd wager there were more on-ball screens set than there were Knick possessions.
- Melo was pretty well defended by Landry Fields, who's looking a lot stronger and stauncher these days. (On the other hand, he also looked a lot like our Landry Fields. Dude made some nice cuts and finishes, but couldn't handle the ball or shoot. At one point, he took his time setting up for a three in the corner, and I screamed "FUCKING SHOOT IT LANDRY YOU ABSOLUTELY CANNOT HIT THAT". He sure couldn't, but that was really awful of me. Sorry, Landry). Still, Melo had a pretty good run early on, when he was looking mostly to back Fields down, attract help, and draw contact. Later, we saw act as both the handler and roller in some pick-and-rolls, and even later, he missed roughly 90 consecutive three-pointers off the catch, almost single-handedly aborting each of New York's attempts to make a run. He did plenty of de facto power forwarding as well, even when Amar'e was on the floor. There was some isolation-- some effective, some egregious, some both of those things-- peppered throughout. A bit too much in the middle of the game, I thought.
- Raymond Felton skittered to the rim with spheniscid grace at times, but didn't hit his jumpers and committed too many turnovers. Jason Kidd managed things well but over-passed at times, I thought, and also shanked most of his jumpers. In several instances, he passed up a good look only to have the ball swing back to him for a worse, more harried look. Dude really loves passing to Pablo Prigioni, which mostly took Pablo by surprise, but led to one gorgeous backdoor play in the second quarter. I can't remember if I've seen that before in practice or in one of the preseason games, but I've seen it before. It's a thing.
- I say "gorgeous", but I actually wrote "gorgeouis" on my phone, which...ya know, I blame my surroundings.
- Kurt Thomas set plenty of picks and, in the third quarter, went on a run of getting called for phantom ticky-tack fouls. Kurt did not take kindly to that, staring and staring and staring until he finally snapped and gestured in frustration, earning himself a technical foul.
- James White played his best game yet, I thought. He ran the floor nicely in transition, hit two of three shots (hit a layup and a long two, missed a three, I believe), and showed off a bit of that passing we saw in Las Vegas.
- Chris Copeland really stood out to me in this one. I guess his offense wasn't as impressive as in that Celtics game (though he did finish one of his signature spinny, flaily, fadey post moves), but he shuffled his feet so, so nicely on defense, made savvy use of the baseline and his teammates, and got perfectly parallel with marks to force bad shots and turnovers. His work against Andrea Bargnani, for instance, was better than that of anybody else on the team. (Chandler, per usual, had some trouble with Bargnani's shooting and shot-faking. Even from very far away, I could tell those two were talking shit to each other all night.)
- I love Pablo Prigioni. He and Kidd each have a place on the court but one definite advantage Pablo brings is that he'll actually put the ball on the floor and penetrate if you give him a lane. We saw him curl in from a halfcourt set and finish a beautiful righty scoop with some Inglés on it, and also saw him weather a pretty hard foul in transition. Man's tough. Sneaky, too. You can depend on Pablo and Kidd for a couple jumped passing lanes or picked pockets each night.
- Steve Novak's positioning for rebounds continued to impress.
- None of the campers but Copeland played anything even close to real minutes. Mike Woodson seems to be approaching a natural rotation, and it doesn't include Mychel Thompson, which may or may not be meaningful. We'll see more tonight.
- Ronnie Brewer didn't play, but he was in uniform, and his uniform included a headband.
- Awful defensive rebounding, awful transition and three-point defense. Awful outside shooting.
Well, I did the thing again where I say I'll keep my notes brief because the game didn't even count, then find myself getting into what I actually wanted to talk about quite a while later. Anyway, some things about watching the game here in Montreal:
- I have a couple photos I really want to show you guys, but they're on my phone and I forgot my computer's umbilical cord and mustn't use data or send large files while I'm up here. One photo is of the view from my seats, which were pretty in the ceiling. It was kind of cool, actually, to watch the game from so far above. It felt like watching a play unfold in 2-D on a clipboard.
- The other photo is of the two gaunt, sarcastic Québécois boys in front of me in full Montreal Canadiens regalia, including face paint and foam fingers. They only occupied their seats for about ten minutes of game time, and spent those minutes trying futilely to start a "GO HABS, GO" chant and taking selfies of their own antics.
- The Bell Centre is awesome. It's huge and, to my surprise, was pretty much full by the end of the first quarter last night. The crowd was about 70-30 in favor of the Raptors, I'd say, but perhaps that estimate is swayed by the fact that the PA nonsense was all pro-Raptors. Anyway, it was an impressive and hilarious atmosphere. An older, French-speaking lady sitting in front of us didn't quite get what was going on, but was rooting very hard for Toronto in the most adorable way possible. When the Raps scored, she clapped violently and rocked her head side to side. When the Knicks were at the line, she jeered them with her own version of booing, which I suppose I'd transcribe as "wouuuuuwaaaaaaawouuuuuuwaaaaaaa".This lady also clapped along to every song and exhortation that played over the speakers, but couldn't keep correct rhythm with any of them. Not even the "everybody clap your hands" thing, which is like the world's most elementary clapping exercise.
- There aren't letters in the English language to show you how the guy behind me pronounced "Stoudemire".
- Yo, fuck a SKYBRIDGE. At the Bell Centre, there's a giant ring of seats hanging centrally from the ceiling. There are TVs up there, too. It's crazy. Also, kids were throwing shit off of it and nobody seemed to care.
- The Toronto Raptor is such a fantastic mascot, both in its furry and inflatable forms. It just has so much fun and such an easy rapport with everyone in its vicinity, including fancy courtside folks, referees, babies, camera people...everybody. Both its dance moves and slapstick routines are quite refined as well. We also greatly enjoyed a video of "Bloopers Des Raptors" featuring all of its famous pratfalls, including this classic. I just love that dino. Fuck it, I'm gonna go ahead and say the Toronto Raptor is my idol. I aspire to be more like it in every regard.
- Random little thing: While Tyson Chandler was preparing to inbound the ball from the sideline, Anthony Carter reached in from the bench and knocked away. Tyson patted him on the head.
- Wait...Anthony Carter isn't on the Raptors!? Who the hell was that?
- If you're wondering, they sing the Canadian anthem half in French, half in English. The PA announcements alternated sorta haphazardly between French and English.
- A defensive three-second violation got called a "non-unsportsmanlike technical foul". Does that make it a sportsmanlike technical foul?
- More Raptor mascot excellence: A video montage illustrated its doting relationship with a female companion-- paying for meals, holding shopping bags etc.-- set to Meat Loaf's "I Would Do Anything For Love". Of course, we know how that song goes, and right after our whipped prehistoric protagonist agreed to watch The Notebook instead of Wedding Crashers on DVD, the girl took off her sweater to reveal a Latrell Sprewell Knicks jersey. The Raptor will do anything for love, but it won't do that. She got booted right out of the apartment.
I should probably, like, go outside and look at Montreal now, so I'm gonna cut myself short. Osborn's gonna handle most of the game stuff tonight, since I won't be able to watch the Knicks play in Albany (which is kinda funny). <3