My sister's basement flooded today. She had to call a plumber, which ain't cheap. The plumber noticed something and suggested she contact the fire department. Turned out there was a potentially far more serious problem in her house, one she would never have been aware of if her basement hadn't flooded. The universe unfolds as it must. It doesn't matter if we understand why, or if we like how it unfolds. All we can do is trust it.
This is the mindset I bring to the 2015 Knicks. The 2015 Knicks are designed with 2016 and beyond in mind. Watching them is like dieting. You're sacrificing today for tomorrow. There is comfort in knowing that, despite all the losses. Despite all the tough, tight losses. Despite losses like tonight's 103-97 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Win or lose, every game is a win-win. When they win, they win. When they lose, they increase their odds of drafting higher next June, and high draft picks are the best way to build a contender.
I wanted tonight's win bad. Real bad. Rrrrrreal bad. Partly because the early 1990s mean I always want to beat the Bulls. Partly because the TNT B-team of Kevin Harlan, Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller were shit-talking from the instant they were on the air, and never let up the whole game. Seriously. Phil Jackson was moved to address it during halftime, tweeting, "Do I need to mute this game?" Love you, Dad! I always root for the Knicks to win. The hidden blessing of a lost season is that the losses don't need to hurt, because for once, the losses are part of the plan.
Chicago, minus an ill Derrick Rose, dominated the first half. They were up ten after the first quarter and held serve through the second. They dominated with their size, Jimmy Butler had a career night (35 points/7 assists/5 rebounds/4 steals), their outside shots were falling, and they were penetrating via the dribble and the pass. Even their mistakes were working: at the end of the half, Butler pulled up from the free throw line to shoot but instead passed to Pau Gasol down low. Gasol wasn't looking. Neither was Amar'e Stoudemire, who was guarding him. The ball bounced off them and right up to Gasol, who drew a foul.
In the third, the Knicks did that thing where they reach into your heart - the one you were content to let slumber undisturbed, frozen in carbonite, till the draft - and make a run that gets it beating and caring again. Tim Hardaway Jr. was hitting three-pointers. The Knicks started moving the ball better, or at least were hitting shots after good ball movement. Jason Smith- Jason Smith!- drew a foul on a drive and hit two free throws to give the Knicks the lead at the end of the third. Pablo Prigioni hit a three early in the fourth to put New York up 77-75.
Then, the inevitable: the Bulls went on a 12-0 run, thanks to Knick turnovers and the refs not calling a travel on Aaron Brooks before he passed to Nikola Mirotic for a lay-in and not calling an offensive foul on Mirotic for using his left arm to ward off Samuel Dalembert. The Knicks clawed back to within one with a minute to go. Brooks turned what looked like a step-back jumper into an assist to Gasol while STAT was ball-watching (can't blame him; so was I).
Then the Knicks drew up a play that may have worked nicely if Carmelo Anthony had been out there as a decoy: Jose Calderon drove to the hoop and his gravity seemed to be pulling a trailing Cole Aldrich for a pass behind him, but the real action was to swing the ball to the weak side for Hardaway for a three-pointer. Airball. The Knicks stopped Chicago on the next possession but couldn't get the rebound. The Bulls missed the second free throw, but the Knicks couldn't get the rebound. "That's usually how it works," Muruju said. Whatever. 5-23 rhymes with c'est la vie.
- Reports earlier in the day said STAT wouldn't play tonight as part of his regularly scheduled rest, but apparently when he heard Melo wouldn't be in the lineup STAT decided to suit up. Miller and Barkley, as is their wont, suggested Amar'e was motivated by selfishness, able to shoot to his heart's content minus Melo. Rebuttals: for the season, the Knicks take 81 shots a game and STAT takes 10. Tonight, the Knicks took 83 and STAT took 13. He had six rebounds and four blocked shots, rolled around the floor fighting for a loose ball with Joakim Noah, and later dove to the floor to corral a loose ball and dish to Hardaway for the Knicks' only three-pointer of the first half.
- It's obvious STAT benefited from his summer tutorials with Hakeem Olajuwon. Shane Larkin (2-7, five points, three assists) needs to pay whatever it takes and spend his summer studying the teardrop with Mark Jackson. Larkin has all the moves, but none of the finishes yet. On one play he drove baseline against Chicago's bigs and put up an off-balance reverse lay-up before hitting the peak of his jump. Positively Steve Nash-like. Except he missed.
- Cole: 13 points. 10 rebounds. 26 minutes. Sayin'.
- Early on, TNT used a camera angle I haven't seen before. During an inbounds, we were looking at what the inbounder was seeing. More, please!
- Knicks' first half: 19 buckets, 7 assists.
Knicks' third quarter: 12 buckets, 9 assists.
- First half three-pointers: Chicago 7-13, NY 1-2.
Third quarter: CHI 0-1, NY 3-4.
- 79 seconds into the second half, just after TNT shared Phil Jackson's tweet, a Cole dunk and Hardaway three prompted a Chicago timeout. Father knows best.
- Early on, the announcers, a.k.a. the Clueless Crew, couldn't shut up about the Knicks losing and having no chance to win because they were shorthanded. Later, as the Knicks came back to take the lead, the story became that Chicago was struggling because the Knicks were shorthanded. Doublethink, these are your children.
- The Knicks absolutely could not handle the Noah/Gasol combination inside. It's like when you're 12 and you play your dad one-on-one. Even if he misses, the size advantage means those misses are basically passes to himself.
- Derek Fisher was getting heat from the Clueless Crew for leaving STAT on the bench the first five minutes of the fourth, when Chicago went on a 12-0 run. Color me Jonestown, but I was OK with that. I feel like Fisher's substitution patterns, like many things about the Knicks, will look a lot different - a lot better - when applied to a team that's intended to, you know...not suck.
- Audio of Fisher during a third quarter timeout: "When we get ready to break through, that's when it gets the hardest. All right? That's what we going through throughout the season, and that's what we going through tonight." This could be the 2015 Knick epitaph, as well as the seed of hope for the future.
- The Knicks lead the league with 10 losses by five points or fewer. Tonight, they ended up losing by six. So...progress?
- Tonight was the Knicks' fourteenth different starting lineup: Travis Wear/STAT/Cole/Tim/Calderon.
- Hardaway had five assists tonight. The other night, he had a career high in rebounds. Is this the start of three-dimensional Tim?
- How long do we have to say "Tim Hardaway Junior"? Aren't we all adults in here? Are we really in any danger of confusing him with Tim Hardaway Senior?
- Is Kevin Harlan contractually obligated to laugh uproariously at every re-run Barkley joke? Or is he just that guy?
- I imagine when Barkley can't sleep, he counts straw men instead of sheep. "Carmelo Anthony is not the reason the Knicks are awful." "It's unfair of the Knicks to act like they're going to keep some of these expiring contracts." Stay gold, Ponyboy.
Next game is home Saturday against Phoenix. Whatever happens, every game is some kind of silver lining. Maybe not silver. What are ping pong balls made of? Plastic? "Every loss has a plastic lining" doesn't pop. Still: see all moments as one moment and title number three will be here in no time.