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Knicks fan’s guide to the NBA playoffs: Eastern Conference

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Mostly it’s just hate here

NBA: New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back, friends!

And so we come to the East, where all of New York’s biggest rivalries lie.

(Advance warning that I am a normally peaceful person whose primary outlet for anger is certain Eastern Conference basketball teams.)

- China

East

(1) Toronto Raptors

CP: Call me a xenophobe, but last time I checked Toronto was in another country, and it’s called the National Basketball Association. I was willing to tolerate the Raptor incursion on the Homeland only as long as they sucked. Toronto’s place at the top of the Conference is an abomination, and they must be stopped.

For a long time the Raptors were basically KnicksNorth, with a steady pipeline of players heading up, usually somewhat before I would have chosen, and for slightly less return than ideal. To put it politely.

A list of Knicks you may have heard of who’ve been traded to the Raps: Herb Williams, Hubie Davis, John Wallace, CHARLES OAKLEY, Chris Childs, and Steve Novak.

Notables Toronto has traded to the Knicks: Andrea Bargnani.

Case closed. Blame Canada.

MM: In the very first game in NBA history in 1946, the New York Knickerbockers defeated the Toronto Huskies 68-66. The Knicks’ leading scorers that night? Leo Gottlieb, Ossie Schectman, Stan Stutz and Ralph Kaplowitz. Toronto lost their next game to the Cleveland Rebels before the third time was the charm and they defeated the Detroit Falcons. I want to believe the third time will be the charm for the Raptors to best the Cavaliers this season after two straight years being eliminated by Team LeBron, because then we can believe continuity and incremental change is enough to move mountains, and as a child of the 1990s Knicks that’s still the hill I’m willing to die on. But deep down, the ghost of greatness haunts me. Deep down, I can’t help feeling there’s a better chance of the Raptors beating the Cleveland Rebels than the Cleveland Cavaliers.

(8) Washington Wizards

CP: Can’t help but like the Wiz. They’re spunky and fun but not too high on themselves and although they lose style points for ditching the wizard logo, they do make some back for the pornographic new one.

Knick-wise, Ramon “too good for Instagram” Sessions is practicing his magick arts in Washington, as is Jason “Jah” Smith, dance machine:

MM: Ernie Grunfeld being in power anywhere in the NBA in 2018 is bizarre. Too bizarre. It’s so bizarre it’s even more bizarre than literally any other job you could imagine him holding. Look at this man.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

He looks like:

  • A ballpark usher.
  • A non-speaking extra in any Hollywood film featuring any scene with a board of directors.
  • A brusque dentist.
  • A movie theatre manager who always good-naturedly agrees to take the recycling to the dumpster after closing so his teenage co-workers can punch out and go home. They say there’s a big bio test in the morning they have to study for. He knows they’re lying, but he doesn’t mind. He’ll get home to his studio apartment shortly before midnight, feed his cat first, watch a DVR’d Wheel Of Fortune, and ponder what he wants in this life. He never comes up with an answer. He doesn’t mind.
  • A junior high school math teacher who used to be the high school principal. Your older siblings and their friends always make fun of him and talk shit about him as a principal, and you want to defend him because he’s the first math teacher you’ve ever had who makes it fun, but you’re young and don’t want to risk what little social capital you possess defending a math teacher you’ll never see again after June, so instead you keep quiet and smile, uneasily, like a child who’s eaten too much candy and knows they’ll be sick come morning but keeps eating anyway.
  • A state senator who decides not to run for re-election after his millionaire wife is arrested for shoplifting at Target.
  • Bernard King’s chauffeur.

(2) Boston Celtics

CP: OH HELL NO. God no. The no-est no that ever no’d. Imagine the deepest, darkest pit of no-ness, where the negativity is so hot and thick that metal melts away in a molten ribbon of shame, and then imagine a deeper, denser, darker and more potent no. The no at the end of all things. This is the No we reserve for Boston.

On the Knickerbocker front, Shane “not even the rain has such tiny hands” Larkin has found a home with the Celtics, where he has found (moderate) success. Nice work, Shane!

MM: I was a little concerned earlier this year over my waning Celtic hatred. Brad Stevens is the Captain America of NBA coaches, meaning he’s the Chris Evans of NBA coaches, meaning he’s impossible not to like. Kyrie Irving is as fun to watch go to work as anyone. Jaylen Brown is an even more intriguing as a social justice advocate than a baller, and he’s a helluva a baller. Al Horford is the sort of subtle star that — were he a Knick — NYC would cream itself over while sneering that no other fan base was savvy enough to appreciate. But after Irving’s knee surgery seemingly scrapped Boston’s shot at Eastern Conference supremacy, I saw this headline:

And there it is. The exceptionalism. The privilege. The double-standard. Missed hating you, C’s. Good to have you back.

(7) Milwaukee Bucks

CP: Fear the deer! The Bucks are rife with recent Knicks, including guy who was either too good or not good enough Brandon Jennings, and tech wizard and Mindaugas Kuzminskas-trolling Marshall Plumlee. Also a part of the Bucks family: Discount Double Check Steve Novak works on the broadcasting team.

MM: The Knicks’ unicorn is gone for another 8-12 months because he got hurt landing on the Bucks’ unicorn. Wasn’t intentional. Whatever. Justice demands Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks over LeBron in the second round and suffers a charley horse or a bad case of hiccups or feels uncomfortably bloated afterward.

KnicksPick: The Bucks, obviously

(3) Philadelphia 76ers

CP: This one is tough. I have a sort of natural good feeling about the Sixers (comes from being conscious in the Iverson era, probably), but on the other hand they’re in our division and fucking terrifying because they gamed the system for years. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

MM: Remember the last scene in The Godfather?

We all know what the Sixers did to get here. Best not to ask prying questions. You know why? Two reasons. First, the only reason to question The Process is to judge it, which means you’re only really asking because you wanna hear one answer, and anyone who’s ever had their heart broken juuuuust the right way knows you never ask a question if you’re not prepared for all possible answers. Second, there’s karma. Today’s too-good-to-be-true gains come at tomorrow’s inflated prices. The Knicks aren’t in the same universe as the 76ers, but (SUSPEND YOUR DISBELIEF IN 3....2....1....) I’ll take New York’s steady approach to building something ethically sustainable over Sam Hinkie’s Stalinist Five-Year Plan. Enjoy the rise while you can, Philadelphia. Enron did for a while, too.

(6) Miami Heat

CP: No no no no no. No. Never. RAGE. I hate you forever, PJ Brown. Screw you, Tim Hardaway (Sr.), get bent, Alonzo Mourning. You are not forgiven, Rod Thorn. And the biggest of all FUs to you, Pat fucking Riley. Never forget.

There are some who hate the Celtics more, and some who hate the Heat more. Me, I hate the Heat with white-hot, well, heat. My hatred burns hotter for the Heat than for any group on earth (non-politics category). The fact that we’ve usually gotten the better of them does not diminish my dislike in any way.

Jeff es mi gallo

Nabakov wrote, “There are two kinds of visual memory: one when you skillfully recreate an image in the laboratory of your mind, with your eyes open […]; and the other when you instantly evoke, with shut eyes, on the dark inner side of your eyelids, the objective, absolutely optical replica of a beloved face, a little ghost in natural colors.” My hatred for the Heat is the dark side hate version of the latter, so strong and so ever-present that I can close my eyes and be instantly transported to the exact quivering anger and helplessness and despair that I felt all those years ago. Strangely, real life has less of a hold. I went to a playoff game in Miami shamefully can’t remember what year it was (‘98? ‘00?) or whether we won or lost (there may have been intoxicants involved), only that there was purple neon everywhere and throngs of Miami fans chanting Fuck New York. Right back ‘atcha, Miami.

OK, that’s a really negative place to land. So I can’t remember a game I attended in person, but I will never forget the moment of standing in my old living room, just to the left of the 25” TV, crouched in prayer as Allan Houston’s shot bounced once, twice, forever above the rim and then slipped in like a dolphin hitting a wave. The sweet relief and pure joy of that moment is one of the happiest of my life.

MM: I literally injured my rectum celebrating Houston’s bucket in ‘99. I wouldn’t support the Heat if they were playing to raise money to repair my rectum. That’s all/that’s all/that’s all I can say/that’s all I can say.

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers

CP: In the end I will always be a JR Smith fan. He’s not exactly lighting the world on fire this year, but that only led to this amazing story about Remington the therapy dog, so it all worked out (for me, at least). Also a Cav? Ham impresario Jose Calderon. NOT on the Cavs, apparently? Reality star Iman Shumpert. Who knew? (Alex Wolfe, that’s who).

MM: Two months ago the Cavs traded former Knick Channing Frye to the Lakers. Frye’s nickname, according to basketball-reference.com, is “Buffet of Goodness.” If you’re so lost in life trying to chase your dreams that you toss out an 83-inch buffet of goodness, then your problems go deeper than anywhere Larry Nance Fucking Junior can reach.

I root against the Cavs, always. Because watching LeBron try to overcome the odds is like playing Tetris when the shapes are piling up high and you’re about to lose, only you manage to make a couple lines late enough to think you’re escaping, and what a miracle, only you know you’re not really escaping, not actually, only with LeBron, miracles can and do happen, fairly frequently. Also, the Knicks sure as hell won’t be the team to end King James’ ECF reign. We need someone else to topple the crown before we imagine ourselves storming the castle.

(5) Indiana Pacers

CP: Another HELL NO. There is no one in basketball that I personally despise more than Reggie Miller.

I’d like to be clear that a lot of what I hate about Reggie Miller is not that he was a “Knick Killer,” but that he’s made his brand being the Knick KillerTM. Lame. Memory is kind to me, but I do recall a lot more of this:

than this:

Getty Images

Sure, some years the Pacers got the better of the Knicks, but remember that whole Spike Lee - choking thing? The Knicks won that series. And of course the four point play:

Good times.

(addendum: I also went to a Knicks-Pacers playoff game - 1995 ECSF game 5 - in Indy. The crowd at Market Square Arena was unbelievably nasty. I wore a Derek Harper jersey (where did I get a Derek Harper jersey? I never bought one. Haven’t seen it since. Odd.) and as my (young, blonde, female) friend and I made our way to our seats the entire section stood up and started shouting curses at us. A short way into the game someone grabbed a sign my friend made and ripped it up. A drink was stolen. It was crazy. There was a nice couple sitting next to us who apologized (“please don’t think everyone in Indianapolis lives in a trailer park”) but they were the only ones. On the drive back we saw some Amish in a buggy and that was pretty cool.) And yet I do not hate the Pacers as much as the Heat. Go figure.

MM: Three years ago the Pacers used their second-round pick on a point guard named Joe Young. 17 years before that, Disney released a film called Mighty Joe Young. 49 years before that, RKO Radio Pictures released the original Mighty Joe Young, wherein a young lass trades away her wordly possessions for an orphaned baby gorilla. The film jumps forward 20 years, when Joe has grown into a 12-foot tall, 2000 pound gorilla, big enough to be the gorilla in two and a half rooms. He ends up in Hollywood, gets drunk in his cage on whiskey provided by three men who also burn his fingers with a cigarette lighter for fun, and ultimately rescues a bunch of children from a burning orphanage, because #symmetry.

The Pacers were there when LeBron’s ECF hegemony started. It’s symmetrical they be there now, near its purported swan song. As a Knick fan, I have no interest in seeing the Pacers be good again. But on the other hand, LeBron losing before the Finals is an infinitely more compelling story heading into the offseason. Would I rather sleep well? Or dream well? Yes. Yes I would.

KnicksPick: Cleveland, for sure.