Well, well, well. D-Day has arrived. It’s Friday, and that means it’s Game 3 time as your Knickerbockers will hit the Garden hardwood tonight as they welcome the Cleveland Cavaliers and see who goes ahead in their first-round postseason series.
That also means it’s time for everybody to speak about this thing, including the old-gen folks hosting TNT’s main basketball show: Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, former New York Knicks antagonizers.
Charles Barkley: “New York was always a fantastic place to play when they had good teams. Now they got another good team. I’m excited. I’m excited for that game”— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) April 21, 2023
Shaquille O’Neal: “If you’re Donovan & Garland…you don’t let that bother you, all that Mecca of basketball, forget… pic.twitter.com/nb0cH1PTTs
A lot has been said and written about New York’s return to play at MSG and how that might impact the series and affect the mind of the inexperienced players from Cleveland.
In Thursday’s edition of Inside the NBA, Chuck and Shaq shared their thoughts about the Mecca and how it might or might not factor into the outcome of Game 3.
Charles Barkley boasts a 29-19 record against the Knicks. He played 24 times at MSG winning 11 of those games and losing 13.
“New York was always a fantastic place to play when they had good teams,” Barkley said. “Now they got another good team. I’m excited. I’m excited for that game.”
The truth is, the Knicks do indeed have a good team this season. In fact, they have a team that through the regular season ranked as the fifth-best among those playing out of the Eastern Conference, and arguably the fourth-best squad, considering they went to Cleveland and snatched home-court advantage from the Cavs in no time.
O’Neal, though, doesn’t think New York will have that big of an advantage playing in their own arena. Shaq thinks it’s all “hoopla” coming from native New Yorkers attending MSG to root for the Knicks. “Don’t let all that fool you,” said the big man.
“If you’re Donovan and Garland, you don’t let that bother you, all that Mecca of basketball... forget all that,” Shaq started. “Take it to them early, get the crowd out of the game, and you’d have a shot.”
According to Shaq and his experience (he played 23 times at MSG facing the Knicks (spanning from 1992 to 2009) throughout his career winning 12 of those matchups, “If you let the crowd get to the game, if you get in foul trouble . . . you let all the noise, all that stuff, you let Spike Lee start messing with you . . . you don’t have a chance.”
However, Shaq said that “if you’re a superstar, then you step up to the challenge” reasoning that “the greatest players have put up some great numbers at the Garden.”
O’Neal told Mitchell and Garland to “step up to the challenge,” and not “let all that New York hoopla fool you.”
New York will play a postseason game at a full-capacity Garden for the first time in a decade. The last game staged inside MSG, a couple of years ago against the Hawks, featured a limited crowd due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking after Game 2 in Cleveland, Donovan Mitchell already said that he expects New York to be “crazy” and “loud” inside the Garden. “It’s going to be nobody cheering for us,” Mitchell said. “We understand it’s going to be war.”
"I know they're gonna be looking forward to heckling us. We're looking forward to it"— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) April 20, 2023
"It's gonna be fun…It's just boos…draw energy from it…the motivation to quiet a raucous crowd…embrace it"
— Cavs Caris LeVert & JB Bickerstaff on playing Game 3 in Madison Square Garden pic.twitter.com/Ie4p8aCAwc
Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff looks forward to meeting New York at MSG on Friday. “You gotta get them to embrace it. It may be loud, but it’s gonna be fun,” Bickerstaff said after his team practiced inside the Mecca on Thursday. “If you’re really in it for the competition, it’s just noise, just boos, just words. But it’s fun,” JBB said.
“This is why you do what you do, to compete in environments like this. Being able to band together with your team versus everybody and having that type of mentality, that’s what a team is all about and that’s what our guys have been about,” Bickerstaff finished.
The Cavs didn’t make Mitchell—a Westchester native—available for the media on Thursday following the Cavs practice.
Teammate Darius Garland said that “nobody in New York likes us right now” after the Cavaliers trouncing of the Knicks last Tuesday. His coach thinks that “competitors find a reason and draw energy from it,” before adding that “we’re hopeful that’s what our guys do.”
Bickerstaff, who is coaching in the postseason for the second time in his tenured career (he went 1-4 with the Houston Rockets back in the 2016 playoffs), thinks that “there’s no bigger motivation than where we are right now.”. The coach added that “the motivation to quiet a raucous crowd, as a group, that’s how you use it. That’s how you embrace it and go out and perform at your best.”
Things are heating up. We’re just hours from witnessing the third battle of this quarter-finals war. Tip-off at 8:30 ET. Don’t miss it.