Yesterday I spoke about “basking in the radiant glow of my logic”. Today, you need only bask in the glow of the most memorable night at the garden in more than a decade. Amar’e said it first, over the summer, and Melo echoed the sentiment last night…
“The Knicks are back.”
And back in a big way. During the player intros, as Jamie alluded to in the previous post, The Garden was as electric as it’s been since Larry Johnson’s 4 point play against the Pacers in ’99 (I’m ignoring both Ewing’s return to The Garden and the Ewing jersey retirement ceremony as they were strictly moments of nostalgia and had nothing to do with the state of the team at the time). I nearly shed a tear…no lie. Real talk.
But enough with my emotions and my nostalgia, let’s get into how the actual game went down.
Obviously, by now nearly everyone has seen the highlights and/or the boxscore and knows that Melo went off for 27 and 10; a statistically spectacular and scintillatingly superstarish performance (leave me alone…I love alliterations). Pretty much everyone also knows that it wasn’t exactly a great game for Melo since his shot was way off in the first half and, as we knew Melo would, he spent a lot of time assasinating any and all ball movement, murdering the shot clock, and forcing up contested shots. Efficient, he was not. But as true superstars do, he took over the game when it mattered most, iso-dribble-driving and contested-pull-up-jumpering his new team to a victory against the hapless Milwaukee United Nations Bucks (seriously, every country on the planet is repped on that team. I think they even have someone from Andorra on their bench).
Melo poured in 11 4th quarter points, 6 in the final 1:24 seconds, and grabbed a key rebound that helped seal the deal. As he knoked down his game clinching free throws he was serenaded by the soon-to-be-a-Garden-staple “MEHHH-LOWWWW” chants. Another new Knick, Chauncey Billups, played a terriffic game and was also serenaded by the Garden crowd as he shot free throws in the waning moments. It was a perfect end to an amazing debut night. All that said, from a pure basketball perspective this night was not without flaw.
As I alluded to before, Melo spent a lot of time taking the air out of the ball and bricking contested shots. He seemed to be simulteneously over excited and over tired. He just didn’t have his legs…understandable for a guy who just went through a near sleepless whirlwind of madness for 72 hours. As a result, the ball movement and flow which had come to characterize this offense was nowhere to be found. Furthermore, with Melo being Melo, Amar’e and Landry looked totally at a loss as to what they were supposed to be doing. There was a lot of standing around and watching, and the times Landry did make a strong cut to the basket or Amar’e popped open for a jumper, Melo wasn’t looking to distribute. I can only hope that with time and familiarity, offensive cohesion will come. As I said the other day, Melo is a skilled passer. He just has to spend more time looking to create for his teammates, and I believe that eventually he will. It was clear last night that for this team to take the next step and reach elite status, Melo’s game is going to have to evolve.
Then there’s the defense…ohhhh the defense. Granted, the Bucks were hitting far more threes than they normally do, but the fact is that they were mainly uncontested threes resulting from a lack of rotational and help D. Shocking. There were at least 2 or 3 plays where Melo blatantly ignored a wide open shooter who was his responsibility, opting instead to hang out underneath the basket and cherry-pick rebounds. This will not, repeat NOT, win the Knicks a playoff series. What it will do, instead, is assure Knicks fans of many 155-147 victories in the regular season (if Melo and Amar’e grow out Flat-Top Fades then it will be the mid-80’s all over again), and some crushing defeats in the postseason. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:
The Knicks don’t need to become a defensive juggernaut to succeed. They simply need to be willing defenders who hustle harder and can clamp down when they need to. To that end, I sincerely hope that:
a) Corey Brewer becomes an integral part of the rotation (have a seat Bill Walker),
b) Donnie is able to procure another big body to patrol the paint (I love Ronny Turiaf, but he’s a 20 minute per game player, nothing more).
I also sincerely hope that the reason that neither Brewer nor Shelden Williams saw any action last night had more to do with D’antoni’s lack of familiarity with these guys and less to do with how he actually intends on putting together this rotation for the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. Corey Brewer was an underrated aspect to this blockbuster trade and his perimeter defense and shooting ability should fit perfectly into the system. I don’t know much about what Shelden Williams is capable of but I do know that he is monstrously ugly and he is large. For now he has to be backing up at center. There is no way that the Knicks can have Shawne Williams, who in the words of ESPNs Chris Sheridan, “is 6’9 but so skinny that he has to run around in the shower to get wet”, matched up against an opposing center for any period of time. This occurred last night, and it will cost the Knicks some wins if it continues.
Defensive deficiencies and ball-hogging issues aside, it was a tremendous night for the city, the franchise, and the fan base.
Melo has come home.
The Knicks ARE back.
New York, stand up.
-by Max Joice