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Babblings: Nets-Knicks

Last night began a string of three trips to Madison Square Garden over a five day span.  As those familiar with my work at Taking it to the Rack may recall, I view each trip to the Garden -- or any NBA game for that matter -- as a total experience and generally a set of happenings to be cherished.  These trips relegate me to the kingdom of incoherence that is best expressed through bullet points, and hence come the Babblings.  Away we go.

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  • Jamal Crawford isn't going to get a lot of love in this space on a regular basis.  Generally speaking, he comes off as a chucker whose shooting is mediocre and whose shot selection is worse.  Last night?  Simply not the case.  The man was off the charts, playing the most complete game I have ever seen from him.  Crawford was a slick 11-for-18 from the field (including 4-for-7 from deep) en route to 32 points, while also going for 7 boards and 3 assists.  He did the majority of the ball handling, actually played a little defense and was the Knicks' unquestioned leader on the floor all night in Stephon Marbury's absence.  Without a doubt, the excellent play and leadership from Crawford was the primary story of this contest.  Well done, Mal.
  • Fun fact: Jason Kidd entered this game 19-2 against the Knicks since joining the Nets.  Make that 19-3 now.  Speaking of Kidd, the Knicks did a good job cutting off his passing lanes and preventing him from torching them as a distributor, but their traditionally poor closeouts allowed Kidd a variety of wide-open looks that led to him going 8-for-16 and finishing with 18 for the game.  Again, though, the Knicks had to feel pretty good in holding him to 7 assists and 7 boards (he leads his team with 8.7 boards per).  Ugh.  Can't stand this whole business of having to praise the Knicks.
  • Sean Williams looks like a nice defensive player.  If he can stay out of trouble off the floor and work hard on his game, he could become a very dangerous all-around player.  Last night, however, he had his shot blocked by Eddy Curry.  So let's not get too excited yet.
  • Free Renaldo!  Balkman is barely averaging 10 minutes per game for December and played just three last night.  Jared Jeffries played 14 minutes, and Quentin Richardson played 31.  Here's the problem with this: Jeffries has been a complete disaster with the Knicks.  He can't shoot the ball at all, serves as a complete black hole on offense, doesn't rebound particularly well and is at best a decent defender.  Richardson is a starter primarily because of his outside shooting touch and his efforts defensively.  Given that he has been hurt since the start of the season, however, Richardson has been largely unproductive this season, shooting a putrid 32.2 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from deep.  Beyond that, he clearly labors when trying to move on the court and as such isn't at his best in the other non-shooting aspects of the game, which means that he adds nothing to the Knicks.  The big knock on Balkman is that he can't shoot, which as of yet is true.  But he does hustle, play defense, rebound and run the floor very well; essentially, he does everything the other two can currently do, and he largely does it better and with more energy.  This guy should be taking the vast majority of the minutes being eaten by Jeffries and Richardson.  Makes no sense that he isn't.
  • Sadly for this individual, after watching the same type of atrocity on several occasions this season, it is time for what is quickly becoming a staple of all Knicks-related Babblings pieces: This feature is called "Wondering Why Mardy Collins Plays Basketball For a Living."  This is inspired by the final quite memorable two minutes and 45 seconds of the first quarter last night, a time span for which the box score doesn't even come close to telling the whole story.  Collins, considered some combination of defensive specialist and point guard, entered the game with the Knicks leading, 16-15.  The Knicks' only basket for the rest of the quarter came as a result of Collins throwing up an air ball that missed badly enough that Eddy Curry was able to grab it and lay it back in.  Beyond that, Collins succeeded in, well, nothing really.  After the Curry putback, Collins began a run that included (in near succession) getting stripped by Jason Kidd, two terrible closeouts on one defensive possession, completely losing his man and floating in space on the following defensive possession (leading to a Nets basket), throwing a pass away, managing to get it back and proceeding to brick a wide-open three-pointer off the backboard, throwing a not-even-close lob pass directed to Eddy Curry, completely bailing on playing any sort of help defense as the Nets went coast-to-coast with the clock running down, and, finally, bricking another three to end the quarter. Nets 24, Knicks 18.  For his efforts, Mardy was the proud recipient of a front row seat to the rest of the contest, which turned out to be one of Isiah Thomas's better coaching maneuvers as of late.
  • In light of yesterday's Eddy Curry column, it is worth noting that devout Knicks fan, writing colleague (Money from the Parking Lot), good friend and guest for the week Willy Po points out that Curry had one of his best performances as a Knick, not just because of his 23 points, but because of the way he got those points.  As Willy Po deftly points out, Curry is often guilty of waiting until he has the ball in his hands to start pounding down low, which leads to him having to handle the ball and make decisions with it, which largely leads to trouble.  Last night, he really worked hard to establish position before the ball came, allowing him to make quick moves to either get the basket or draw a foul with greater efficacy than usual.  Good work, Eddy, and good call, Willy Po.
  • From the alleged charity stripe: The Knicks went 24-for-36 (66.7 percent), and the Nets went 7-for-16 (43.8 percent).  Antoine Wright on his own managed to miss four straight over three possessions with inside of five minutes to play in the fourth quarter.  Not good times.
  • Don't know why more people don't like Josh Boone.  Seems like the same thing from this kid every time: He takes a few high percentage shots, plays hard on both ends of the floor and rebounds a bit.  Against the Knicks, he went 5-for-5 from the field (all lay-ups and dunks), blocked two shots and grabbed six boards in 31 minutes.  He had a bit more trouble with Eddy Curry than he should have, but all in all, it wasn't a terrible night.  He could be a decent role player for some team that needs a big body down the road.
  • Malik Allen is redefining the looseness of the concept of being a starter in this league.  Dude plays five minutes to start each half and then takes a seat.  Last night, he played eleven minutes, shot the ball four times, did little else and fell a few minutes shy of his season average of 16.9 per.  The Nets miss Mikki Moore.  Yeesh.
  • For the one time this year, Zach Randolph's complete lack of defensive effort helped the Knicks.  The Nets pushed the ball against the Knicks in what looked to be an odd man rush, with Randolph slogging behind the play, but when they reversed the ball to the right wing, Z-Bo was just finally getting back into the play and wound up haphazardly being in the right position to make a steal.  As Walt Frazier would say, fortuitous indeed.
  • One more Jamal Crawford note: His buzzer-beating three-pointer from 30 feet at the end of the third quarter was quite cool.  Once again, a very nice game for Mal.
  • Let's go back to Willy Po for some analysis on the Knicks' defense of the pick and roll: "There are many effective approaches to defending the pick and roll.  Completely ignoring the ball-handler who comes off the screen?  Not one of them."  Bill Powell needs his own Knicks column, stat.
  • All in all, another memorable experience at the Garden.  Gyro II (on the corner across the street) hit the spot as always, and I feel obligated to send out another thank-you to the two most pleasant people at the Garden these days: Axel and Patty, the two guys who work at the concession stand on the right side of the foyer-like area as fans enter the Garden.  These guys have been enduring the demands of myself (and a variety of other pranksters) for Qyntel Woods retro jerseys for years now, and they have always done it with wan smiles and hearty laughs.  Thanks for always putting up with us, fellas.

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