A Daily Babble Production
Last night marked my first trip of the season to the hoops mecca that is Madison Square Garden, and every source I've consulted claims that the final score of the Cavaliers' visit to New York last night resulted in a 119-101 Cleveland victory. Since the box score totals seem to corroborate this (and I was trusting the board rather than keeping score manually), I can't in good faith accuse the operating folks at the Garden of any occupational malpractice.
But I can tell you that the fact that the final margin of this game was just 18 points was an complete and utter joke. Doesn't even come close to representing the gap between the two contestant teams in the Sizable Apple in this game. I've been witness to some poor performances (the Celtics' miserable home effort against the Mavs in March 2002 comes to mind, and so does the green's trip to face the Clippers in LA in December 2006), but the show or lack thereof put on by the New York Knickerbockers on Tuesday night goes right up there. So without further ado, let's bust out the bullet points to run the gamut of incoherence for my first pro game attendance of the young season:
- LeBron James managed to dominate the part of this game he was around for while appearing only casually interested throughout. The Cavs got their first four baskets without much involvement from number 23. On their next possession, the ball came out to James with the shot clock running down, and he threw up a trey that bottomed. He hit one from the corner 31 seconds later, and suddenly he was 2-for-2 for six points. It was that type of night. LBJ seemed to spend most of the evening in cruise control, but when he was done after just 30 minutes in three quarters, he had rolled up 26 points on 7-for-14 shooting (3-of-7 from deep, 9-of-11 from the line), thrown down one thunderous dunk on the break and allowed his teammates easy looks by forcing the Knicks' defense to cheat towards him every time he was anywhere near the basketball. LBJ only had one assist for the night, but he was as integral as ever in using his presence and threat of explosion to garner extra space for his 'mates. And they didn't disappoint.
- One more James note: He also made the defensive play of the game, a jaw-dropping leap to swat a Chris Duhon floater attempt in transition. James sprinted back in help defense and legitimately caught the ball at its apex, sending it back to halfcourt. Mo Williams grabbed it there and cruised down floor for a reverse lay-up. Stunning athleticism.
- Chris Duhon seems to enjoy heaving up his threes from nearly five feat behind the line. Though he happened to make a couple of them last night, this still is an odd choice, particularly for a guy not exactly known for his perimeter touch.
- Meet the new-look Knicks, in one particular regard largely the same as the old-look Knicks: They still refuse to guard anyone. Inside, outside, doesn't matter. The likes of Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West took no shortage of wide-open shots all night. The Cavs got where they wanted to go offensively, be it through screening and cutting on the interior or simply skipping the ball around the outside more quickly than a lazy Knicks team cared to rotate. When Hickson and Varejao combine to shoot 10-for-13 against you (virtually all on lay-ups and dunks), you have a problem. When Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak look like world-beaters against you, you have a problem.
- Speaking of Delonte and Wally World, the former Celtics did look like world-beaters. Despite shooting just 1-for-7 from deep, West scored 16 points and shot 7-for-14 from the field thanks to easy penetration into the lane for baby and mid-range jumpers as well as a fast-break slam on which he hung onto the rim long enough to pick up four technicals (he got none, and instead Mike D'Antoni did for screaming at an official at the same time, perhaps about the lack of discipline shown to West). Meanwhile, Wally bombed away, hitting 6-of-9 shots (3-of-6 from deep) and even pinning his man inside so that he could grab an offensive board and put it back in. I'll never embrace the guy because of how much he frustrated me in Boston, but it was a nicely put together 15-point effort. Perhaps it's just me, but it looks like Szczerbiak derives a disproportionately high amount of power for his shot from his arms rather than his legs. Probably should have picked up on this years ago.
- Kudos to Nate Robinson for addressing the crowd before the game to wish the fans a happy Thanksgiving. Whatever the opposite of kudos are to Robinson's teammates for miserably failing to back up his promise that the Knicks would put on a show for the faithful. Best wishes to Nate for a quick recovery from the groin pull he sustained after making a lay-up in the second quarter. It was a nerve-racking sight to watch a guy jogging back on defense suddenly crumple to the ground as though he'd been shot. Hate seeing that happen to anyone.
- Back to the Knicks' inability to guard anybody: They didn't have a chance against Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The Knicks' small front line of Quentin Richardson, Wilson Chandler and David Lee had no answer for Big Z in the post. He shot the ball easily over anyone assigned to check him, and there was nothing the 'Bockers could do about preventing him from getting into the paint for bunnies and lay-ins. That he settled for less than 21 minutes and 11 points (5-of-11 shooting) and 10 rebounds is one more reason this game's final score wasn't what it could have been.
- The apparently over the hill Ben Wallace didn't look it on this night. In addition to drawing a charge, grabbing three offensive boards and blocking five shots (all standard Wallace behaviors in his heyday), he also swished a turn-around fall-away jumper on the left wing and actually made a dribble-spin move to get himself a second bucket. Both of these things actually happened. I still say he should be fined every time he dribbles the ball, but he was one in a long list of Cavs made to look quite good all night by the Knicks.
- Al Harrington spends a criminal amount of time out by the perimeter. This is a six-foot-nine power forward. I know he's spent a good portion of his career doing this, but that doesn't mean it has to be this way. The idea that everything has to be either a three or some slick dribble-penetration slice to the rim normally reserved for guards seems a tad silly for someone of Magic Al's size and physical skill set.
- The Cavs effectively put this game away when they went on an 8-0 run to stretch a 34-22 lead to 42-22 to start the second quarter and force a D'Antoni timeout. In fact, the Cavs doubled that 12-point first quarter lead by outscoring the Knicks by a 21-9 count overall from the start of the quarter until the 6:20 mark. Significance of the 6:20 mark, you ask? Because that's when LeBron James entered the game for his first appearance of the period. Yeah. It was that type of whacking. The Knicks wound up trailing by 30 (and as much as 34) on their own floor for significant portions of this game, making big runs at both the end of the second and end of the third quarter to cut the Cleveland lead all the way down to 29 at those points. I reiterate: Yeah. It was that type of whacking.
- This one gets me every time: Tim Thomas routinely waving his hand to signify the "So hot I can't feel my face!" credo after each three...while the Knicks are getting absolutely wiped out. Truly Roy Williams-esque. If anyone could celebrate with special panache a seven-yard grab on second-and-ten while losing by 30, it was the former Lions wideout. Seemed like the same old Tim from his first stint in New York: lots of shooting, lots of cockiness, little defense or actual effort.
- No matter the quality of play, a trip to MSG is always a blast. Joined by The Guru and close friends The Babe, Kenny and Stanley, I had my traditional pregame meal at Gyro II, a hole-in-the-wall across the street from the Garden that features plenty of grime and the sweetest sauce you can imagine. Always my highlight of any Knick game - I may need an oxygen mask to even walk around in there sooner rather than later, but it will be well worth it. From there, on to bugging my old pal Axel at the concession stand about Qyntel Woods number six jerseys and on up to the seats for some terrible ball played by the home team. World-class arena, great company, an ugly loss for the Knickerbockers: It's hard to ask for a more pleasant Tuesday evening.