A Daily Babble Production
The Knicks' defense may have hit a new low on Friday. For one evening, the fellows from the Sizable Apple turned Sebastian Telfair into an unstoppable force.
I made my second Madison Square Garden trip of the season two nights ago in hopes of bringing back some firsthand reports of two former C's for whom i still have fondness: Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes. Jefferson was his typical (albeit slightly more efficient than usual) self with 21 points, 15 boards and no excess of defense played. Gomes was disappointingly reliant on the three-pointer, going 2-for-9 from the field overall and 2-of-6 from deep.
But of the former Celtics involved, it was Telfair who stole the show in his return to his native New York.
The Lincoln High School product was the biggest reason the Knicks' rally from 21 points down in the fourth quarter fell short. He just did whatever he wanted during the final period.
This is a guy whose skill set doesn't seem to have changed much from his time in Boston. He is a slick ball-handler with a suspect outside shot and an even more suspect head, but he is still super-duper quick. That's all he needed against the 'Bockers. The jump shot once again didn't look too good (and hasn't all year, given his awful 42.9 percent true shooting mark), but it didn't matter. All he had to do was attack the rim to wreak havoc against the Knicks.
The Knicks generally play only three true guards in Nate Robinson, Chris Duhon and Anthony Roberson. Duhon sat much of the second half after taking an elbow that gashed his face late in the second quarter, and Roberson played less than two minutes for the game. Swingman Quentin Richardson sat out with a sprained right ankle. This left Robinson on the court with four forwards for much of the night, and at one point, Mike D'Antoni actually went to a five-forward lineup, featuring Wilson Chandler, Jared Jeffries, David Lee, Al Harrington and Tim Thomas. Robinson isn't the world's greatest defender and wasn't a world-beater against Telfair, but the Knicks fell into even deeper trouble when one of the forwards had to attempt to take Bassy, which happened throughout the fourth quarter. He blew past the Knicks into the lane time and again, finishing easy lay-ups and drawing fouls, all the while facing little interior help defense of any sort.
Telfair began the fourth quarter by flying through the Knicks' defense for a lay-up plus the foul to put the Wolves up 21. When the Knicks cut the lead to ten for the first time in the period, he went back to the paint, drew a foul and hit both shots. When the Knicks got to within seven, Telfair responded with an explosive first step down across the lane to the left side for another lay-up. On the following two possessions, he hit Ryan Gomes for a three-pointer and made a pretty dish to Craig Smith underneath for a bucket and-one to restore a 13-point lead with 3:40 to play. He put the Knicks' final stand down when he extended a nine-point lead to 11 with yet another barely contested lay-in with less than two and a half minutes to play.
In his 22 games played prior to Friday night, Telfair scored in double-digits four times and put up 13 points or more three times. He scored 13 in the fourth quarter on Friday, doing so on 4-for-7 shooting for the period. In 20 games played in the month of November, Telfair took a total of 22 free throws. He took 13 for the game on Friday night. When all was said and done, Bassy had posted a season-high 20 points and tied a season high with eight assists. His jumper still looked far from adequate. He didn't indicate himself to have transformed into an all-world player by any means. But he sure could fly past slow-footed defenders and finish open lay-ups or head to the line after being grabbed by lazy opponents.
For one night, props to Sebastian Telfair for playing to his strengths. And shame on the Knicks for making it criminally easy for him to do so.
Other assorted thoughts from far closer to courtside than usual Friday night (special thanks again to my longtime pal Anil the Despondent Knick Fan for procuring the seats):
- I prefaced the comment about Telfair stealing the show with the "of the former Celtics involved" clause principally because Rashad McCants was also involved in this game. In addition to the fact that he oddly struck me as someone who looks smaller than I expected in person, he also couldn't be bothered to miss much from three-point land. The box score line (8-for-12 overall, 7-for-9 from three, 23 points in 20 minutes) tells the story on this one. He came. He shot. He conquered.
- In a related story, the Knicks established defensive balance by augmenting their lack of interior defense with an astounding inability to guard the three-point line. Minny shot 13-for-24 from deep and 51.4 percent from the field for the game.
- McCants still appears to be the same chatterbox he was at North Carolina. He managed to pick up a technical foul for emphatically slapping the floor with two hands after an early foul call, and then he spent the rest of the game yapping at the refs and his opponents. He also seems to enjoy running down floor after treys while making a gesture that consists of making a circle with his thumb and forefinger and holding his other three fingers up. Wonder where we've seen that one before.
- Big Al looked very smooth offensively, getting his 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field and 9-of-11 from the foul line. He did whatever he wanted inside with a Knicks team that is somehow both oversized (too many forwards) and undersized (forwards that aren't big enough, no true center) at once.
- If he weren't in the midst of a mega-contract that will pay him a total in the neighborhood of $30 million when all is said and done, Jerome James would be the coolest guy on the Knicks. He spends the entire game yapping, generally looking goofy and appearing thrilled to get to wear professional basketball warm-up clothes and chill courtside at the Garden. He also maintains the amusing habit (along with Malik Rose) of making himself even taller in his seat at the end of the bench by stacking 20 to 30 towels on his chair and sitting on top of them. When the Knicks came out for warm-ups, James walked around the periphery of the court with a big bag, out of which he produced t-shirts to throw into the stands. If this guy were making a little less, or if he were on a shorter-term deal, or if the team were a little better, the fans would chant his name every night, and visiting announcers would refer to him as a "fan favorite." Instead, he's just another bitter reminder of the Isiah era for Knicks fans. I love it.
- Coaching highlight of the night: Mike D'Antoni calling a timeout exactly nine seconds into the fourth quarter, which began with the aforementioned Telfair and-one. I've never seen anything like that, especially without an injury being involved. D'Antoni then proceeded to ream his team out but sadly didn't yank anyone. Ah, the perils of playing a seven-man rotation.
- Having Tim Thomas on my team would drive me insane. Watching him act like a goof on other people's teams is fun. His moment of the night came in the middle of a play when Thomas held the ball on the right wing while being closely guarded by a Minny defender. Too closely for his liking. So he turned to the ref while the play was live and he was in possession of the basketball, yelled "Hands off me!" and then continued on to make his move. And he drew the foul.
- Similarly, the seating arrangement also allowed me to hear the entirety of Rodney Carney's commentary to Nate Robinson after a hard foul by the latter broke up a Minny fast break. Let's just say that the general gist of it involved Carney requesting that Robinson kindly remove his hands from his person. If you're searching for an indicator that this recount may be leaving out some of the verbiage involved, look no further than the fact that the referees assessed double technicals immediately thereafter.
Finally, I can't stress enough how vital it is that anyone attending a game at the Garden make a point of stopping off at Gyro II diagnoally across the street from the Garden on 33rd and 7th. The little hole-in-the-wall remains my primary reason for attending sporting events at that venue. While I'll grant that those worried about shaving tens of years off their lives at once might shy away from the wonderfully sweet sauce and the grease-covered Greek fries and onion rings, Gyro II is still my favorite place in the city. Just right to get me in the mood for some Knicks basketball. And no, I still don't have a clue as to the whereabouts or back story on Gyro I.