Sunday, February 21, 2010

Knicks Recap

Thanks to Seth over at Posting and Toasting, I attended last night's Knicks-Thunder game in T-Mobile's luxury suite. Even though the suites at MSG are way up in the rafters (the dual "15" banners for McGuire and Monroe were just about eye level), it's really a nice experience, mostly because of the free food and the private bathroom.

But this game would have been fun to attend even if I was rubbing elbows with the common folk. I haven't seen the Garden this excited for a Knicks game in years and years. And with good reason: despite the extremely high price they paid at last week's trade deadline to clear cap room for two max-contract free agents this summer, the Knicks have a plan for the first time this decade and they're sticking to it.

And it was exciting to see three new faces get serious minutes. Let's consider them one-by-one.

Tracy McGrady
The night, in short, belonged to him. The Knicks reordered their pre-game player introductions to save the shooting guard position (read: McGrady) for last. If this didn't make a clear enough point, the crowd erupted into a sustained "We Want T-Mac" chant during the fourth quarter. Besides for the injuries, the question with McGrady has always been motivation, and quotes like this make me think that he might come to play through April:

“I haven’t felt that good in a while, to really be received that way, to hear those chants,” McGrady said. ”It really gave chills down my spine.” 

I don't think McGrady will be with the team past June, but I understand the rationale for the crowd's excitement: Tracy McGrady is the biggest name to play for the Knicks since Ewing.

On the court, McGrady looked a step-slow, a little sluggish, and just a bit sloppy. But it's hard to argue with the results. He ended up with a few favorable foul calls that could have easily been called offensive, banked in a jumper from the top of the key, but managed to slither and scoop his way to 26 points on 10-17 shooting from the field. Some of the sloppiness may be attributed to the fact that there are T-Mac's first meaningful minutes since February 2009. The athleticism from McGrady's younger days was nowhere to be seen, but he's only 30 years of age and seems to be capable of transforming himself into a key member of the crafty-scorer club. Two skills that didn't disappear during the twelve-month layoff are McGrady's passing and court vision, most notably on display during his length-of-the-court fast-break bounce pass to Al Harrington. This, more than anything else, is what we can expect from McGrady.

Eddie House
It feels weird rooting for House after all those years he played for the Celtics, but he's a fun player. A gunner without a conscience (in a good way) who plays off his dead-eye shooting by making clever passes when a defender overreacts to the threat of a shot. Pairing him with Gallinari holds promise as a fun and effective lineup.

Sergio Rodriguez
Rodriguez played 26 minutes last night and limited himself to only two turnovers. This would seem to be the big concern with his play, as he's averaged 3.4 per 36 minutes over the course of his career. He's a dynamic creator and contributor--those six assists could easily have been eight or nine if some players (Al Harrington, in particular) knocked down a few wide open looks facilitated by Sergio. Knicks point guards have been of the solid and nondescript variety for as long as I can remember. From Derek Harper, to Ward, Childs, and Duhon, the Knicks haven't employed a point-man who excelled at getting to basket and distributing in a whole long while. (Don't get me started on Marbury.) Rodriguez can't shoot a lick, but he brings a skill to the team that they've been missing.

In the end, the Knicks lost for three reasons:
  1. The team can't defend the interior at all. Russell Westbrook put up 31-9-10, and he got to the rim whenever he wanted. A quick consultation with ESPN's shot chart reveals that only four of his thirteen field goals were jumpers, and only two of those came from beyond ten feet. 
  2. The Knicks were in the penalty for what seemed like every minute of the game action after the half. The Thunder shot 41 free throws, and even though they only made 30, the twelve extra converted freebies kept the Knicks from really building and then maintaing a lead.
  3. Kevin Durant is a cold-blooded killer.
The game was a fun watch and the Knicks played with the sort of urgency that's been sorely missing during the past six weeks. The playoffs are just about an impossibility at this point, but, if last night's contest is any indication, the remaining 28 games should be entertaining. That's all a fan can ask for as we count down to the summer free agency period.

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