The Garden felt different tonight as I settled into my seat. The arena was nearly full, and with the swelling mass came a familiar but long forgotten warmth, nay, heat, of a buzzing Garden crowd. It was the stifling air that I so have so rarely experienced in this lost decade. And when I realized that the buzz comes not from the crowd, but from the energy exerted on the hardwood, the remembrance of how this place could truly impact my spirit shattered through the melancholy cynicism that had glazed over me during those hard years.
The Knicks’ effort was there, and the atmosphere was electric. The players fed it, and it fed the players, and it reminded me of why I love basketball, and the Knicks, and why I never stopped coming to games, and why I’ve never given up hope, and why I won’t.
Yes, the shots were falling tonight, but to me it was the defense that won the game against the Trailblazers. Hell, David Lee blocked a shot in the fourth quarter to help stifle a Portland run. But the shining example of sacrifice on the D manifested itself by way Jared Jeffries, who drew several charges, blocked two shots, had two steals. Of late, Jeffries has been playing all league defense.
He also hit a key outside jumper to keep the Knicks’ impressive third quarter run alive, and had 4 rebounds, all offensive. That kind of hustle is something that hearkens back to the hard-knock 90s when the team was more about effort than talent and every possession counted.
I understand if this effusive praise of Jared sounds a bit odd coming from me, as I have been as hard on him as anyone. But unlike so many bloggers, beat guys, and many commenters (not our regulars), I, like Tommy Dee, want to hold myself accountable when I’m wrong.
Is it possible that Jeffries is next to worthless on a bad team that can’t capitalize on his abilities, while on a good team, his strengths are magnified? I think we’re seeing that scenario play itself out in what will hopefully continue to be a tale of two seasons.
I continue to like what I see out of Harrington, Hughes, Lee, Gallinari, and yes, even Duhon in this recent stretch. Harrington and Hughes were both off from the field, but it didn’t effect their focus on the floor. Harrington had seven rebounds and played strong D, with several deflections and a nice block. Hughes was a steady hand and was aggressive when it counted at the end of the game. Lee continues his excellent efficiency on offense with 17 points on nine shots, while also contributing 10 boards and the aforementioned surprising block.
Speaking of blocks, the Knicks have a guy who regularly blocks shots, and it’s Gallinari. He’s averaging 1.3 blocks in 5 games this month. I don’t expect him to ever be an intimidator but don’t say he isn’t capable of playing, or doesn’t want to play on-ball D. Obviously we know his other skills. He had a sweet assist to David Lee during the big third quarter run off an aggressive drive. He also hit a ice-cold three from straight-away after Portland turned a 23 point lead into an 9 point one, and on the next play hit a cutting Larry Hughes for a layup. He was +14. When can we stop pointing out that he was worth his draft selection?
Duhon, while still not an all world point guard, is definitely not the player he was through the first few weeks of the season. He’s much better. He’s not pressing as much, he’s actually hitting some of his lay-ups, he’s taking less out of rhythm deep threes, and he’s a steadying influence on the offense. He still misses open guys, he’s still shooting poorly, but he’s playing better, and it’s amazing how much of a difference that can make.
The game got a little too tight for my liking in the fourth quarter. The Knicks aren’t going to be spotted that cushion every game, but basketball is a game of runs and I guess I would have been surprised if one of the better teams in the Western Conference didn’t have a run in them.
It has been roughly 3 weeks since the demoralizing loss to the Golden State Warriors and since then the Knicks have had six losses, but only one real stinker (to the Kings). There was one loss by two to the Celtics. There was one by three to Denver. The Knicks played great ball in both. There was a loss to the Lakers which was a game in which the Knicks did not look all that impressive for most of the game but kept it interesting. And there were two losses to the Magic, the other Conference Champion, who the Knicks scrappily tried to fight but who just outmatch the Knicks.
There were also six wins, including against teams they are supposed to beat, like the Nets and Pacers, but also against some of the league’s elite, like the Blazers, Hawks, and Suns. The Knicks have won four out of their last five, and find themselves with a 7-15 record, which while not great, looks a lot better than 1-9 or 3-14. If anyone is paying attention to this kind of thing just yet, the Knicks are 2 games out of the 8th seed.
Let’s hope the team can continue to play with the sort of effort we’ve seen since Golden State, because if they do, things can start to get interesting.