As a newly transplanted New Yorker and NBA fan, it’s been hugely entertaining for me to watch the Knicks this year. This is probably much more so the case because I don’t actually root for them (I’m a Celtics fan), so I was able to watch dispassionately as their season descended into a macrocosm of exciting, dysfunctional uncertainty. Even at the height of Linsanity, when Lin dropped 38 on Kobe and his two under-utilized stooges, questions abounded. No one in New York knew if the Knicks would even make the playoffs; no one in New York knew if Lin’s transcendence would last until April.
It didn’t. The Knicks entered the playoffs without Lin, lost in late March to a bothersome torn meniscus. Without Lin, the offense devolved into a predictably iso-heavy, Melo-centric barrage of contested jumpers. Valuable seconds were wasted, of the shot clock and of legitimate basketball fans’ lives.
So naturally, for game 3 of the Knicks-Heat series, my girlfriend and I decided to join the craziness for a couple hours, in person as opposed to the tacky Mexican restaurant and dive bar with a projector we’d frequented for games 1 and 2. Game 3 would be better, we surmised — it was at the Garden and the crowd would be going nuts. Amare and his disinterested defense had been extinguished. Bosh went home to watch his egg hatch (a cruel joke, yeah, but Gator never filters itself in the name of kindness).
Even though, by game time, we knew that only the first two assumptions would prove prescient, there was reason for optimism. 7th Avenue was buzzing outside the Garden. Melo shirts abounded, interspersed with the occasional Lin or Stoudemire or I’ve-made-a-huge-mistake-in-purchasing-this Fields jersey. The Knicks dancers were performing in the main entryway, much to the delight of all hairspray and spandex enthusiasts present. Beer still hovered around 10 dollars, but it was flowing!
(On a side note: If I ever own a sports team, I’m definitely lowering the price of beer for the playoffs. With 2 dollar beers, a decent team with home court advantage would ROMP its way to a championship. There’s an undeniable effect that drunk, rowdy fans have on both sets of players and, yes, the referees. Someone should do statistical analysis of that effect sometime. The point is: a trophy should take precedence over profit margins, a few black eyes and some vomit cleanup detail expenses.)
Back to the Garden. One of the best parts of seeing a sporting event live is the pre-game action. The warmups, for starters, can sometimes be pretty illuminating in regards to players’ personalities and team dynamics. Of course, I focused on LeBron, whose physical characteristics are obviously much more easily defined than his personal traits. It’s clear that he’s a specimen (all the more so when you see him in person), but I was interested to see how he acted before the game.
The answer? Kind of insecure, just like you might expect. He insisted on viciously dunking a disproportionate amount of his layup line attempts (missing two in a row at one point), and kept doing this stupid little dance while he waited in line. It was like watching a white middle schooler Dougie. I’m sure it was his attempt to tell the crowd, “Look at me, I’m relaxed,” but to me it just seemed contrived. But then again I’m a completely biased Celtics fan, and I can’t defend five positions in the NBA.
Everyone in the Garden expected at least a tight game, and they got it. It was ugly. We hadn’t seen offensive sloppiness like this from LeBron, Wade, and Melo in a while, and the offensively sloppy play we’d come to expect from guys like J.R. Smith and Landry Fields hadn’t abated.
That said, the Knicks led at halftime and kept it close until the fourth quarter. We all know how the fourth turned out. I’ll spare you the disaster-GIFs of cats falling out of windows or fat ladies tumbling down stairs. Here are my takeaways:
1) Melo, not LeBron, should have been looking to team up with a superstar these past two seasons. It’s not just that he needs good players surrounding him — he needs good players who bring with them a culture of ball movement and teamwork and who will tell him to buck up, reduce his shot attempts, and get his teammates involved. Iso doesn’t win championships, and when your best three scorers are three players who LOVE to iso in Melo, Amare and J.R. Smith, you’re going absolutely nowhere. We all know it, but I thought I’d reiterate.
2) If the Knicks ever become good, MSG will be absolutely insane during the playoffs. The atmosphere was great even though they were down 2-0 in the series and hobbled. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like if they’re ever a Finals favorite. Of course, this might be in 2019 when Melo’s long gone, they’re built around a Lin-Shumpert backcourt and they have Anthony Davis anchoring the paint following a TV special announcing his decision to take his talents to Broadway.
3) The Heat are eminently beatable this year, but only in the Finals. The Pacers can take a couple games off them, as can the Celtics/Bulls/Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they’re not losing four times in a series before June.