Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Knicks lost, and it's the way that it shows

Here's your soundtrack for this one. Play in the background, or not.

Tonight in Memphis, the New York Knicks did something they haven't done all year, and something that every other team has done already. They lost, for the first time, and while the result wasn't in any way surprising (they were on the down slope of a back to back, they had extended a lot of energy in getting a big road win in San Antonio, Memphis is really good right now, and maybe for the season, and has a significant home court advantage)... the way that they did it was telling.

By the numbers, it looks ordinary: big third quarter for the Grizz, Knicks only shot 5 of 19 from the arc, and New York's bigs (Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and even the startling effective Rasheed Wallace) all got into foul trouble. But it was the how, which you only saw if you watched the game, that was telling.

So far this year, the following three lifelong knuckleheads have been toeing the line for New York, and giving credence to the idea that while talent can not be learned, maturity is something you've got a chance to acquire.

1) Shooting guard J.R. Smith
2) Reserve big man Rasheed, and
3) Do-everything (or nothing) superstar Anthony.

So in the second quarter, as Smith came off a screen, got tangled up with the Grizz's Jerryd Baylesss in a play that happens at least six times a game when you play a team that cares about defense, and punctuated the encounter by going full hip turn, swivel and thrust with the elbow, being lucky to just catch Bayless in the shoulder and not with killing force precision, which led to Bayless (correctly) coming after the gunning twerp. Check it out for yourself.

Well, scratch one of the Knicks' lucky talisman for 2012. Smith and Bayless both received technicals; I thought the former was justified an early exit, and if he doesn't wind up lighter in the wallet from this, we'll know that David Stern has already checked out on his remaining time and is just learning Chinese or something. Smith went on to have a meh night (4 of 10, 9 / 7 / 3 in 34 minutes), missing all of his shots from the arc, and more or less spending the rest of his time on the court looking like he was thinking hard about the fine.

Next, Sheed. In the first half he was the occasional relevation that he can seemingly channel up for 10 minutes at a time until he dies, an angular big man with world-class footwork, head and shoulder fakes to spare, good hands and so many minutes on the court that he seemingly just knows where to go a couple of seconds before it happens. In the third, as the game was falling apart and the Knicks were puling at the refs as if they were the guys with the talented passing big men and better guard play, Sheed made one of those 40/60 plays that he's convinced have never gone his way. On the subsequent whistle, he then did his spastic little run away from the technical dance that used to work a decade ago, when he was a raging irritant rather than a bench guy. The years away from the game have not been kind to what gets called a technical, and he got T'd up to add to the burgeoning Grizz lead.

Now, the thing about Sheed is that while he's one of the ten oldest players in the NBA (the Knicks have, I'm not kidding, four guys who are in the top ten in the league on dates past birth), he's not really necessary. You throw him out there, and if you get good things, he gets run; if not, you reel him in and forget about it. But not this Knicks team, not now, because when it comes to bigs, it's Chandler (foul prone), Anthony (not really a big unless Miami has ruined the game forever and ever), and then the Graybeard Brigade of Sheed and Kurt Thomas. (Yes, he's still in the league. Honest.) So when this started going south, Knicks coach Mike Woodson had to leave him out there, and he's going to have to keep doing that until the return of Amare' Stoudamire, which is going to bring in its own set of problems. But I'm getting besides the point.

The final member of the troika is Carmelo, and it's not hype to say that if MVPs were awarded after six games, he should win it. Caring on defense at both ends, moving the ball, trusting his teammates rather than going for Hero Mode -- it's all been an inspiration. But then again, the Knicks have been leading. Tonight... not so much. And Melo's 20/3/1 line with 5 turnovers in 30 foul-plagued minutes, and his histrionics and technical - yes, the Knicks had three techs tonight, two in that runaway third quarter -- were at ground zero of the meltdown.

Well, so what, right? It's just a Friday in November in an 82-game season; nothing serious to take away from it.

Except this. How you lose is, well, a far better indicator to me of your future success in the NBA than how you win. Because, well, everyone's going to lose at least 15 to 20% of the time, and most will take the pipe a lot more. Doing it while jawing at the refs, providing mock claps for subsequent calls, demanding get-even whistles when the other side just has you outclassed for one night and move along...

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but that's the loser way to lose. It uses up the most energy, doesn't find out anything useful about your bench, and makes sure that the other side and refs will bear down when they see you again. And something to keep in mind when this team finds itself a playoff game with some other talented team that might not be viewed with such obvious distaste by the men in stripes...

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