Wolves 112 Knicks 103: HORROR HAS MANY FACES
I watched this game twice. I generally try to do that when I can, but it seems like the very worst ones always produce a lingering desire to return to the scene of the crime. Though forensics can blunt the impact of the initial horror and insight into mistakes can be soothing, even providing the illusion of healing...generally the most brutal of results never takes away the disgust. It can only put new faces on that disgust, and memories of past traumas rush in to create a deadening effect.
When you end up going to bed with the annoyingly catchy "Friday Night Knicks" by the Robert Randolph Band ringing in your ears, providing the soundtrack to another Kevin Love rebound, another Beasley jumper, another Corey Brewer rebound or hustle play, another missed Knick jumper or ill-conceived isolation or failed box out, it's clear that even though it's just one game, the rot and trauma can run deep.
Let's get the rationalizations out of the way. It's only nine games. Three wins and six losses in a weak Eastern conference hardly means the season is over. Other teams go through this in the NBA all the time. The Thunder got waxed by the Clippers a week ago. The Magic just lost to the Raptors at home. Denver lost by 31 to the Pacers, then came back the other night to beat the Lakers. Weird, massively polar up and downs are a part of the NBA regular season.
But there are uniquely awful defeats, ones that produce psychic scars far beyond the extra "L". What face does horror present to you? It's not just the typical 4th quarter collapses that riddle the recent history of this team; those are too easy and almost too predictable. It's the unexpected celebration of the mediocre and mercurial opponent, or player on an otherwise good team. I was reminded of both losses to Sacramento last season. The 50 point loss to the Mavericks. Falling behind by over 30 points to the Bucks in the first half at the Bradley Center last season. 26 and 27 point losses to the Nets and Kings in the same week two seasons ago.
With apologies for sidestepping the fine effort provided by the opponents in all those games, the face of horror in these cases is the farcical explosion of brilliance from unlikely sources on the other side vaporizing the Knicks as if a cheat code were unlocked by a previously struggling gamer. It's having the opponent show your mediocrity to you in a funhouse mirror and then smashing that mirror on your head, and leaving you to ponder ugliness in the fragments as they dance over broken pieces of glass on the way to another score.
So many memories strewn among these shards: Drew Gooden dominating with 15 pts and 18 boards for the Mavericks, and the equally lovable Antoine Wright cleaning up in building the lead to 50; the mercurial Donte Greene making threes, blocking shots in the loudest way possible, and celebrating every block; Sergio Rodriguez and Beno Udrih flying by Nate Robinson doing his best traffic cone imitation; Kevin Martin making a throat slashing gesture in a morgue-like MSG; Keyon Dooling looking like an all-star; Jodie Meeks and Dan Gadzuric playing one of their 3 good games a year; Vince Carter making 35 foot three pointers in transition with no one around him.
Love and Beasley were brilliant last night, and their efforts shouldn't be maligned by evoking such undistinguished company. But the team they were playing on was practically begging to lose for two and a half quarters, with a sub D-league backcourt and no real offense beyond give it to Beas or throw it off the board and let KLove do his business. Despite the Wolves playing a largely two man game in their comeback, it was more than enough to swamp five playing as none for the Knicks.
And maybe that's what true horror is: when your existence is rendered irrelevant, no matter the quality of the opponent.
Stepping Away From The Horror
Getting that contemplation of the abyss out of the way, it's odd to point out that the storylines were obvious, but they weren't. Most stories point out that the Knicks got too jumper-happy after building a 21 point lead and stopped hustling. Yes, they missed their last six three pointers of the quarter after making 3 of their first 4. Yes, Amare's foul trouble hurt greatly and took the rhythm out of the offense. But teams make runs and the Knicks still led 85-76 with a minute left in the third, and the Wolves were still bad enough and the Knicks heady enough to look like they could hang on. A dreadful Anthony Randolph pass to no one after a deflection by Chandler (leading to a Wes Johnson 3 pointer) spelled the beginning of the end.
The reality is that the Knicks didn't "die by the three" in the 4th quarter: 13 of 23 shots in the fourth quarter were from 10 feet or closer, and they only took four 3 pointers. But execution was atrocious, and Minnesota actually buckled down and played some good defense.
The collapse was heavily mental, and a group effort. Wilson Chandler took only six shots in the first half, and took 13 in the second, with the expected results, including a missed dunk. (Despite this, I'm not inclined to blame Chandler too much, because he had to guard Love *and* Beasley, terrible mismatches in different ways, and despite the results wasn't awful -- he just wasn't helped by his teammates). Felton ran out of gas in the 4th quarter after carrying the team for three, and once again couldn't figure it out with Amare. (Felton also lost track of the shot clock twice, including once when the game was still close, unforgivable for a point guard).
Amare was on an island with his isolations and couldn't (or refused to) get the ball back out to shooters. The Knick broadcasters referred to Douglas being hampered by a muscle pull, and perhaps that's affecting his game -- his gambling defense was a step slow in the second half, and his awfulness in the fourth quarter aided the Wolves' decisive run.
Even Fields, whose plus-minus numbers seem to be encouraging the coaches to play him more late in games, made some bad defensive mistakes and had turnovers that contributed to the collapse as much as anyone. (D'Antoni's exasperation in the second half seemed to reach its peak when yelling at AR, and trying to figure out whether Fields or Douglas would be better in the final minutes as both constantly had lapses). Gallo was brilliant in the first half, and less so in the second: watching him get bounced around inside by Love on the boards was like watching a puppy getting kicked with spiked boots.
There were some positives and some interesting lineup decisions that may prove to be worth looking at closely in succeeding games, but there's no point trying hard to find gold or cubic zirconia in dross this dire. Kevin Love dominated with 31 and 31. Beasley suddenly looks like he could be the left handed forward the Heat should have chosen to complement Bron and Wade. Sports fans will hang on to these storylines making the rounds on ESPN, and the Knicks will try their damndest to forget what they did to contribute to this piece of infamy in their painful rebuilding history.
At the very least, maybe we can get rid of "Friday Night Knicks". (If not, I'm going to mute the sound from now on). Horror shouldn't have such a happy face.