For two quarters, the Knicks looked great. During the third quarter they lost a bit of their mojo, but they played good defense, keeping the Lakers’ mojo out of the conversation too. They even enter the final quarter up by a point. Alas, after a few minutes the Lakers kicked it into a higher gear, while the Knicks remained in neutral. Part of it was indeed the Lakers taking over when it got to “winning time.” However, even in the third quarter, you could see the Knicks lacked that energy and hustle that had served them so well in the first half.
What happened? First and foremost, Nate Robinson, the human spark plug, injured his hamstring and was unable to play in the second half. Second, this resulted in D’Antoni using disgruntled Larry Hughes (who hadn’t played in eight of the last nine games), and Hughes blew chunks. Bad chunks. Not good ones like chocolate chunks. Man, I like chocolate chunks. Just the word takes things to the next level, like who would take normal chocolate chip cookies over chocolate chunk cookies? And I won’t even go into the immortal Chunk and his truffle shuffle from “Goonies” ‘cuz this clearly has nothing to do with bball.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, Hughes blew chunks. You’d think with him having sat out so long that he’d come in focused and wanting to prove that he deserved to get regular minutes (see Nate Robinson returning from exile with a 41 point explosion). Hughes played sloppy and I was praying for D’Antoni to take him off the court (& I never pray — I’m not a religious man). Third, D’Antoni finally replaced Hughes with Duhon, but Duhon still can’t hit a shot. I was happy that for the most part Du was at least taking those wide-open shots, and it’s not like his shots were godawful things like say Shaq shooting free throws. He just can’t seem to connect for whatever reason. I’ve never seen someone get as into his head as much as Du do (mmm, scatological humor).
Fourthly, Jordan Hill, who was an amazing rebounding/hustling machine off the bench in the first half, didn’t seem to have the same energy. I dunno what happened, maybe he had like a big ol’ double cheeseburger at halftime and was feeling groggy. But in the first half he was key to helping Lee dominate on the boards against the taller Lakers. Fifthly, the whole team in general seemed to lack a bit of energy. Maybe after President Clinton’s halftime plea for donations for Haiti, it all seemed insignificant in the larger sense. Oh, and I’ve never understood why Presidents get to be called President their whole lifetime. That seems wrong. I mean, Trevor Ariza used to be on the Knicks, do people still call him Knick player Trevor Ariza? Or in these hard times if you were VP at a company, got fired, and ended up working at the postal office, would you still demand your fellow sorters call you veep? I find it even odder with one-term Presidents, like say the OG (Original George… Bush that is), who we specifically voted out of office, saying we didn’t want him to be Prez anymore. Like you could sorta make the case with the two-termers ‘cuz it’s like ahh, we would’ve voted for you again Clinton, but since you couldn’t run again you’ll always be Pressy to me. Sorry, I’m sick, I think I’m babbling extra hard today.
Anyway, the last thing that was different between the two halves, was that the Knicks didn’t seem to be trapping quite as strongly as they did the first half. In the first half, every time Bynum, Pau or Kobe got the ball, the Knicks instantly double-teamed the dude, resulting in them panicking and having to give it up. In the final quarter they seemed to stop doing that (they did do it in the third quarter though). Yes, the Lakers adjusted their triangle formation a bit so that just Pau and Kobe were on the strong side. This meant if the closest man doubled Pau when he got it down low, it would have to be Kobe’s guy, and the Black Mamba ain’t someone ya wanna leave unguarded. However, there were many times earlier when the person who doubled came from the weak side, so I’m not sure why this adjustment froze the Knicks so completely. In the fourth whenever they did double it was usually much later, and thus too late because Pau/Kobe were just finishing their move. The first three quarters we swarmed before they could start their move, keeping ‘em off balance.
That said, the Lakers are the team with the best record in the league, and for the most part we played a great game against them. They were also saved because they were on fire from three-point land, shooting an insane 52.2% (Ron Artest went 3-for-3 himself, and he ain’t known as a high percentage shooter). Maybe that’s why the Knicks adjusted their defensive strategy in the fourth? They felt the Lakers were hitting too many open threes and they decided to shut those down? However, if it’s a choice between letting Kobe & Pau show their stuff or see if the supporting cast can keep up an unbelievable barrage from the hinterlands, don’t ya gotta force the unknowns to win it for them?