Sorry for the bad pun, but in honor of last night’s visit by the Kings’ Omri Casspi, Israel’s first NBA player, the Garden had “Jewish Heritage Night.” Here, Ailene Voison of the Sacramento Bee writes about the whirlwind that surrounds Casspi everywhere he goes:
Clusters of spectators occupy sections in every arena, waving Israeli flags, chanting his name, pleading for an autograph, a high-five, or even a glance.
These past few days in particular have been a blur of activity: Pregame and postgame chats with a throng of fans Sunday in Toronto; a post-practice gathering Monday at Madison Square Garden with members of the media, including several Israeli television and print journalists; a private audience with Commissioner David Stern in his Olympic tower office hours later; a reception sponsored by the Israeli Consul General in the early evening and, finally, tonight’s long anticipated Kings-Knicks matchup that is being marketed as Jewish Heritage Night.
If you didn’t see the game, Casspi did not disappoint. He came out on fire in the first quarter, shooting 4-for-5 from the field with 9 points, a steal, an assist and a couple of rebounds before 12 minutes had passed. And the crowd was roaring for him. He said he was particularly nervous and pumped about playing for his first time at Madison Square Garden. Or more importantly, in New York, which even though I’m a Jew, I had no idea that there were more Jews there than in Israel. That’s insane. No wonder it sounded like more of the Garden was cheering for him than for the Knicks.
That said, the Knicks played solid, building up a fifteen point lead with just seven minutes left in the game. At this point, the Kings’ other rookie, an even bigger stud, Tyreke Evans, took over the game. He made one insane move where he literally froze Jared Jeffries in place and didn’t just go past him, but literally went around him. Like Evans was at the free-throw line with Jeffries standing directly between Evans and the basket. Evans so completely faked Jeffries, and flashed around him so completely, that Evans laid the ball into the basket directly head-on, almost back-to-back with Jeffries.
The frustrating thing was that as unbelievable as Tyreke’s drives were, the kid couldn’t hit a single shot from the outside. Thus when say David Lee switched onto Tyreke off of a pick, Lee would back several feet off Tyreke, giving him an easy open jumper. And Tyreke would take ‘em. And he missed ‘em. Possibly literally every single jumper. Yet Jeffries, the primary defender on Evans, would body him up even outside the three-point line. Eventually the Knicks’ announcers, Walt Frazier and Mike Breen, were even yelling into their microphones that Jeffries should back up. How can something be so obvious to the sportscasters and the fans, yet the Knicks don’t make the easy adjustment?
On the other hand, things were just as inexplicable. Wilson Chandler was phenomenal, scoring a career high 35 points on just 23 shots. Even later in the game when the Kings started to pack it into the paint to stop him, Chandler still hit these amazing awkward shots that you’d normally pray for him to never take. But he was hitting them. So when the Knicks were struggling down the stretch, it seems pretty clear he should be the one they go to. Nope. With the score tied at 105, the Knicks have the last possession and call timeout. They give it to Chris Duhon, who intelligently lets the clock dwindle (‘cuz regardless of whether we hit the shot or not, we don’t wanna give the Kings a chance to either re-tie the game or win it with a last possession). Then he does a simple pick and roll with David Lee, where of course the defense hedges to make sure that Lee won’t get it, ‘cuz they correctly ain’t worried about Duhon shooting. They try this again, no go, and with pretty much no time left, our least confident shooter, Duhon, hoists up a contested three from a couple of feet behind the line.
We didn’t even need a three. Is that really the best play they could come up with? They should’ve given it to Wilson Chandler and either had him do the pick and roll, or just create off the dribble. Either way he would’ve gotten a shot much closer to the basket, and he was feeling it! If Coach D’Antoni felt compelled to try to let David Lee win it, then at least have Nate Robinson run the pick-and-roll with Lee. Nate, despite not having a great shooting night, would not be hesitant. If his man left him to double Lee on the pick, then Nate would’ve made an aggressive drive to the hoop. Or he would’ve shot it straight up from there, within the three-point line. Instead, the nervous Duhon after failing in the play, pulled back to behind the three-point line & hoisted a prayer when he’s lost all faith in his god.
In overtime it was no better. Wilson Chandler got only three attempts and did well in those. He missed the first, but he scored the second and was fouled in the third (& hit both free throws). That’s a 66.6% field goal percentage. But Jeffries, probably the Knicks’ worst offensive player (although he’s getting better at hitting those threes), also got three attempts. It makes no sense.
At least, after suffering worse periods than the Isiah Thomas era, the Jews got to go home happy.
Topics: Ailene Voison, Chris Duhon, David Lee, David Stern, Isiah Thomas, Jared Jeffries, Jewish Heritage Night, Madison Square Garden, Mike Breen, Mike D'Antoni, Nate Robinson, Omri Casspi, Sacramento Bee, Sacramento Kings, Tyreke Evans, Walt Frazier, Wilson Chandler