For much of the game, the Knicks looked outmatched against the Boston Celtics who were playing with a preseason pride that the Knicks just couldn’t seem to muster. It wasn’t that the Knicks played poorly, or were entirely disinterested, but they were short-handed with half of their sure-to-be rotation players were sitting this game out, replaced by training camp invites. The guaranteed players – Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Steve Novak, Kurt Thomas, Pablo Prigioni, and Jason Kidd – were playing, but sparingly, as if typical for preseason.
But of the training camp invites, players fighting just to make it past preseason, one rose to the occasion and carried the Knicks in the fourth quarter: Chris Copeland. Copeland had impressed during Summer League, earned an invitation to training camp, and last night shined during the minutes he was given.
The 6′ 8″ forward did not play in the first half, but in the second half, he came out energized, and in the final 17 minutes (the fourth quarter and a surprisingly intense, exciting overtime), formed a devastating pick-and-roll tandem with Prigioni. In almost Jeremy Lin-like heroic fashion (too soon? Sorry), the Copeland-Prigioni tag team shredded the stumped Boston defense, consisting entirely of bench players at the end of the game. Time and time again, Prigioni masterfully found pockets in the pick-and-roll to hit Copeland who time and time again, clumsily, incredibly effectively dove to the basket for layups, dunks, and/or free throws.
And in the final minutes of overtime, it was Copeland who secured a defensive rebound in the final seconds, made two free throws to give the Knicks a three point lead, and then blocked Jamar Smith’s last-second three-point attempt. Copeland finished with 19 points on 6-11 shooting, with 4 rebounds in 21 minutes.
The Knicks still have two open roster spots. Thus far, none of the other training camp invites have impressed in game play, and Rasheed Wallace has not yet even played with the team. It’s quite possible that Copeland, having provided the type of game where you will remember where you watched for the rest of your life, could receive a spot on the roster. However, for Copeland, time is his greatest enemy. The Knicks still have four preseason games to play, in which Copeland will have to be able to demonstrate similar on-court effectiveness. If he can come anywhere close to his performance last night, he will almost surely be rewarded with a contract.