(Long Island, NY) The first game back after the NBA All-Star break. All the glitz and lights of Las Vegas Boulevard have faded and it’s back to business and the daily grind. And games that the score counts. The Knicks, for all their troubles, are still in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference.
Isiah Thomas already has matched the 23-win total that took Larry Brown a full season to accomplish, if you want to use that word to describe anything that went on last season. What must Brown be thinking when he sees a lot of his favorite whipping boys, such as Jerome James, Quentin Richardson and Jamaal Crawford, in the starting line-up when the Knicks took on the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden?
Perhaps it was in the back of the player’s minds knowing that a victory would put them over that dismal win total. They did hustle and play hard, even though the game was played sloppy by both teams with a combined 37 turnovers. But in the end, the Knicks came away with a 100-94 win.
Maybe the Knicks had reservations about starting the second half of the season. Coming out tentative, they misfired on their first three field goal attempts and turned the ball over more than once. By the time Thomas called his first time-out, the scoreboard read 6-0 Magic.
Richardson (15 points) finally broke the ice with a shot from downtown at the 8:35 mark. A quick turnover led to a basket by Stephon Marbury, and another resulted in a game-tying three-pointer by Richardson. A back and forth pace resulted in the game still being tied with just over five minutes remaining in the opening quarter, 13 all. David Lee, the Knicks’ second-year forward out of Florida, checked in to the game spelling James. Lee is coming off winning the MVP Award of the Sophomore-Rookie game during All-Star weekend. Following the game, Lee said, “It’s great to be back in New York. Vegas was hectic with too much going on.” The versatile Lee was averaging a double-double on the season with 11.2 PPG and 10.6 RPG prior to the contest. He did not disappoint, finishing with 14 points and 16 boards. A quick-paced first quarter ended with the Knicks up by one, 23-22.
A slower-paced start to the second quarter with more inside plays being called resulted in fouls and trips to the free-throw line for each club. The Knicks seemed to be confused when Marbury (14 points) and Steve Francis were in the backcourt together. Luckily for them, the Magic bailed them out a few times with fouls when there was no play and the shot clock winding down. Orlando was a little more out of sorts, and this allowed the Knicks to take a 37-31 lead with 6:04 left in the half. The Magic had a 6-0 run at one point to close the gap. The Knicks led by a score of 49-45 as the teams headed into the locker room.
The Knicks were looking good from the outside in the third quarter. Richardson and Crawford hit three-point shots, and the Knicks were leading 64-60 halfway through the quarter. Dwight Howard (27 points) threw down a few thunderous dunks to excite the crowd, even though he was wearing his road blues. Lee did his usual cleaning up the glass, diving for loose balls, setting picks and hitting the inside jumpers. Rookie J.J. Reddick, Orlando’s first-round pick out of Duke, hit a three-point field goal at the buzzer to make it 79-76 Knicks.
The home team began the final stanza in fashion, with nifty passing and easy conversions. Marbury hit a ‘3’ with 5:30 left to make it a 10-point game. Orlando chipped away and cut it to a three-point lead. Curry hit to make it 96-91 with less than one minute left, and was tied with Crawford with 20 points as the team’s high scorer. Marbury went to the line and made both to stretch the advantage to 98-92 with 20.7 ticks left on the game clock. A short time later, the Knicks walked off the floor victorious.
Lee said, “They took away Eddy (Curry) with double teams and I’m not sure if the Knicks from last year or even two months ago would find a way to adjust and win.” Lee is officially eligible for the NBA 6th-Man award with at least half of the games being played without him in the starting line-up.
“Tonight’s game was important because now we hold the tiebreaker (with Orlando),” said Thomas in his post-game press conference. The 24-30 Knicks are currently only three games behind the 27-27 Magic for the eighth seed. A year ago today, could we have said the same thing?