An Adventure in Two Screens

BY DAN

I probably shouldn’t have tried to watch both games at once.

When you’re an Australian fan of the Knicks, you cherish the rare opportunity to watch your team play live. Games are usually at 11am our time, and work often interferes. So the opportunity to watch my precious Knicks play Philadelphia because of a day off on Easter Monday was one I grabbed with both hands.

The Battle of the (Ping-Pong) Balls (Source: AP)
The Battle of the (Ping-Pong) Balls (Source: AP)

But come Monday morning, I happened to notice another game was on – Warriors at Spurs – starting half an hour before the Knicks. The basketball played by both teams is sublime; extra passes on extra passes, shooters all over the floor, backdoor cuts, point-guard penetration, defence played with feet rather than hands. This is what Knicks President Phil Jackson aspires to create in New York. Stephen Curry, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson – these are the best of the best of the best in the NBA. So I turned on that before the Knicks game.

I opened a second screen for the Knicks game just in time for the line-ups to be announced. Let’s just say when the Knicks’ announcer yells “from Italy, number 77 ANDREEEEEAA BARGNANI!” it doesn’t inspire. The Knicks were trying to end a nine-game losing streak while also maintain their healthy ‘lead’ in the race to have the most ping-pong balls come lottery time. Fans know they haven’t been good this year, but one can’t accuse the players of the floor of not trying. Well maybe not Bargnani, whose effort level we’ll politely call inconsistent.

So as the defending champions began to unleash an impressive smackdown of the best team in the league[1], the Knicks and 76ers started the Battle for (ping-pong) Balls. On one screen the best of the NBA. On the other, the best of the D-League. I couldn’t even decide if I wanted the Knicks to win – every W risks reducing the chances of getting Towns or Okafor come draft time.

The Knicks started in character. Bargnani airballed a long two, and then mistimed a pass to Amundson in the post, watching as the ball careened out for a turnover. Larkin eventually hit a short jumper in an offensive set that consisted of him dribbling the ball up the court, not passing (can you blame him?) and taking the open two. The 76ers also brought the ‘A-game’: lots of missed threes, and the occasional clunky low-post move from Noel.[2]

Noel's post offence can be clunky (Source: AP)
Noel’s post offence can be clunky (Source: AP)

Intelligent or skilled basketball this was not. Both teams combined for 11 turnovers in the first quarter, including multiple passes to no one in particular. The Knicks made only three of their first ten shots. On one play, Bargnani missed by a mile – another air ball. Quincy Acy, all effort and no grace, bullied his way to the ‘rebound’. He inadvisably tried to pass it back to Andrea, missing him by as much as Bargnani had missed the shot, resulting in another turnover.

I looked across on the other screen to see a gorgeous pass from Tim Duncan in the high post hit a moving Danny Green on a back door cut for an easy lay-up. The Spurs’ brilliant passing was extending the early lead. It’s going to be a long time before seeing such beautifully coordinated spacing and passing from the Knicks.

I turned back as Bargnani bricked a free-throw. Sigh.

This juxtaposition repeated ad nauseum. Curry dribbled around a screen and nailed a 28 footer like it was a free-throw. The Knicks missed another free-throw like it was a three-pointer. The Knicks and the 76ers exchanged blown fast breaks; on the other screen Kerr smiled – presumably in the realisation he is not coaching the Knicks but is coaching Stephen Curry. All the while Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier kept repeating his surprise with Andrea Bargnani’s effort.

Bargnani. Not renowned for his effort. (Source: AP)
Bargnani. Not renowned for his effort. (Source: AP)

Take that in. The guy who commentates every Knicks game was surprised that Bargnani was trying.

But didn’t the effort show! Between Bargnani, Amundson and Jason Smith, the Knicks blocked 14 shots, one short of a team high. It was almost inspiring to watch the Knicks play defence – until you remembered that they were playing against a glorified D-League team.

Whilst the Spurs destroyed the Warriors with gorgeous, flowing basketball, the Knicks continued to arm-wrestle Philadelphia. Covington stole an awful pass from the Knicks’ Ricky Ledo (who seemingly can’t dribble with his left hand) and proceeded to hurry down the court, only to not see his many open team-mates because, according to Frazier, his head was over the ball like a six-year old. Man this Philli team is young.

Closer to half-time in the Knicks game the 76ers took the lead, which only elicited me thinking “Woah. The Knicks were in front?” Such is life as a Knicks fan these days.  As the Knicks Dancers displayed their talents I looked across to San Antonio in time to see a brilliant Kawhi display his on a drive to the hoop for a lay-up and one to stop a Warriors run.

The Knicks pulled away in the end (Source: AP)

Halftime brought Celebrity Row, including McEnroe, Phil Collins and Cecily Strong, of SNL fame, who’s delivering the Whitehouse Correspondents Dinner address this year. In San Antonio, two largish dudes and two ladies danced and waved at the cameras from the second row. At least our celebrities are better?

Kawhi got another steal (apparently he had seven on the evening), went coast-to-coast, pretty much ending the game in the 4th. As they showed on replay of the dunk, Hardaway missed another three-point attempt. At what point do we stop referring to him as a streaky shooter and just call him ‘not very good’? He’s shooting 33 per cent from three for the season. That’s good for 116th in the league, behind Bogdan Bogdanovic.

I watched for a few seconds more as Harrison Barnes drove beautifully for a double clutch lay-up. At the same time Andrea Bargnani passed the ball out of court, instead of to Lou Amundson, for what felt like the fourth time that day.

The Spurs ended up beating the Warriors by 15, looking tremendous in the process. The Warriors, though defeated, looked dangerous as always.

The Knicks? They won by ten, reducing their lead for the most ping-pong balls to 1.5 games.

Even when they win, they lose.

[1] If you haven’t heard, the Warriors are leading in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This hasn’t happened since the 1996 Bulls. You know, the ones that won 72 games.

[2] Great Clyde Frazier quote re Noel: “Noel still trying to develop an offensive game.” Amen Clyde.

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