Ten years is not only an eternity, it’s an annoyance in the City That Never Waits. Trains, cabs, Yankee championships … they all run on time. And then there’s a Knicks playoff victory, which goes counter to what New York is all about, which has the feel of an Eddy Curry full-court sprint.
It’s been a decade, for the most part, since Madison Square Garden had any reason to cheer in springtime. That’s another reason why New York deserves your sympathy, if the injury to Chauncey Billups and two blown games to the Celtics weren’t enough. The famous old building will throb with anticipation Friday night, hoping the Knicks have learned the hard way how to close out a playoff game by now, but mostly hoping 10 years of deflation is about to end, to be replaced by elation.
Carmelo Anthony, for his part, is ready to make his playoff debut on the MSG stage, as he tells our man Alan Hahn of Newsday:
Carmelo Anthony is ready for his close-up.
With the Knicks trying to avoid an 0-3 deficit in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series with the Boston Celtics , and the possibility of playing with a limited Amar’e Stoudemire (back) and without Chauncey Billups (knee), Anthony will step onto the Madison Square Garden court for Friday night’s Game 3 with the desperation of a franchise on his shoulders and the focus directly on him.
“Without them two guys, I think me, personally, I have to step up and do it all to try and win,” the four-time All-Star said Thursday.
Anthony couldn’t have done much more — other than perhaps taking the last shot rather than passing to Jared Jeffries on that infamous final possession — to help the Knicks win Game 2 in Boston on Tuesday. His 42 points, 17 rebounds and six assists was an all-time performance, but it still resulted in a loss.
And though some criticized his decision to pass rather than shoot — after he was criticized for shooting rather than passing on the final possession of Game 1 — others chastised Anthony for how he seemed satisfied in defeat. He even used the word “fun” to describe the game. Gasp! Kobe Bryant never would have talked like that.
“I’m not Kobe , though,” Anthony replied with his ubiquitous Cheshire cat grin in place. “I ain’t Kobe , man.”
The last time the Knicks meant something to the league, Latrell Sprewell was being hailed a hero and, at that point, still had enough money to feed his family. It was Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston and Jeff Van Gundy giving the Garden some life back in 2001. And then stuff happened. Scott Layden happened. Don Chaney happened. Curry happened. Larry Brown, Stephon Marbury and especially Isiah Thomas happened.
You know the rest. The Knicks endured a lost decade, the league lost its biggest market, and with the exception of getting swept by the Nets in the 2004 playoffs, the Knicks didn’t even taste the postseason. They needed to burn off a few years worth of salary just to reach this point, with Anthony and Stoudemire and signs of life finally sprouting in the middle of Manhattan.
The NBA losing the Knicks during this time has often been compared to the NFL losing the Cowboys for a decade, or baseball watching the Yankees vaporize. But that’s not really the case. The league has never relied on the Knicks and, in fact, thrived without New York winning a championship. The notion of New York needing a winning team, for the sake of the league, has always been overblown. The NBA has always been about stars, not necessarily teams. Stars drive the product. Stars are making Miami, not exactly a basketball haven, the center of the NBA universe. People tune in to see the names on the back of the jerseys.
Sure, there are exceptions. The Spurs are a proven ratings killer this time of year, and David Stern will never gripe about having Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles instead of with Charlotte (now New Orleans), which drafted him.
Still, there was something odd about New York’s non-existence. Is it great to have winning basketball return to the biggest market? Of course. Does the league rely on it, and do the basketball fans demand it? Not really. Even when the Knicks did win, with Pat Riley, Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley, their brass-knuckles brand of basketball was an eyesore.
At least that appears to be changing somewhat. ‘Melo is coming off 42 and 17 in Game 2, when he went all Bernard King on the Celtics. Amar’e is perhaps the most important player on the team, someone who can and will stand up to (and outplay) Kevin Garnett. Not only are the Knicks back in the playoff mix, there appears to be some appeal and enjoyment in watching them play.
So while we won’t ask Celtics fans to participate, let’s hope the Knicks give this series some suspense, starting tonight. ‘Melo deserves it. Amar’e, too. And so does a city that grew so despondent over the Knicks for 10 years that the Knicks received the worst possible treatment New York can give: Being ignored.
Well, that’s over. And maybe the long wait as well.