HANG TIME, Texas — The only things missing were Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing clubbing Michael Jordan like a baby seal as he drove through the lane, Charles Smith missing layups or maybe Jeff Van Gundy derisively referring to Phil Jackson as Big Chief Triangle.
It was just like old times when the Knicks and Bulls collided on Friday night at the Garden — tempers flaring, heads butting, technical fouls flying and, in the end, of course, Chicago winning.
Where else but the Big Apple would it be more appropriate to make snap judgments and leap to hasty conclusions? Especially since the New York media have spent the first third of the season once more pounding the drumbeat of hope — or fantasy — for the Knicks’ first championship since 1973.
This was the second time in two weeks that the feisty Derrick Rose-less Bulls had stuck the Knicks, who are more earthbound at 5-3 since that soaring flight over Miami on Dec. 6.
First, let’s go over the gory details of the Friday Night Fights from main man Marc Berman of the New York Post (that’s BOTP, if you’re a Twitter follower of our hilarious good buddy @FisolaNYDN):
In the worst Garden night of the season during which they fell behind by 25 points late in the third quarter, the Knicks fought the referees, fought the Bulls players, but didn’t fight hard enough to win. As the final buzzer sounded on a discouraging 110-106 loss, coach Mike Woodson, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler — all ejected — weren’t around to hear it.
The loss dropped the Knicks (19-7), percentage points behind Miami (17-6) for best record in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks, who also lost to Chicago two weeks ago, shot 33 percent in the first three quarters and trailed 83-61 and then blew their cool.
First, Anthony got ejected with 6:45 left for a hard slap on the ball held by Joakim Noah, picking up his second technical foul. Then Woodson followed Anthony to an early shower 1:30 later, earning his second technical for profanely berating the referees. Woodson, outcoached by Tom Thibodeau, appeared to mouth “terrible bleeping call,’’ then adding “bleep you.’’ as a kicker.
Bad move as all hell broke loose after that.
Fact is, despite all the talk about the Knicks’ excellent defense and chemistry and coaching and cohesion and Anthony, so much of their sizzling start has been based on their shooting the ball at a record-setting pace from behind the 3-point line. When Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, Steve Novak, Anthony and virtually anyone in a NY uniform are connecting at a 40 percent clip while Tyson Chandler takes care of business on the inside, that’s a recipe for success.
However, the question has always been whether the Knicks could keep up that pace from downtown? In their last three games, the outside temperature has cooled with the Knicks shooting 28-for-86 (32.6) from long range, which has included a pair of losses this week to the Rockets and Bulls.
Is the answer as close as the Erie Bayhawks of NBA D-League, where Amar’e Stoudemire is putting the final touches on his rehab from knee surgery?
On one hand, Woodson says: “We’re going to post Amar’e some when he comes back. We will stick him down there and try to get him the ball, and let him work a little bit and see what happens.”
On the other are reports that the Knicks have tried to peddle the contract of the 30-year-old Stoudemire to every other team in the league unsuccessfully. The dilemma was spelled out wonderfully on Friday by Howard Beck of the New York Times:
In his prime, Stoudemire was the N.B.A.’s most lethal finisher in the pick-and-roll. But that role has been usurped, too, by Chandler, who is taller and longer, with a bigger bounce and healthier knees.
The obvious solution is to have Stoudemire anchor the second unit, running the pick-and-roll with Pablo Prigioni, while Novak, Smith and Rasheed Wallace spread the floor with their 3-point shooting.
But playing as a reserve means fewer minutes and a diminished profile. For all his public diplomacy, it seems doubtful Stoudemire would be content. On Thursday, he told reporters he was ready to “return back to dominance,” which hardly sounds like the words of a player ready to cede the spotlight.
Ask those who have worked with Stoudemire, and they eventually invoke the same word: prideful. Not selfish or egocentric, but simply prideful — a man who views himself in grand terms and spends every minute trying to live up to the image. At age 30, even after multiple knee operations and back problems, Stoudemire still views himself as an elite player.
Reintegrating Stoudemire — whether as a starter or a reserve — might be the greatest challenge the Knicks face this season. (His famously poor defense is also problematic.)
It is a cruel crossroads for Stoudemire, one he never could have foreseen. He surely deserves a better fate.
But considering the way the Knicks opened the season with a bang, stirred the passions in New York and raised the possibility of challenging Miami’s supremacy in the East, they do too. Old times against the Bulls weren’t such fond memories.