Knicks refuse to leave

Listen, if you like, you can focus on who wasn’t playing at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. Anthony Davis didn’t play at the Garden. He hurt his calf in February and will not rejoin the Lakers for a couple of weeks. The Lakers missed him, of course.

LeBron James didn’t play at the Garden. He injured his ankle in March. He missed 12 games. They miss him too. The Lakers are 5-7 in those games, without two of the top five players on Planet Earth. They are diminished. They’re hurt. They are not like the team that won the NBA title last fall and will not defend it this summer.

If you want, sure. Concentrate on that.

But there was another team at the Garden on Monday night, and for the moment it is once again a winning team and once again worthy of the attention of the city’s basketball-loving venues.

The Knicks beat the Lakers 111-96, and are 28-27, and took another step to solidify themselves within the 10-team cutoff line to play a little more basketball starting next month. They keep playing with the cliff, they keep driving along the edge, they keep threatening to tip over.

And somehow I never will.

“This team has a belief,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday, perhaps half an hour after his team sent most of the happy crowd home and part of the Lakers (probably on the 25th. cent) home to reflect on what your team will look like when the varsity has returned intact. “We can do it”.

Six days ago, it seemed like the Knicks were finally spilling too much oil after expending so much energy trying to stay relevant, stay competitive, stay within the .500 range. They lost consecutive aching stomachs in Brooklyn and Boston by a total of four points, then trailed Memphis by 13 with 6½ minutes to go.

Julius Randle talks to Anthony Davis after Monday's Knicks game.
Julius Randle talks to Anthony Davis after Monday’s Knicks game.

If they were in the bottom nine, they would be spraying their pucks and smashing their irons and smelling the sand, and one of their playmates would have to legally mention that “the wheels are falling off.”

Except the wheels didn’t fall off.

Not on Friday, when they chained the most important 11 and a half minutes of the season down the stretch and in overtime against the Grizzlies. Not on Sunday, when they tried to give the Raptors a game away before stealing it from them at the end. And not on Monday, when they looked at the Lakers’ gold garments, still imposing, no matter who wears them, and pulled them out of the Garden, two days after the Lakers pulled the Nets out of the Barclays Center.

“You go step by step,” Thibodeau said. “Some of those games where we fell short at the end we played extremely well. We are seeing a different intensity level as we go down the stretch and hopefully we can learn as we go. They knock you down, you have to get up, dust yourself off and leave. “

Julius Randle had a boring double-double (34 points, 10 rebounds), but on a night when the laws of probability finally caught up with RJ Barrett (seven points, just 2 of 11 shots from the field), there was Elfrid Payton playing his best game in weeks, 20 points and a rating of plus-27 in 27 minutes. There was Nerlens Noel, dictating the defensive narrative. There was a visit from the classic Derrick Rose, 14 points in 20 electric minutes.

Above all, there was a bravery that has become such an essential part of the team’s DNA. Probably never before has there been a Knicks bench this lively, or a roster that insists that love be spread.

Even Randle, regularly serenaded with chants of “MVP!” Now that there are people who can witness his magnificent season, he admitted that the mantras are “great”, but also that “winning is what motivates us”.

Payton said: “We are all convinced. We are all locked up. We all want to see the next man get it right. Everyone plays for each other, there are no personal agendas. A goal.”

There will come a time when the wellness element of the season won’t be enough, when reality intrudes on the pleasure it has been to watch this team rise and fall and rise again for four months. Perhaps that is yet to come for the rest of the regular season, which remains treacherous. Perhaps that is beyond that.

Listen, if you want you can wait for the other shoe to fall or the sky to fall. Or you can just enjoy the ride. And be honest: it’s never a bad thing to see the Lakers get off the court on the wrong side of the script. It doesn’t matter who is in the uniform.


Source link