If there was ever any doubt about how valuable Tyson Chandler is to the Knicks, it was answered Wednesday night in their 107-101 double-overtime win over the Bucks.
Not only did Chandler play 37 minutes in his first game back after breaking his right leg, but the 7-1 center also made sure cooler heads prevailed after a mental mistake by the Knicks proved costly.
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After Chandler rebounded a missed shot by Carmelo Anthony and passed it out to Andrea Bargnani with the Knicks leading by two late in the first overtime, Bargnani inexplicably hoisted a three-point attempt and missed it with 11.9 seconds left instead of holding on to the ball and forcing the Bucks to foul. The gaffe helped the Bucks tie the score and force a second overtime, during which Chandler took Bargnani aside.
"When he took the shot, we all knew it was a tough break and a mistake," Chandler said Thursday on ESPN New York radio. "I didn't want him to think about it. I told him it's over. It's done. We're going to bail you out and it's going to be a learning experience."
That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment on the Knicks regarding Bargnani's shot. In his regularly scheduled ESPN New York radio segment, Mike Woodson said he probably would sit down with Bargnani to talk about what happened. Woodson added that he thought it would have done neither Bargnani nor the team any good to publicly berate him during the game.
"You could feel his frustration coming off the floor," Woodson said. "He just went blank. It happens in sports. You don't beat him over the head and say, 'What are you doing?' [We] rallied around him and said, 'Let's get a stop here.' "
There are plenty of moments this season that the Knicks would like to forget. One thing that has become painfully clear is that they lack stabilizing veteran leadership. Chandler said the loss of Jason Kidd, Kurt Thomas and sharpshooter Steve Novak has impacted the team's psyche. "When you lose those guys . . . any time you lose that in your locker room, they really helped the team out," said Chandler, a 13-year veteran.
Chandler, who missed 20 games with a broken fibula, acknowledged he was reluctant to speak up during the past month and a half because he wasn't out on the floor with his teammates.
The Knicks (8-17) are 2-2 in games in which Chandler has played more than seven minutes. They would be more than happy if they could keep playing .500 ball now that he's back. No one in the Atlantic Division has been able to do so, and only three teams in the Eastern Conference -- Indiana, Miami and Atlanta -- are playing better than .500 basketball.
Woodson said injuries have kept him from getting a full read on where his team is. Although Chandler has returned, the Knicks could be without point guards Raymond Felton (hamstring) and Pablo Prigioni (toe) for two more weeks, and Kenyon Martin is sidelined with a strained abdominal muscle.
"I need to have a full deck to see where we are as a basketball team," Woodson said.
General manager Steve Mills was on the trip to Milwaukee, leading to conjecture that the game would be Woodson's last if the Knicks lost.
Chandler, who had nine points, nine rebounds and three blocks against the Bucks, said it's not fair to blame Woodson for all of the Knicks' problems.
"I think there's enough blame to go around,'' Chandler said. "I don't think it should be pinned on one guy. I know he's been taking a lot of scrutiny, especially over the Washington game . . . We need to look past that and not make the same mistakes."