Amar'e Stoudemire can't wait for this young roster to grow up around him. He can't because he's 27 and in nine days he'll be 28. The clock is already ticking on his prime, so you can understand why after a deflating loss to the 76ers today at the Garden he spoke with a little more urgency about his team needing to develop "more of a championship mindframe."
When asked to describe how a team does this, he replied, "It's a matter of understanding just how important wins are."
So those of you trying to shrug it off by saying this is only Game No. 6 of 82, understand that Stoudemire isn't. In the past, losing was accepted. But as Amar'e regularly tells me whenever I bring up the past, "That's before my time, man. The focus is on now."
Stoudemire had a monster game statistically (21 points and 15 rebounds) and was the only Knick to score in the final seven minutes, but he wasn't completely without guilt in this game. But what stood out more was the Knicks' lack of experience on a few critical plays.
Scenario 1: Landry Fields hasn't played like a rookie, let alone a second round pick, but Lou Williams made him look bad on two possessions in the third quarter when he drew a three-shot foul on a rip-through play that has been trademarked by Kevin Durant (pull your arms up through the outstretched arm of your defender) with 3:44 left in the quarter and then two possessions later, Williams pump-faked Fields into the air to draw a two-shot foul with 2:40 to go. It was only five points, but it was two whistles and five free throws within a stretch that saw the Knicks put the 76ers on the line 11 times. They hit 10 shots in a 20-9 run that turned a nine-point Knicks lead to an 80-78 deficit.
More importantly, it was a momentum-killer for the Knicks, who had finally come to life after a poor first half and looked to be finally taking control of the game.
"The second one I was probably a little overanxious, but it was a great move," Fields said afterward. "He got me, nothing I can do about it."
Scenario 2: Toney Douglas picked up three fouls in the third quarter, two of which were offensive fouls, not earned with tough defense. That gave him five for the game, which changed his mentality in the fourth quarter. So when he was guarding Jrue Holiday late in the game, he opted to go under on a screen -- huge mistake against good shooters -- and Holiday made him pay by drilling a three with 3:28 that gave the 76ers a 98-94 lead.
There was still plenty of time left, but the Knicks offense sputtered so badly in the final seven minutes (1-for-14, missed the last eight shots) that it was enough to put the Knicks away. A critical moment, indeed.
"It was probably a mental mistake," Douglas said of going under on that screen, "but I felt like when I have five fouls, I can't play aggressively like I want to. I don't really like going under on a screen. I go over the top. I just got to learn from it."
He then paused and added, "Regardless, that was a dagger."
The second-year guard, who has come a long way, acknowledged he has more to learn.
"I've got to know, if I ever get four or five fouls, how to maintain still being aggressive but play smart with it," he said. "I felt like today, with five fouls, I still couldn't play aggressive like I wanted to on defense."
Mike D'Antoni second-guessed his decision to play Douglas with five fouls -- "I thought he should finish the game," he said, "and it just didn't work." -- but it was the right one to go with your best defensive player at that point rather than the rookie Fields. Perhaps it only further emphasized the needs this team has at the two-guard spot, where D'Antoni has been able to get away with playing Fields and, in spurts, Douglas, with a little bit of Bill Walker.
What we'll need to see if this is the kind of game the Knicks are still losing in January. We said the same thing after the Knicks blew a late lead in the home opener to Portland.
"I'll be disappointed," D'Antoni said, "if we don't learn from it."
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* - Getting back to Stoudemire for a second: the lack of pick-and-roll execution continues to be an issue. Raymond Felton is very good at pushing the tempo, getting to the rack and finding open players, but whenever they run the pick-and-roll, he struggles to make the pass through the seam. Felton found him once on the baseline on a PnR and Stoudemire stuffed it through, but once is not nearly enough. Fields and Danilo Gallinari managed to run successful pick-and-rolls with Stoudemire, but until Felton figures it out, Stoudemire will have to work a little extra hard for his points.
* - Wilson Chandler switched from all orange Adidas in the first half to a pair of all-blue ones in the second half, but it wasn't for reasons of aesthetics or promoting a new shoe. Chandler said the orange pair started wearing out and the support was lacking to the point where he almost rolled his ankle. Considering his history of ankle issues, Chandler didn't want to take any chances, so he went to the newer, blue pair. This is newsworthy because I hate orange.
* - Timofey Mozgov had his best scoring performance of the season with nine points on 4-for-6 shooting and three dunks, but in 14:30, the 7-1 Russian failed to record a single rebound and did not block a shot. Mozgov moves well and is slowly getting comfortable with the NBA game and the foul situation. He played terrific defense on one possession where he bodied-up on Elton Brand in the post-up to force a bad shot. He also ran the floor very well on some early possessions where he was able to get some easy baskets. But in order for him to see his minutes increase, he has to provide more on the glass. Right now Ronny Turiaf gets more burn (25:48) because he's producing more (4.0 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) than Mozgov (13:06, 1.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks).
* - Felton's 10 assists gives him three straight games with at least 10 dimes. Pop quiz to see if you're reading the newspaper: Name the last Knick player to record double-figure assists in at least three straight games. Bonus points if you tell me what season.