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First win a must-win

New York Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni draws

New York Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni draws a play on the bench during first-half NBA basketball game action against Toronto Raptors in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010. Credit: AP

  TORONTO -- Several players acknowledged after the 98-93 season-opening win over the Raptors here at Air Canada Centre that this was without question a must-win.

"Do you see what our schedule looks like?" one player said to me.

(Nod to Dan, who mentioned this on the Live Chat earlier today).

The next four look like this: @BOS, vs. POR, vs. ORL, @CHI. So, yes, a loss here could have set this team up for a rough start. It could still look bad at 1-4, but hey, that one W looks a lot better than a zero.

It was ugly, but it was a win. Amar'e Stoudemire didn't put much of a shine on his debut, but he came through with an important burst late in the game to provide just enough padding. 

What stood out most, in my mind, was the defense. Not that it was stellar or stingy, but that there was a serious, concentrated effort to actually play it. When was the last time the Knicks recorded 10 blocked shots in a game? It's way too late for me to be looking this kind of stuff up right now (6 a.m. wakeup call for an early flight to Boston, Fixers), so someone will have to pick up the slack.

It would take someone who has been around here for a few years to understand why it was such a novelty to see a Knicks team make an effort on defense. To show the willingness to play it and be accountable for your assignment. Again, it wasn't anywhere near flawless, but there is something to work with, for sure.

I asked Wilson Chandler what he thought of the collective sincerity of the effort compared to teams of the recent past that were mired by personal agendas.

"You don't have any of those guys around anymore," he said. "You have a team."

Let's see if this team sticks together when the going gets the toughest, starting Friday night in Boston, where the Knicks have had some horrible performances in recent years.

* * *

* - Here's another stat that stood out so often last season for the wrong reasons: Points-in-the-paint. The Knicks were beaten here almost every night. But tonight against Toronto, the Knicks outscored the Raptors 52-40.

* - As we told you in the game story in Thursday's Newsday, the game was the 5,000th in franchise history. The Knicks rank second behind only the Celtics (5,004) in all-time NBA games played. Why three more games? A Twitter Fixer (twixer) named "supersyze" looked it up and noted that Boston played three more games in 1950-51 and one extra game in 1952-53 to create the difference. The Knicks are one game ahead of the third place franchise, the Golden State/San Francisco/Philadelphia Warriors, who tonight played in No. 4,999.

* - Can't stress enough how important a secondary scorer will be most nights this season, with teams putting all of their defensive focus on stopping Amar'e. Wilson Chandler stepped up big off the bench with a terrific 22-point performance. Perhaps this Sixth Man role fits him best because his versatility allows him to check in at various positions. The Knicks will need scoring off the bench and if Chandler can bring that kind of mentality into games, they'll get it. Don't expect 20 points on 18 shots every night, but the fact that he can provide offense off the bench is important, when you consider the type of players the Knicks are bringing in.

* - I mentioned it in my first edition story, but Reggie Evans (16 rebounds, 0 points) just looks like that old school '90s-era power forward. Would have enjoyed watching him trade 'bows under the rim with Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason. 

* - A test to see if you are following me on Twitter: The Knicks started two rookies tonight -- Landry Fields and Timofey Mozgov -- on opening night. When was the last time they had two rookies in the starting lineup on opening night and who were the players?

* - A test to see if you read the newspaper: The Knicks started two players who were born in foreign countries, Mozgov (Russia) and Danilo Gallinari (Italy). When was the last time they had two foreign-born players in their starting lineup on opening night and who were they?

* - Gallinari had a bad first half, but recovered with a much better effort in the second half that saw him put more of a focus on rebounding (he had five) and moving with the ball. His Italian homeboy Andrea Bargnani had a great first half (18 of his 22 points) before the Knicks adjusted defensively and I was impressed with how much Bargnani was confident in putting the ball on the floor, driving strong to the basket and drawing fouls. It's a dimension that Gallinari still needs to develop in his game.

* - Until he figures out how to adjust, Mozgov (four fouls in 7:26) is going to struggle in games against perimeter-based bigs such as Bargnani and David Andersen. 

* - Heck of a debut for Fields, who had 11 points and made 4 of 8 from the field and 3 of 6 from downtown in 29:50 and had no turnovers -- none -- and one foul. It helped that he spent most of the game guarding second-year guard DeMar DeRozan, whom Fields has played against in the Pac-10. Curious to see how he handles facing future Hall of Famer Ray Allen on Friday night in Boston. Baptism awaits.

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