Mike Gavin here live from Madison Square Garden for another night of Knick basketball.
For the past two years the Knicks have based their focus entirely on the future. Tonight, it will center on the past.
Names such as LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh will take a back seat to those of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, and Red Holzman as the Knicks honor the 1970 championship team during halftime of tonight’s game against the Bucks.
The 1969-70 Knicks beat the Lakers - which included arguably the greatest trio ever assembled in Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Elgin Baylor - in seven games to win the franchise's first title. After injuring his thigh eight minutes into Game 5, Reed missed Game 6 only to watch Chamberlain go for 45 points and 27 rebounds without his defensive presence. Reed’s uncertain status for the decisive Game 7 ultimately set up what remains the lasting image of that championship season and the most meorable moment in Knick history. During warm-ups prior to Game 7, Reed limped onto to the court eliminating all doubt regarding his availability and went on to hit the game’s first two baskets, provide the inspiration that propelled the Knicks to the title, and win series MVP. Lost in the drama of the moment and often so unjustly reduced to a footnote of the game is Frazier’s brilliant 36 point, 19 assist performance. Here are some highlights, courtesy of YouTube:
Reed created the buzz in 1970 and it may be LeBron who provides it in late-2010 and beyond, but tonight’s comes courtesy of Tracy McGrady. In his first game as Knicks on Saturday, T-Mac scored 26 points – fellow newcomer Eddie House added 24 points - and brought that good old fashioned feeling back to the Garden despite losing a thriller in overtime to the league’s hottest team, Oklahoma City (nine straight wins), and hottest player, Kevin Durant (28 straight games with 25+ points).
Knick fans didn't hesitate to show how starved they were for a superstar calber player. They treated T-Mac like he was Justin Bieber and they were a crowd of teenage girls.
McGrady received an ovation nearly every time he touched the ball and the traditional (and somewhat obsolete) chants of “De-fense” were replaced by “T-Mac.” The fan’s overwhelming appreciation of McGrady – a once elite player now seemingly on the downside of his career - makes one wonder what kind of royal treatment they would give LeBron if he were to take the court for the Knicks.
The Knicks take on the Bucks (26-28) and get another look at Brandon Jennings, who they passed up in the draft for Jordan Hill, who is now property of the Houston Rockets. Jennings has cooled considerably since his fast start - which included a 55-point performance- but he represents what could have been the long-term solution to the Knicks’ point guard issues.
But tonight isn’t about the players the Knicks could have had or the ones they may get this summer in hopes of winning a title that has been 37 years in the making. It’s about celebrating the team that brought New York its first championship in 1970.
Opening tip is just minutes away…
First Quarter: McGrady gets off to another fast start, scoring eight points in the first, but pales in comparison to Andrew Bogut’s first quarter performance. Bogut’s alley-oop lay-in capped off a 9-2 Buck start and the Knicks have been playing catch-up ever since. Bogut nearly had a double-double in the first 12 minutes with 14 points and nine rebounds, almost totaling his season averages through one quarter of play. With a three-inch height advantage over David Lee, it could be a long night defensively for the Knicks undersized center. They may need to throw a double-team at Bogut. Al Harrington added a pair of three-pointers for six points off the bench for the Knicks.
End of First Quarter: Bucks 27, Knicks 20
Second Quarter: The Bucks opened up a 10-point lead before Jonathan Bender scored five points during an 11-4 Knick run capped off by Lee’s block on Bogut and layup on the other end to cut the Buck lead to three with 1:17 left. After Bogut got a quick dunk, Eddie House drilled a three to bring the Knicks within two with just over 40 seconds remaining in the quarter. Carlos Delfino then answered right back with a three of his own to put the Bucks up 46-41. Bogut finishes the half with 18 points and 11 rebounds. McGrady, Lee, and Harrington each have eight for the Knicks.
The lights have dimmed, the spotlights have been placed on the court, the red carpet has been laid out, the ceremony to honor the 1970 Knicks is moments away. This blogger feels the Knicks should re-create the Reed moment and have him walk out in the same fashion he did in 1970 once his former teammates have been introduced.
End of Second Quarter: Bucks 47, Knicks 41
The Walter Brown Memorial trophy, which was awarded to the NBA champion back in the day, is located on a table at center court as Mike Breen introduces the members of the 1970 team. The players are emerging from a cloud of smoke in the tunnel and are being greeted by current Knick GM Donnie Walsh. The starters were last to be announced: Dick Barnett, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere (represented by his two sons), followed by Walt Frazier, who brought the fans to their feet.
A clip of the broadcasters from 1970 then appeared on the scoreboard: “I think we see Willis coming out.” The footage of Reed walking onto the court in 1970 played simultaneously as he emerged from the tunnel.
Frazier, who easily got the loudest ovation, then addressed the crowd. “The memories abound and astound,” he said in typical Clyde-fashion. “I see “The Captain” coming through the tunnel,” Frazier said of that May night in 1970, “and I see three of the greatest players to ever play the game –Chamberlain, Baylor, and West - mesmerized by his presence. I said to myself, ‘We got these guys.’“
He concluded: “Tonight is like a family reunion... The memories are abound and we are just happy to carry on a championship tradition.”
Be back for the second half.
Third Quarter: The Bucks immediately upped their lead to 10 before T-Mac drove the lane for the Knicks first points of the quarter and the start of a 10-0 run. Fast breaks by Sergio Rodriguez and Lee set up Wilson Chandler game-tying lay-up and go-ahead reverse lay-up to give the Knicks a 53-51 with 5:40 left in the quarter. The Bucks then built their lead right back up with an 12-0 run capped by an Ersan Ilyasova jumper from just inside the arc followed by a pair of free throws by Brandon Jennings, matching their biggest lead of the game at 63-53. Bogut enters the fourth with 22 points and 17 rebounds. McGrady is struggling from the field but leads the Knicks with 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting. The Bucks have committed 15 turnovers and have only got to the line four times despite their nine-point advantage. Perhaps it has something to do with the Knicks shooting just 36.2% from the field, including 4-for-17 from downtown.
End of the Third Quarter: Bucks 63, Knicks 55
Fourth Quarter: John Salmons converted a lay-up off a Knick turnover to give the Bucks their biggest lead of the game at 74-61 with just under eight minutes left in the game. With 5:45 remaining, McGrady drilled a three to pull the Knicks within single digits, drawing a roar from his adoring fans. But Bogut quickly silenced them with a leaning one-hander from just inside the free throw line as the shot clock expired. The Knicks would score just two more points during the final 5:45 of the game and finsih with a season-low 67 points en route to their seventh consecutive loss.
Coming off one of their best games of the season just two nights ago, this game was a major letdown.
Final: Bucks 83, Knicks 67
The Knicks followed the emotional high of the Thunder game with a season-low 67 points – including just 26 in the second half - on 33.8% shooting, including just 5-for-24 from beyond the arc.
“I don’t want to make too many excuses, but obviously we weren’t real familiar with what we were doing with each other,” Mike D’Antoni said.” The first night we ran in adrenaline and kind of got through it. I thought we didn’t really have a lot of pop tonight. The ball didn’t really move and stopped. Guys were hesitating. They just seemed lost.”
Bogut - channeling his inner Wilt Chamberlain - led the Bucks with 24 points and a season-high 20 rebounds. Jennings shot just 1-of-9 and finished with four points and seven assists. The Bucks also outrebounded the Knicks 61-35, which isn't suprising considering how many shots the Knicks missed.
McGrady, who led the Knicks with 15 points on 5-for-14 shooting, expressed disappointment in the Knicks playing so poorly in front of former Knicks legends
“You got Willis Reed sitting in the front row,” he said. “You definitely want to give a little more, but it happens.”
D’Antoni had hinted at holding McGrady out of the second game of back-to-backs and his status for tomorrow’s game at Boston remains uncertain.
“As of right now, I feel like I can go,” McGrady said.
It was a night of mixed emotions to say the least as the Knicks had one of their more dismal performances of the season but a legendary Knick team was remembered. The McGrady era is off to a 2-0 start but “Christmas in July” (a.k.a. the free agency period) is one day closer and nobody can take that 1970 championship away.