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Players stunned, but would rather be safe than sorry

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson scores during the first

Knicks center Mitchell Robinson scores during the first half against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Credit: AP/John Bazemore

ATLANTA — On the court, the Knicks played on, capturing a 136-131 win over the Atlanta Hawks that ended with a crowd-pleasing three-point field goal from Vince Carter in the final seconds. But what some of the players and coaches didn’t know was that might be the last shot for Carter and for any player in the NBA.

As Knicks players lined up to hug Carter, they seemed obliviously to the growing panic around the world — and maybe they were. But as they made their way to the locker room team president Leon Rose and general manager Scott Perry assembled the team and informed them that the NBA had suspended the season.

If the Knicks were stunned, they may not have done the permutations of this — finding out that the suspension of the season came after a Utah Jazz player, Rudy Gobert, tested positive for the COVID-19 virus Wednesday, and they had just shared the court with him a week ago. 

“I mean it’s unfortunate obviously for our fans, it’s unfortunate for us,” Knicks veteran Wayne Ellington said. “But the main thing is our safety, right? You’ve got to make sure our safety is first for us, for the players, for our staff, for the fans. That’s what comes first.

“Obviously you think about it, but at the same time Dr. [Lisa] Callahan, our team doctor, has notified us, as long as you’re not feeling any symptoms and you’re not feeling any type of way, not feeling any symptoms that come with it, then you’re fine. Otherwise take the necessary orders. Other than that, everybody is OK.”

The Knicks had just acclimated to the new rules — the omnipresent hand sanitizer and the distance forced between them and the media and fans, eschewing high-fives and handshakes in favor of elbow bumps.

But if the suspension was a surprise, the players had seen the news reports in recent days about the growing concerns and the beginning of cancellations and some events being held in empty arenas.

“It’s been different, but I think it’s been different for everybody,” Ellington said. “Everybody is on high alert. Everybody is paying attention, as we should be. We’re not concerned with it. Obviously, we’ve got to make sure our health is first. 

“We’re all taken back a little bit. At the same time it’s something that’s been going on for a while now. We’re all aware. we’re all well aware what’s going on. It’s unfortunate that the league has to suspend the season for now, but at the same it’s for the safety of all of our season.”

“I appreciate the diligence, the work, that has gone into it,” Knicks interim coach Mike Miller said. “I completely trusted our medical team and what the NBA is doing because I know that their first concern is the safety of everybody. It goes way beyond players and coaches. There are so many people that are included in that. I trust what they’re telling us. And I continue just to get the information as it comes in. Then we’ll do as we’re instructed to be sure everybody remains safe.”

The team, which had been scheduled to play in Miami Friday, remained in Atlanta and will return home Thursday. Teams have been given permission to practice while the league assesses when — or if — the season can resume.

“For me, I could care less about the game tonight," the Hawks' Trae Young said. "It’s more about people’s health. First off, Rudy [Gobert], praying for him. I know it’s a
lot. Thinking about it. This sucks. This could happen to anybody, but I mean to be that person that everybody is talking about as the
reason why it’s canceled, I feel for him. Praying for him first. It’s a difficult time. It’s a weird time from everybody talking about playing with no fans in college basketball, March Madness, playing with no fans. Everything is just weird right now."

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