This time the owner returned to his seat not long after halftime. The front office executives were back in place as the third quarter began. So there was no lengthy meeting in the back suites. Instead, they were there to witness the continuing humiliation on the floor. They could hear the boos and they could watch the scoreboard spin like a video game, the deficit growing larger and more embarrassing. Until the final minute when James Dolan and the executives slipped out ahead of the final buzzer of the Knicks' 129-92 loss to the Nuggets Thursday night at the Garden.
The Knicks' high hopes of the summer are a distant memory. Even the bold words from team president Steve Mills 10 games into the season sound like a hollow infomercial now. Every basket the Knicks surrender now seems like a hint that the blame will fall somewhere and soon.
Knicks coach David Fizdale certainly seems to be the most likely target even if the struggles began long before he arrived at Madison Square Garden and the roster he has inherited in his two seasons at the helm read like expansion draft products. But when you lose by 44 and chalk it up as something that happens and you follow it by trailing by 43 points in an eventual 37-point defeat, then change is usually in the air. And with a 21-83 record since taking over it’s hard for anyone to argue he shouldn’t go.
“I don’t care about all that,” Fizdale said. “I don’t even think about that, really. I think about the next team we’re playing, I think about the guys in the locker room and how I can help them. At the end of the day, that’s all I care about.”
Asked if he believed he was still, as has often been stated, on the same page with the front office, he said, “Yeah. Absolutely. I’m still coaching this team. I’m still pushing them. I’m still preparing them. We had a hell of a practice before this game, it was just a disappointing output.”
“You can’t let the rope go,” Taj Gibson said. “You’ve got to continue to keep fighting, continue to keep pushing, because nobody in this league is going to feel sorry for you. Fiz is doing a good job preaching and keeping guys in tune, but at the same time we have to do a better job, including myself. He can’t keep taking the bullets for us. We have to step up. We have to grow. We have to mature and mature quickly.”
There were boos from the crowd much of the night and an occasional, “Fire Fizdale” chant that rose up. But the finger-pointing could have gone in any direction from the coach to the players to the executives and the owner. The stands emptied out far before the final buzzer with the Nuggets hitting 55 percent from three-point range. The defense was terrible. The offense was lost and the players looked like they, just like the fans, had given up.
Asked if he thought Fizdale could take the bullet for the struggles of the team, Marcus Morris said, “Next question.”
The defense for the Knicks - which has actually been stronger than the team’s actual defense on the court - has been that they have at least been in close games, leading at times against contending teams. It’s a low bar considering the pace of games and the runs that are embarked on in almost every game.
But the reality is not only are the Knicks now 4-18 with eight consecutive losses, but in the last five games they have lost by 28 to the Toronto Raptors, 44 to the Milwaukee Bucks and now this one-sided blowout.
“You know, obviously they’re coming off a really tough loss in Milwaukee,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said before the game. “You look at the three home games prior to that, all really close games, games that they’ve been in and had chances to win.
“I give Fiz credit. His job is a tough job. We all know that. That comes with this job and that comes with this city. But he has them playing hard. He has them fighting. And that’s something that I think he deserves credit for. Very tough, very physical, very hard playing team.”
That was hard to say on this night - just as it was Monday in Milwaukee when Fizdale openly spoke of the give-up from his team, saying, “Whatever word you want to use for it, lack of tenacity, intensity, focus, competitiveness. I don’t feel like we came into this game believing we could win this game and that was what was most disappointing.”
Maybe the Knicks came into this one believing, holding the lead for much of the first 10 minutes. But by the time the first quarter was over, they were down by six and it was up to 22 by halftime. The boos came down louder in the third quarter as the deficit grew to 30 under an avalanche of three-point field goals.
While the Nuggets (14-5) are among the league’s best teams, they had lost their last two games and were in the midst of a road trip. But it was the Knicks who looked worn out and giving up.
“Sickening,” Fizdale said. “They’ll have to re-watch it. Just like I’m going to watch it three or four times, they’re going to have to suffer through it as well.”