There were the Knicks, suddenly -- if I may channel my inner-Clyde -- stagnant and stupified, as a 22-point halftime lead was erased faster than several "Del Negro is definitely getting fired after this one" columns along press row. It was somewhere late in the third quarter, as the lead was still relatively safe in double-figures but the game was precariously teetering toward a tighter-than-necessary ending, I wondered if Mike D'Antoni had given it a thought.
That spark the team seemed to desperately need -- similarly to the loss in Chicago last week -- was down at the end of the bench, somewhere between Jordan Hill and Lucifer.
So I asked D'Antoni after his team eventually did pull out an 88-81 win over the Bulls tonight at the Garden if there was any part of him that considered calling Robinson's number after nine straight DNP-CDs and a trade request by his agent. I braced for a potential snap-back from the coach who said he'd play Satan if it would help him win.
But Mike gave a very lucid and honest reply.
"I don't know how you do it," D'Antoni said about suddenly tossing Robinson into a game. "He doesn't play for eight days and then you take out Gallinari, who is ready to make five in a row, or you take our Duhon, who runs the team. I look at it and that's why you have your rotation and that's why you're in or you're out. Because now, you just flip a coin: 'OK, maybe he can do it.' Now our defense isn't going to be as good and if he misses shots, we're beat.
"That's what goes through you mind as a coach," he continued. "I've never been one to just flip a coin. The odds are they made their run, we'll make our run and let's finish them off. And sometimes it doesn't work. Sometimes I come in and think, 'I should have played him because of the way it went.'
"I had a coach one time tell me the least number of decisions you make, the least number of times you'll be wrong," he then said. "I don't want to be making all kinds of decisions. I want to go one way and try to get it right the first time."
Basically D'Antoni admitted what he did over the first month of the season in juggling the lineup and the rotation trying desperately to find the best combinations was not the right way to go. He has selected his top eight players and at this point he is going with those players. Guys like Nate and Eddy Curry and Darko Milicic (and even Jordan Hill) have to accept the fact that they do not bring what D'Antoni feels the team needs to produce more wins than losses over the course of a schedule of games.
D'Antoni also pretty much suggested that Robinson's agent, Aaron Goodwin, might as well start looking for possible trade scenarios for his client now. Or begin negotiating the buyout number.
Clearly the Knicks have moved on without him.
* * * *
* - Jonathan Bender injured his hip flexor in the first half and, taking every precaution necessary to protect his tender knees, he shut it down for the rest of the game. Bender may not be able to play Friday against the Miami Heat. He will be evaulated before Thursday's practice. The team is off on Wednesday.
* - David Lee's 21 rebounds against the Bulls tied a career-high. He has done it three times now. An absolutely monster game for him statistically and in the clutch, with a pair of FTs with 1:25 left to make it an 82-79 lead (he ripped a rebound from Joakim Noah to draw the foul) and then the baseline rattler with 5.5 left that clinched it.
Could Lee be the Knicks' first all-star since 2001? Perhaps more incredibly, could he be the team's third all-star selection (joining Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell) of the 2000s? He has the numbers (18 points, 10.6 rebounds) and his candidacy will depend on where the Knicks are in the standings when it comes time to select reserves. The question is, do they enter him as a center, which is where he's played this season? If so, he'll have to contend with Al Horford and Andrew Bogut as reasonable contenders from teams with better records.
* - The win clinched a winning record for the month of December (8-3 with four left to play), which would be the first winning month since January of last season (9-7). The Knicks have a shot at the first 10-win month since Jan. 2003.