Mike D’Antoni recognized the feeling the moment he walked into Madison Square Garden.
It was the kind of feeling that doesn’t happen in other towns, at least not in the same over-the-top way it happens in New York. It was the kind of intense collective experience that happens when Knicks fans are starting to believe in their team, when they are starting to wonder if they are beginning to witness the beginning of something special, or at least something that finally might be worth cheering for.
“New York is great. I’m sure the Garden is buzzing and it should be.” said D’Antoni, the Houston Rockets coach whose three-and-half seasons with the Knicks included that hallowed nine-game stretch in 2012 known as Linsanity. “That’s what makes it special. We’d win two games in a row and we were going to win a championship and we didn’t have anybody. The buzz, you could feel it. That’s why it’s such a special place.”
Well, the buzz didn’t last for long. It didn’t matter that the Knicks had beaten the Nets, Cleveland and Denver in succession coming into the game. The Knicks played so poorly Wednesday night that the Rockets rolled to a 119-97 victory that ended what had been the team’s longest winning streak since December of last year.
The Knicks’ defense was terrible, especially in the second and third quarters when they were outscored 76-47. Kristaps Porzingis, who had scored 30, 32 and 38 during the three-game streak, had just 19 points, shooting 7-for-18 with five rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes. Five of those points came in the final quarter, when the Knicks were trailing by 20 or more.
D’Antoni, however, had a lot of nice things to say about the Knicks before the game and likes the direction they are headed.
“The last three games, they looked really good,” D’Antoni said. “Kristaps Porzingis has been off the charts. Just keep going. They are playing well. They are playing exciting type of basketball.”
It’s fair to say that the three most exciting players to wear a Knicks jersey in the past decade were Jeremy Lin, Carmelo Anthony and Porzingis. And it’s also fair to say that Porzingis stands to be the most beloved.
Carmelo Anthony, the most accomplished of the three players and for now the best, was always a polarizing figure. Fans knew what Anthony was when he got here Some loved it. Others did not. And you could hear it nightly in the collective sigh when he had the ball in his hands and was looking to take what seemed like his 100th shot of the game.
Lin, unless something really unexpected happens to Porzingis’ game, will end his career the least accomplished of the three. Yet, perhaps no player brought more fans a greater and more intense joy than he did for two weeks in 2012. For many Knicks followers who are too young to remember the Patrick Ewing era, this remains the highlight of their fandom.
When it comes to the affections of Knicks fans, however, Porzingis is almost a hybrid of the two. Like Anthony, he has the ability to dominate on a nightly basis. Like Lin, he is a homegrown player who wasn’t familiar to many fans before the Knicks drafted him in 2015. Say what you want about Phil Jackson and his reign of error, but he did make one heck of a pick with Porzingis.
And Knicks fans know it, which is why most of them stayed deep into what was an early blowout Wednesday night.
The same people who sighed when Anthony touched the ball now seem to be collectively taking a deep breath each time Porzingis rises up to shoot a three off the dribble. Even on an off night. The Knicks are not a good team yet, but they have one very good player on the ascension, a player who could be a superstar for years to come.
Yes, there is some hope to be had at the Garden. Even on an ugly night.