Amar’e Stoudemire & Raymond Felton: Learning To Lead


Buckets writer Antony Marino’s recap of the New York Knicks’ victory over the New Jersey Nets explains how it was all about Learning To Lead And Leather Suits:

Last night a team of New York Knickerbockers with “no valuable assets*” foolishly pushed caution to the wind and actually consented to compete against a New Jersey Nets squad with an “exciting young core.*”  In the game of basketball.  In public.  On TV.  I know.  An untimely demise would certainly meet the foolhardy clowns that dared to face the future [current] power of Brooklyn [Newark], but from whence would it come? The lightning quick Devin Harris (you, sir, are not a point guard, but I will defend to my death your right to say that you are)? The quantum leaping Travis Outlaw (your titanic lack of basketball IQ is only rivaled in absurdity by your yearly salary)? The highly-touted rookie Derrick Favors (lots of guys would sit on the bench behind Kris Humphries, just not typically in the NBA)? The unstoppable Brook Lopez (okay, you are absolutely fantastic at basketball)? I, like many  prognosticators of Knick failure, waited in baited breath for this much maligned group of uncoordinated, orange and blue mouth-breathers to finally show their true colors, but alas this moment never came.

Last night the Knicks showed that they were the more talented and younger (by a full year on average!) NBA team in the New York area, with a 111-100 victory at the Garden—and it wasn’t even that close. Playing without its starting center (Turiaf-DNP: Beard), the Knicks put together a rousing display of timely defense, rugged rebounding, creative passing, and awesome Amar’e Stoudemire-being-a-generational-triumph-of- human-physiology-ness.

Now, the Nets are not what one would call “quality opposition,” but the Knick captains demonstratively set the tone for the importance of a home rivalry game from its outset. Raymond Felton was fantastic; employing devastating synergy on pick and rolls with Wilson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire while flashing to the hoop for timely buckets and absurd floaters in the lane. Purty.  STAT himself was simply otherworldly. Though forced to guard the world’s most athletic comic book aficionado (really Brook?), the Knicks’ big man refused to back down from a challenge. Amar’e dominated the game without taking bad shots, forcing the issue or employing his signature “dribble off my shin into a camera man’s grill” move. His 35 points and 9 rebounds and stellar rim defense set the tone for a squad that played with uncommon precision and Dos Equis pitchman-like confidence. The third quarter, during which the Knicks outscored the Nets 33-15, was a masterpiece of crisp passing and unselfish play that we have seen in spurts from Mike D’Antoni’s team when it is at its very best. Wilson Chandler refused to settle for bad threes, Raymond Felton was defending the perimeter like a pit-bull and Landry Fields’ hustle forced Clyde into a nonsensical rant about his being the NBA’s current Rookie of the Year (note: he is not).  Most emblematic of the Knicks’ rapturous play was a moment in the fourth quarter when Amare bounded across midcourt to beat Brook Lopez for a loose ball. It was a great moment for the Garden faithful, who finally saw a man not afraid to play up to his paycheck, and a great moment for the Knicks, who found a man unafraid to lead.

Final points:

“Almost” may only count in horseshoes and hand grenades, but Danilo Gallinari’s rather pedestrian showing (13 points, 3-11 shooting) was almost a spectacular game for New York’s favorite streaky paisan. Gallo rimmed out a number of open three pointers that certainly would have transitioned this game from “solid victory” to “Jordan Farmar ugly”.

If a raucous Garden crowd didn’t raise the hair on the back of the Knicks’ collective neck at tipoff, a prime-time outfit from Clyde certainly did. Simply put: there’s confident, there’s ultra-confident, and there’s “I am sporting a full leather suit on television without a hint of irony” confident. Here’s hoping that this under-utilized triumph of textile technology becomes a big game staple.

Al Trautwig’s courtside interview with David Stern was reminiscent of basically every scene from “The Untouchables.”  Challenging a man on labor issues who has admitted to sitting comfortably with Mikhail Prokhorov at a Moscow Red Army basketball game is a zero sum game. Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight, Al.

*National sports media without access to the MSG network