On This Date: Larry Johnson & Alonzo Mourning fight in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

April 30th 1998: Larry Johnson & Alonzo Mourning get into a fight with seconds remaining in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

With less than 6 seconds remaining in a 90-85 Game 4 victory, Alonzo Mourning & Larry Johnson got into a fistfight after fighting for position boxing out. Both players threw punches & missed each other. The most iconic moment came when Jeff Van Gundy ran to the floor and held on to Zo’s leg for his dear life to stop the fight. His efforts were ultimately futile, but the photo was an iconic memory in Knick history.

Outside the Knicks/Heat rivalry, both players had tensions rooted from their playing days in Charlotte. While the players formed a dynamic duo in the 1992-93 season, animosity built up after LJ received a 12 year $84 million extension. Mourning thought he was the better player of the two and sought for a long-term extension. Before Zo was due for an extension, the Hornets traded him to the Miami Heat to become new Knick nemesis Pat Riley’s core centerpiece.

This was the 2nd Knicks/Heat playoff fight after the Charlie Ward/PJ Brown brawl. Unlike that brawl, most of the Knick bench remained on the sidelines. Only Chris Mills left the bench area. The NBA suspended LJ, Mills, & Zo one game for their involvement in the fight (and leaving the bench area, for Mills). With Mourning out, the Knicks easily defeated the Heat 98-81 in Game 5 to advance to the Semifinals.

On This Date: Willis Reed scores 38 to lead the Knicks past the Lakers in Game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals

April 29th 1970: Willis Reed scores 38 points to propel the Knicks past the Lakers in Overtime

Willis Reed scored 38 points from the Knicks, who overcame a 14 point halftime deficit to defeat the Lakers on the road in overtime 111-108. After trailing 56-42 in the 1st half, the Knicks, led by Dave DeBusschere & Dick Barnett, stormed back to tie the game with minutes left in regulation. The Knicks did take the lead 102-100 with 3 seconds left, but Jerry West hit a miraculous buzzer-beating half-court shot to tie the game. Unfortunately for Jerry West, the NBA did not adopt the three point line until 1979, so the shot only tied the game.

In overtime, Barnett & Reed helped clinch the victory for the Knicks. With 38 points, Reed started off the series with a scoring average of 31.3 ppg. However, his main heroics would come near the end of the NBA Finals.

 

On This Date: Knicks set a record for most points given up in a NBA playoff game

April 28th 1990: The Knicks allow the Boston Celtics to score an NBA Playoff record 157 points in a blowout loss

The New York Knicks were on the wrong side of playoff history in the 1990 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Celtics. The Knicks allowed the Celtics to score a whopping 157 points in a 29 point blowout loss in Boston. The 157 points still stands as the most points scored by a team in NBA Playoff history. In the modern NBA (post-1970), the 157 points marks the most the Knicks gave up to a team in a game (regular season or playoffs). The Knicks did allow Wilt Chamberlain & the Philadelphia Warriors to score 169 points in the game where Wilt scored 100 points.

On This Date: Bernard King and Isiah Thomas play in one of the greatest Game 5’s in NBA History

April 27th 1984: Bernard King’s vs Isiah Thomas in Game 5 of the 1984 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

Game 5 of the 1984 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals was one of the greatest games in NBA Playoff history. Bernard King came into the series-deciding game with the flu and two dislocated middle fingers. Despite those ailments, King was able to score 40 points through the end of regulation.

However, with the Knicks up 8 with 1:34 remaining, Isiah Thomas staged one of the most amazing comebacks in NBA history. Isiah scored 16 points in 94 seconds to force the game into overtime.

Fortunately, King scored 4 more points in overtime to help the Knicks defeat the Pistons 127-123 in Game 5 to advance to the Semifinals. King scored 44 points on 17-26 from the field and grabbed 12 rebounds. Isiah Thomas had a double double with 35 points and 12 assists. During the series, King averaged 42.6 points/game on more than 60% from the field, scoring 40 points a game from Games 2-5.

The Knicks would matchup with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics in the Semifinals. The Celtics would defeat the Knicks in 7 games. Unlike the matchup with the Pistons, King would not be able to replicate the multiple consecutive 40 point efforts.

 

On This Date: Spree hits the go-ahead basket to sink the Raptors in Game 2

April 26th 2000: Latrell Sprewell hit the go-ahead jumper to defeat the Toronto Raptors in Game 2

Unlike Game 1, Vince Carter had an offensive outburst with 27 points on 7-13 from the field. However, Latrell Sprewell scored 25, including 13 in the final 7 minutes of the game, to help the Knicks erase a 16 point 3rd quarter deficit. With the Knicks down 83-82, Spree hit the game-winning basket with less than 8 seconds left over Vince to put the Knicks up 84-83. On the last possession, Vince ended up passing the ball to Dee Brown who missed the final shot. The victory put the Knicks ahead 2-0 on the road to a sweep.

On This Date: 20-0 Run helps the Knicks sink the Cavaliers in Game 1

April 25th 1996: Knicks go on a 20-0 run in the 4th quarter to sink the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

Through the first 3 quarters, the Cavaliers & Knicks were stuck in a tight battle. But with 9 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter and the Cavs up 75-74, Patrick Ewing hit a jumper in the lane to begin a 20-0 run. The run put the Knicks up 94-75 and they cruised to a 106-83 blowout victory.

The fun was facilitated by some ridiculous ball movement. The Knicks had 32 assists with only 4 turnovers. 3 Knicks had 7 assists, including Anthony Mason (10 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists), John Starks (21 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists), and Derek Harper (12 points, 7 assists). Ewing led the way with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocked shots.

The Cavaliers’ constant double teaming facilitated the ball movement. Hubert Davis (5 three pointers made, 4 in the 4th quarter) and John Starks (6 three pointers) were recipients of the great passing. Starks & Davis helped lead the Knicks to a team playoff record of 17 three pointers made.

 

A Reason for Hope?

After reading an insightful (if depressing) piece on the Knicks offense, Jonathan Macri was inspired to take one more look back at whether this season gave us more of a reason to be hopeful than we thought.

When I was a sophomore in college, my older brother had just bought an ownership stake in a Manhattan bar called McFadden’s Saloon. If you’ve been drunk in New York City at some point in your life, you’ve probably been there (although it’s just a likely that you don’t remember it).

I figured this was a chance for me to fulfill every undergrad’s dream of serving alcohol before I was old enough to drink it, but my brother had other ideas. Never missing an opportunity to teach me a valuable life lesson, he gave me a job alright…as a bar back.

In the city, bar backs are often undocumented workers just happy to be getting paid. I soon found out why it wasn’t the most desirable of jobs, busting my ass until 6 a.m., lugging around cases of beer, wiping up vomit, emptying ashtrays1, all for no more than what amounted to minimum wage.

On my last day before mercifully being promoted to DJ six months after I started, the sewer system in the bar backed up and the kitchen started overflowing with literal poo. Despite my protestations, it would not return from whence it came, and needed to be disposed of manually. Thankfully I was afforded a pair of gloves and a bucket. It was an ignominious end to the toughest job I’d ever have, but one that toughened me up for the road ahead.

It also provided me with the perfect analogy for this Knicks season.

I’m pretty sure David Fizdale knows how I felt that final night. This Knicks season was six months worth of turds, except in the form of basketball games, or something vaguely resembling them. I’m not sure who had it tougher: the man brought aboard to coach a team full of rookies and retreads, or me for choosing to constantly come to his defense.

His job was difficult for obvious reasons. My job, on the other hand, was uniquely challenging for a different reason. Unlike that night at the bar, when I knew exactly where the filth was coming from, this season forced me, and every other Knick fan, to constantly ask whether Fiz was the cause of or solution to New York’s problems.

Thankfully, someone else recently tried to answer that very question. Over the last two weeks, @AmicoDallas presented a superb two-part Posting & Toasting series on the Knicks offense this year. He uses a ton of video to analyze it in painstaking detail and attempts to figure out what went wrong and who, if anyone, was to blame.

If you haven’t already, stop reading this and check out the pieces (don’t worry, I’ll wait). In short, Amico seems to arrive at the conclusion that contrary to popular belief, Coach Fiz actually did have an offensive system predicated on consistent yet basic principles of basketball. By the end, he draws two basic conclusions:

  • Fizdale’s offense was simple, but that was likely by design, and was perfectly capable of providing advantages that could and often did lead to positive scoring opportunities, but…
  • There wasn’t nearly as much improvement throughout the year as you’d have liked to see, and the team’s nominal point guards never got markedly better at either seeing the passing opportunities right before their eyes, being willing to make those passes, or both.

Amico posits some solid theories in regards to the latter point, and while he offers the perfectly valid notion that Fiz simply didn’t put enough emphasis on his point guards finding the open man, he seems to come down more on the side of the team’s ball handlers simply not improving as much as you’d expect.

I tended to agree but wasn’t sure, and wanted to see if there were any numbers that could help me. I started my digging by going to the NBA.com’s stats site and looking at the team’s on/off numbers. What I found was not altogether surprising:

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You’ll notice that Kadeem Allen is a clear outlier among point guards, not only in terms of team’s offensive rating when he was on the court, but also New York’s effective field goal percentage (52.7, far higher than their league-worst 49.0 figure, and worlds better than any other Knick point guard) and assist percentage (58.4, compared to 54.4 for DSJ, 52.5 for Frank, 52.4 for Mudiay, and a “that’s a typo, right?” 44.5 for the dearly departed Trey Burke).

This didn’t surprise me because I have eyes, and used them to watch the Knicks play basketball this year. Every time Allen was on the court, good things seemed to happen, at least in comparison to when he wasn’t.

Digging a little deeper, I took at look at all of the Knicks two-man lineup combinations that played at least 100 minutes this season. Of the 99 that qualified, the top two by offensive rating had one name in common:

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Yup, that’s right. The team’s best offense came from a couple of glorified G-Leaguers and a rookie second rounder. Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2018-19 New York Knicks!

For shits and giggles, I checked to see the offensive rating when Allen, Kornet and Robinson were all on the floor together. Sure enough, for 52 glorious minutes this season, the Knicks scored about nine more points per 100 possessions – 123.2 to be exact – than the top-rated offense in the league. And here you thought Jesus rising from the dead was the only miracle to celebrate this weekend.

So what should we take from this? That Kadeem Allen should be counted on as a significant contributor on next year’s roster? I mean…he should, just because every team needs a runt like that, to borrow his own coach’s terminology.

There’s a much bigger takeaway here though. Kadeem Allen is something that this year’s Knicks didn’t have a whole lot of: competent. As Amico’s two-part series details, this season was derailed first and foremost by a lack of talent, but just below that on the ledger, there was a lack of simply doing the the thing that was right there in front of you to be done. Making the obvious play, so to speak.

Unlike the Knicks’ other point guards, Allen is older (26, which made him a senior citizen on this squad) and came up from Westchester well-versed in the basics. In an offense like Fizdale’s that’s simple but effective when executed properly, Allen made it at least passable anytime he stepped on the court. When he was out there with another helpful component of a modern NBA offense – either a stretch big like Kornet or a lob threat like Robinson – Allen made it more than passable. When he had both, it was downright effective.

So if we do have proof that Fizdale’s offense was run effectively by a relative NBA has-been, does that make the ultimate failure of this season more or less blameworthy on his part? Asked another way, if Kadeem freaking Allen can come in and at least run this thing respectably, what does that say for the rest of these guys?

In the case of Dennis Smith Jr., maybe not much. At first glance, his 100.0 offensive rating in 600 minutes as a Knick is like throwing the flaming tires into the flaming dumpster. It’s four points worse than their already league-worst figure.

Upon closer inspection though, Smith’s was really a tale of three seasons. In the seven games before the All-Star break, when Smith was getting adjusted to his new surroundings on the fly, the Knicks scored a Comic Sans-ish 92.6 points per 100 possessions when he played. Then, in the 10 games post All-Star, that number rocketed up to 106.3 – the best on the team during that stretch. Sadly a back injury derailed his season from that point forward, and after missing over two weeks, the four games in which he tried to play through the injury were predictably poor.

Like Allen, certain combos worked well for DSJ during his strong pre-injury stretch: with Allonzo Trier (110.2 offensive rating in 98 minutes), Damyean Dotson (110.0 rating, 229 minutes) and of course, Mitch (109.5 rating, 86 minutes).

What about Frank? For as much as his season appeared to be a lost cause, in the eight January games he played prior to the groin injury that ultimately ended his year, he sported a 113.7 offensive rating – a team high amongst regulars. Better yet, the team had an assist percentage above 60 during those 151 minutes, which is a minor miracle. It’s a stretch, but perhaps after two and a half months in David Fizdale’s Fun House of Horrors, Ntilikina was finally ready to take a step forward.

That’s three point guards and three small signs of hope. And then there’s Dotson, whose post ASG assist percentage (12.7) dwarfed his pre-ASG number (8.9) as he improved noticeably on the pick and roll. So yeah…if you squint hard enough, there is some evidence that Fizdale was getting through to these guys, was emphasizing the right things, and progress was being made.

Of course, to counterbalance all these positives, we have Mud. Like what I saw emerging from the floor drains during my last night bar backing, what Emmanuel Mudiay brought to the table only got uglier as the season went on, and the smell more difficult to mask. Take a look at his progression throughout the year:

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Save for a four-game, post-All-Star blip, we saw a clear downward trend from November to April. The worst part is that is that when he was at his best – November and February – his passing was at it’s worst, as those months were when his personal AST% was at it’s lowest. The team’s assist percentage when he was on the court for that stellar February stretch was 40.7. When you compare that to Ntilikina’s on-court number for January (60.2), it’s no wonder some fans were up in arms every time Mudiay saw a minute of court time at Frank’s expense2.

Maybe that’s the ultimate answer is to this season’s offensive woes: Emmanuel Mudiay being unable to figure out the balance between looking for his own shot and creating good looks for his teammates. Maybe by the time Fiz realized as much, it was too late, and there were various late-season impediments – injuries to Ntilikina & Smith Jr., and a two-way service time limit for Allen – that stood in the way of making a change. Maybe I am the asshole for all that time I spend defending the decision to give Mudiay a fair shot.

Or maybe this offense was always going to be doomed with so little talent to make it go. Like Amico finally settles on in his piece, I’ll concur that the evidence is too murky to make any final judgment. We’ll add it to the list of things that should become far clearer next season, when there’s probably going to be a whole new host of issues, but I doubt lack of talent will be one of them.

On This Date: Knicks win Game 1 against Anthony Mason and the Charlotte Hornets

April 24th 1997: The New York Knicks defeat the Charlotte Hornets in Game 1 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

The Knicks/Hornets rivalry intensified during the 1996-97 season after the Larry Johnson/Anthony Mason trade. LJ left the Hornets on a sour note after publicly requesting a trade due to a disillusionment regarding the direction of the franchise and a desire for a long-term contract. The trade left a severely bitter taste in Mase’s mouth. He felt resentment after the trade and alleged that Patrick Ewing played a role in his departure. Ewing & Mase clashed offensively over the course of their 5 year tenure. Mase clamored more touches during the Riley era & Ewing often complained about lack of touches during the short Don Nelson run.

During the regular season, the Hornets won 3 of the 4 matchups, including the last 3. Their last game in February delved into heated tensions at halftime where both John Starks & Glen Rice had to be separated after yelling “you want some of this” in the tunnel.

Despite the regular season acrimony, the real battle began on Game 1 when Mase returned to MSG and Larry Johnson faced off against his old team. To begin the playoffs, the Knick players wore warmup shirts with the slogan “make em feel ya.” Starks created the slogan on behalf of the team. Additionally, 8 of the players shaved their heads as part of the playoff tradition, including Allan Houston & LJ.

The Knicks did defeat the Hornets 109-99 in Game 1. It was the new Knicks – Houston, Childs, & LJ – that made the most contributions in the victory. Houston led the team with 25 points on 4-7 from three and LJ scored 20 on 2-4 from three. Chris Childs scored 14 points and had 8 assists. The Knicks held a 13 point lead at halftime, but the Hornets erased the lead by the end of the 3rd quarter. The Knicks eventually built a 10 point cushion in the 4th for the victory.

Despite the tenacious rivalry during the regular season, the Knicks handily swept the Hornets to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

On This Date: Latrell Sprewell shuts down Vince Carter in the Raptors’ first ever NBA Playoff game

April 23rd 2000: Latrell Sprewell shuts down Vince Carter in his first NBA Playoff game

Latrell Sprewell gave Vince Carter & the Toronto Raptors the toughest initiation into the NBA Playoff environment with a crushing defensive effort to help the Knicks defeat the Raptors 92-88 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Spree held Carter to 16 points on 3-20 from the field. His main scoring output came from the line where Carter made 9-10 from the stripe. Spree, on the other hand, scored 21 points on 9-16 from the field.

Spree simply hounded Vince all game. His defense suffocated any opportunity Vince could get to score the basket. Each one of his shots were heavily contested. On the rare occasion that Carter eluded Spree, he was swarmed by an army of big men ready to block his shots. He was forced to take a lot of rushed shots and did not have an opportunity to get any easy baskets. Through the 3rd quarter, Vince was held without a field goal and only scored his points from the free throw line.

The Toronto Raptors made it to the NBA Playoffs for the first time in their short NBA history. However, their lack of playoff experience and youth proved to be too much of a obstacle as the Knicks handily swept them in 3 games. However, the Raptors came back next year, sans Tracy McGrady, to ultimately upset the Knicks in 5 games.

On This Date: Bernard King scores 46 points to secure a Game 3 Victory against the Pistons

April 22nd 1984: Bernard King scored 46 points to defeat the Pistons in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

Days after Bernard King scored 46 points in a Game 2 loss, he scored 46 again in a 120-113 Game 3 victory at home. King was literally unstoppable on offense, hitting 19-27 from the floor and 8-12 from the foul line. He went head-to-head with Kelly Tripucka (former MSG studio analyst) who also had 40 points. Unlike Game 2, King received some help on the offensive end. The Knicks had 6 players score in double figures, including King, Cartwright (20 points), & Rory Sparrow (14 points). King & Sparrow had double doubles with 10 rebounds and 10 assists respectively.

The Pistons only scored 36 points in the 1st half and trailed by 18 points. They, however, climbed back in the 2nd half and scored a team record 77 points in the 2nd half.

This game marked a stretch of 4 straight 40 point games for King. He would score 40 points 6 times during the Knicks’ 1984 playoff run.

On This Date: Ernie Grunfeld demoted as Knicks GM

April 21st 1999: Ernie Grunfeld demoted as Knicks GM

The longstanding tension between Ernie Grunfeld & Jeff Van Gundy officially came to an end when Team President Dave Checketts notified Grunfeld of his demotion while out eating dinner. Checketts & Grunfeld became close friends after working together since 1991. Unfortunately, the long simmering feud between Grunfeld & JVG proved to be too much for Madison Square Garden to handle.

Grunfeld & Van Gundy were both assistant coaches under Stu Jackson. After the Knicks fired Stu Jackson, there were rumblings that assistant coaches (including Van Gundy) thought that Grunfeld undermined his coaching tenure. Grunfeld quickly moved into the front office as Van Gundy remained an assistant coach for several more coaches until 1996.

The tensions boiled further leading into and through the 1998-99 lockout season. One point of contention was trading both Charles Oakley & John Starks. Van Gundy, who had the utmost support of his teammates, wanted to retain both players. Grunfeld, on the other hand, accurately predicted that the team was getting too old. He saw trading both players as necessary to endure one final run with Patrick Ewing nearing the end of his NBA career.

Due to the lockout, there was enormous pressure on the Knicks and the team struggled from the onset. The Knicks teetered on missing the playoffs for the first time since 1987. Latrell Sprewell & Marcus Camby also played limited minutes for most of the season to the ire of the front office.

Throughout the season, Jeff Van Gundy’s job was on the line. With Phil Jackson sitting out the year, there was rampant speculation that the Knicks would hire Phil to replace Van Gundy. Therefore, the tensions were very high. To make it even worse, there were various stories reported about the front office’s dissatisfaction with Van Gundy and vice versa. There were several public retorts expressing their dissatisfaction towards each other.

Furthermore, it seems that the beat reporters & PR team played a major role in the feud. The NY Post, led by Peter Vecsey, received scoops from Grunfeld. The NY Daily News’ Mike Lupica received scoops from Checketts. Frank Isola & the NY Times’ Mike Wise received scoops from Jeff Van Gundy & the players who sided with their coach. The PR department within the Knicks organization took sides in the feud too.3

Because the internal turmoil leaked to the press, Cablevision, the new Knicks’ ownership group, had enough and wanted to squash the infighting. James Dolan, at the time the vice chairman of MSG, & the late Marc Lustgarten forced both parties to resolve their differences. When it seemed that the differences were irreconcilable, Dolan & Lustgarten forced Checketts to fire one of them. Because Van Gundy had the support of his players, Checketts had to fire Grunfeld.

The firing was done at a strange time, which doesn’t seem to be out of the ordinary in the Knicks landscape. The Knicks were barely scratching the 8 seed at the time of the demotion. Eventually, the Knicks secured the 8 seed, defeated the #1 seed Miami Heat, and made it to the NBA Finals. Van Gundy remained with the Knicks on a contract extension until the beginning of the 2001-02 season.

Grunfeld’s legacy with the Knicks is honestly a mixed bag to me. Obviously it’s easy to say that the Knicks made the playoffs every single season he was a part of the front office, including the two NBA Finals runs in 1994 & 1999. His notable signings included Anthony Mason, Allan Houston, Chris Childs, & Kurt Thomas. His more notable trades included acquiring Doc Rivers, Charles Smith, Larry Johnson, Latrell Sprewell, & Marcus Camby. He did draft both Greg Anthony & Charlie Ward. However, I do wonder whether Grunfeld did enough to surround Ewing with a legitimate #2 option and provide him with younger talent that could have helped the Knicks compete against the more athletic playoff teams. The Knicks mostly neglected draft picks and favored acquiring older, past-the-prime veterans.

The Grunfeld demotion had long-term repercussions on the direction of the Knicks franchise. For one, James Dolan became a more influential and vocal voice in the Knicks front office. His influence led to Dave Checketts’ dismissal in 2001. His influence and the tensions from the 1998-99 season also helped formulate the current iteration of the Knicks media policy that certain beat writers (i.e. Isola) consider draconian and “big brother-lite.” The new media policy led to fewer leaks and the beat writers lost their once valued access to the organization. Isola seemed to have a big problem with the policy. Furthermore, Van Gundy’s resignation and the eventual dismissal of some of his assistant coaches (Tom Thibodeau) furthered Isola’s feud with the organization. Essentially, there’s a reason the New York Daily News is not highly regarded within Madison Square Garden.

On This Date: Patrick Ewing sets the Knicks all-time single season scoring record

April 20th 1990: Patrick Ewing sets the Knicks single season scoring record

Despite the fact that the Knicks lost 126-112 to the Atlanta Hawks, Patrick Ewing had a momentous night in setting the team’s all-time scoring record. He broke the Knick record of 2,303 points held by Richie Guerin.

Ewing ended up with 2,347 points scored on an average of 28.6 ppg. Ewing also played the entire regular season which itself was a remarkable feat of durability. The 28.6 ppg only ranks 4th on the all-time scoring list. Bernard King holds the Knicks record with 32.9 ppg, but was bedeviled by the unfortunate ACL injury that shortened his season. Guerin scored 29.5 ppg in his record-setting season, but only played in 78 games. Carmelo Anthony led the NBA with 28.7 ppg in the 2012-13 season, but only played in 67 regular season games.

Ewing’s scoring record to this date is quite impressive especially due to his ability to be durable. In an era where “load management” is routine rather than reviled, it’s hard to see Ewing’s record broken anytime soon.

Should Knicks fans be jealous of the cultures in Brooklyn and LA?

For most of the second half of the season, if you scrolled NBA Twitter or hit up one of the dozens of websites that cover the sport, odds are you’ve seen an article about the Nets or Clippers.

It probably touched on how these two franchises, neither of which had much business being in the playoffs this season, let along making noise once they got there, had developed two of the best cultures in the league. Yesterday, each had their first home game of the postseason on the same night, a fitting culmination to their shared success this year. They lost by a combined 43 points.

Is this a bitter piece of commentary from a petty, jealous Knicks fan? Well…maybe a little bit. But not really. Truth be told, I’d give anything to root for a team that so clearly “gets it,” which Brooklyn and LA obviously do. Fact is, every one of those articles is not only deserved, but warranted. The Nets and Clippers are the best stories this NBA season has had to offer. Neither should have won a game in either of these series, and they both did. They’ll probably each win again.

But last night was a good reminder that a pristine culture only gets you so far in a league that was, is, and always will be dominated by stars. It’s not clear that any of the Sixers big guns even like each other, but that didn’t prevent Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris from combining for 60 points on 32 shots. Kevin Durant may already have one foot out the door, but his 38 points counted all the same.

In the end, to win it all, you need talent to do it. Many champions have a strong culture too, but it’s no substitute for a game changer, or three.

What’s the point here? Simple: most of the media commentary we’ve seen regarding New York putting itself in position to acquire star players, either this July or soon thereafter, has been with a wink and a nod towards the fact that they aren’t a team like the Nets or Clippers, and likely never will be. This, frankly, is bullshit.

For one, the Knicks have seemed to improve their culture a great deal, but I’m not about to sit here and make that argument. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen how this team has fought this year, albeit feebly. It felt different than in years past, to me at least. Also, when culture does start to set in, it’s usually hard to see in year one, which this Knicks regime of Scott, Steve & Fiz is barely through.

Here’s the bigger point: What the Knicks have done in opening up $74 million in cap space in the same summer when so many of the NBA’s elite will enter free agency may reek of arrogance, but in a league where stars still move the needle more than anything else, their actions deserve respect. That’s doubly true given how the knock on this team for 20 years has been that they’ve continuously failed to put themselves in a position to take advantage of the fact that they play home games in the Mecca of Basketball. They’ve finally changed that. Yet, instead of the type of praise their crosstown rivals have received, it’s been more of the same derision. It’s annoying.

So you’ll forgive me for experiencing the slightest bit of schadenfreude as I watched last night’s games. The downtrodden can only take so much, after all.

On This Date: Melo’s 42 point playoff outburst against the Boston Celtics

April 19th 2011: Carmelo Anthony caries Knicks with 42 points in Game 2 loss

Without Chauncey Billups due to a knee injury and Amare Stoudemire in the 2nd half due to back spasms (after attempting dunks in practice), Carmelo Anthony single handedly willed the Knicks during this game. Melo scored 42 points and had 17 rebounds and 6 assists. He led the Knicks in just about every offensive category. However, it wasn’t enough to defeat the Boston Celtics as the Knicks lost 96-93.

In prime Melo fashion, he scored from all over the court. Whether it was in the paint, in the midrange (via his signature jab steps), or from the three point arc, Melo was proficient and neither Jeff Green or Paul Pierce could stop him alone. He kept the team in the game despite being severely outmanned by the defending Eastern Conference champions.

Ultimately, Kevin Garnett hit the go-ahead basket in the final seconds. Melo tried to feed the ball to Jared Jeffries after seeing a double team, but Jeffries fumbled the go-ahead pass and the Celtics stole the ball from him.

Melo’s performance in Game 2 made me wonder what happened if the NBA Lockout didn’t happen. Perhaps a proper offseason would have helped coach D’Antoni fully utilize Melo’s talents (especially on the passing end). We may have seen a souped up Olympic Melo, but that memory will only exist in our dreams.


April 19th 1996: Patrick Ewing records his only triple double

Patrick Ewing recorded his only triple double in his NBA career with 28 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 assists. Unfortunately, the Knicks lost to the Charlotte Hornets 115-108. The game was merely important for the Knicks to establish playoff seeding and home court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Future Knick Larry Johnson hurt the Knicks with 28 points and 18 rebounds.

 

On This Date: Knicks fire Isiah Thomas

April 18th 2008: Knicks fire Isiah Thomas

The Knicks & Donnie Walsh officially end the Isiah Thomas era on this date. After helping the Knicks reach the playoffs in the 2003-04 season, the Knicks went on a downward spiral the previous 4 seasons, winning 33 games twice and 23 games twice. The Knicks were in salary cap hell with long-term contracts and below mediocre talent. The team also had plenty of off-court drama with 5 head coaches (including Isiah), infighting in the locker room, and a sexual harassment scandal that ultimately ruined Isiah & Stephon Marbury’s tenure with the organization.

The NBA forced Donnie Walsh onto the Knicks to help rebuild the team into a competent basketball organization. The team was simply an embarrassment in professional sports. A major step of rectification was to remove Isiah from the team. While Isiah was not around the organization, he still maintained a role as a consultant because he was due a large sum of money from his recent contract extension.

 

On This Date: The JR Smith & Steve Novak show

April 17th 2012: The JR Smith & Steve Novak show help defeat the Boston Celtics

In one of many fun games during the 2011-12 season, JR Smith & Steve Novak came off the bench to have a 3 point extravaganza. Smith & Novak combined for 50 points off the bench – and 15 combined threes – to defeat the Celtics at home 118-110 on TNT. JR & Novak formed a unconventional dynamic duo during their tenure with their penchants to hit threes.

In the 1st half, Novak hit 4 threes and JR hit all 7 of his threes in the 1st half. Both of them had an excellent two-man game where they fed each other passes to get wide open threes on the break. Most of JR’s 6 assists & Novak’s 2 assists were to each other for threes. TNT’s Kevin Harlan got into the excitement early in the 1st half with his call of the shots. One particular call was a JR Smith three where he said “he puts it in from Schenectady.” Novak also got into the fun with a 4 point play where he fell into Mike Woodson’s lap. He also brought out his signature “discount double check” celebration.

The Knicks led by 19 in the 1st half, but the game got tighter heading into the 4th quarter. Novak saved 4 of his 8 threes in the 4th quarter to help reclaim a comfortable lead. With the Knicks up 10 with less than 6 minutes left in the 4th, Novak hit a big 3 to put the Knicks up 13. In true wrestling fashion, he brought out the championship belt and Harlan proclaimed “put on the belt.” Novak was 8-10 from three for the game and didn’t miss any of his 4 threes in the 4th quarter. Those threes helped clinch the victory.

Lost in the three point shuffle was Carmelo Anthony’s triple double. Melo scored 35 points and had 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Ultimately it was the three point show that wowed Madison Square Garden on this night.

 

On This Date: Knicks bring back Quentin Richardson

April 16th 2013: Knicks bring back Quentin Richardson

In what should not have been a surprising move, the Knicks signed Quentin Richardson to the team. The Knicks wanted to sign additional veteran depth at both the SG and SF positions and thought Q-Rich could fit that role. Additionally, the team wanted an additional body that could play in the final game while the main rotation players would rest. The Knicks waived both Rasheed Wallace (in the next day) and Kurt Thomas (previously) due to career ending injuries.

Q-Rich played in the final game of the regular season where he grabbed 10 rebounds in 28 minutes. Q-Rich was largely a caricature of himself when he returned to the team, just like Kurt Thomas & Marcus Camby. He played quite sparingly in the playoffs, only appearing during blowout games.

On This Date: Knicks extend Don Chaney’s contract

April 15th 2003: Knicks extend Don Chaney’s contract

After the Knicks went 37-45 during the 2002-03 season, GM Scott Layden gave Don Chaney a 3 year contract extension worth $7 million. Chaney had a record of 57-88 through his 1.5 seasons as head coach of the Knicks. Despite losing Antonio McDyess for the entire season, Chaney squeezed 37 wins out of a roster that was largely unathletic, old, and heavily dependent on Allan Houston’s production.

Unfortunately, the extension proved to be premature. After the Knicks started the 2003-04 season slow, the team fired Scott Layden & hired Isiah Thomas as the new GM. A month later, Isiah fired Chaney with more than 2 years left on his new contract. Fortunately, James Dolan didn’t seem to care much about paying former employees.

On This Date: Knicks clinch #2 seed in victory over Pacers

April 14th 2013: Knicks clinch #2 seed in the Eastern conference by defeating the Indiana Pacers

The Knicks defeated the Indiana Pacers at home 90-80 to officially clinch the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The victory helped clinch the Knicks’ highest playoff seeding since the 1993-94 season. The Knicks also became the Atlantic Division champions, their first division title since the 1993-94 season. The team eventually won 54 games that season. The 54 wins were the highest since the 1996-97 season (the Knicks were 57-25 that season).

Coincidentally, the Knicks would face the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Knicks had not reached the semis since the 1999-00 season. Unfortunately, the Knicks lost home court advantage in Game 1 and eventually lost the series in 6 games.

On This Date: Ewing scores 41 in a blowout against the Indiana Pacers

April 13th 1988: Patrick Ewing scores 41 in a blowout against the Indiana Pacers

Patrick Ewing completely dominated the Indiana Pacers with 41 points in only 26 minutes in a 127-107 blowout against the Indiana Pacers. Ewing hit 18-24 from the field and would have had more points had he not sat for most of the 2nd quarter due to foul trouble. Ewing only played half the 4th quarter as the Knicks had a 25 point lead when he left the game to a standing ovation.

This game was a stretch of 4 of 6 games where Ewing scored more than 36 points  (with 40+ in 2 of the games). Each game was important for the Knicks to stay afloat in the playoff seeding. This victory helped the Knicks move into the 7th seed in the playoff race. The Knicks settled into the 8 seed when they faced the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Largely due to playoff inexperience (this was Ewing’s first playoff series), the Knicks lost to the Celtics in 4 games.

On This Date: Knicks fire Jeff Hornacek

April 12th 2018: Knicks fire Jeff Hornacek

The Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek less than 24 hours after their final game of the regular season. Steve Mills & Scott Perry informed Hornacek of the decision after the team plane landed in Westchester County Airport in the wee hours of the night. Rather than waiting days after the season ended, the front office wanted to notify Hornacek immediately to start the process of finding a new coach.

Hornacek was a carryover from the Phil Jackson era with one additional season remaining on his contract. Although Steve Mills was part of the hiring process, Hornacek wasn’t someone either one of them felt was the future coach for the rebuilding process.

Due to the Kristaps Porzingis injury, the team wanted to pivot into a rebuilding process. Therefore, both Perry & Mills felt a new coach was necessary to provide a new identity for what would be one of the youngest teams in the league.

With the bittersweet end comes a new beginning

Miss this season? Are you nuts? Yeah…a little bit.

Prior to walking into the Garden for the final game of the season on Wednesday, if you’d asked me what my prevailing emotion of the night would end up being when I left, the best guess would have been relief.

It’s the only logical response in the season we just experienced, one where I’d visit NBA.com/stats on a near daily basis, scrolling through different categories, filtering by various date ranges, mining for data, any data, that would indicate things were trending in the right direction. During the month of February when the team was bordering on a top ten defense, it felt like they’d won a damn playoff series. Seeing them never fall to the very bottom of the barrel in net rating was an actual, honest-to-goodness source of pride for me on more than one occasion.

It’s been that kind of a year.

Oddly enough though, as the last game devolved into a blowout and the finish line drew closer, relief was the last thing I was feeling. I wasn’t thankful the year was ending. I wasn’t happy about the fact that (knocks head on wood) it would only get better from here.

Instead, I was, ever so slightly, unfathomably, inconceivably…

Sad.

No, it doesn’t make any sense. The purpose of being a fan is to root for a team that wins games. It’s kind of the point.

I’m sure that, for this very reason, there’s a healthy segment of the city that hasn’t tuned in much this year, or for that matter, most of the last several years. I think about these people sometimes and there’s a small part of me that admires them. They probably spend their winter nights doing all kinds of cool shit. Like going out to dinner, playing Risk or having orgies. Do people still have orgies? I wouldn’t know because I’m busy watching Emmanuel Mudiay shoot mid range fadeaway jumpers by the dozen.

Whose loss is that, really?

No, I don’t have that choice because I long ago crossed that threshold of fandom where I was all the way in. The Knicks were so exciting for so long during so many of my formative years that I never stood a chance at being anything other than what I am. That’s probably the case with you, if you’re reading this, the day after the end of the season that any sane person would have wanted to leave in the past the second it concluded, or started for that matter.

Not me. Despite the fact that I’d strongly consider giving an appendage (or at least a toe) for the Knicks to be competitive again, there is another part of me that will miss this year.

It’s simple, really. Since Patrick Ewing’s last game as a Knick, this was as rudderless an organization as existed in the sport. Even before I became an attorney, I was always great at selling myself on bullshit when it helped me get through the day, but even I couldn’t convince myself that there was anything much to look forward to. It’s what made those years so hard; it wasn’t just losing – it was pointless losing.

This year felt different. Kevin Knox might have been the worst heavy-minutes player in the league, but every travel, step out of bounds or wild foray into the paint bizarrely felt like a step in the right direction. He was the most raw example of a roster full of players who carried with them at least the promise of improvement, and in the case of Knox and Mitch and maybe one or two other guys, really significant improvement if everything breaks right.

People often ask how I had it in me to sit and watch every game of the worst season in franchise history, and the honest answer is that it was pretty easy, at least in comparison to years past. For as much as I’ve yearned for a winner, all I’ve ever really wanted as a fan since Ewing left was to regain the ability to hope. This season provided it.

It also played out with the lowest stakes imaginable. Every time one of these kids had a breakthrough, it felt like a pleasant surprise. Every Mitch block, every Knox three, every Trier iso…it was like found money. Most people see a penny on the sidewalk and keep moving. Knick fans know better.

Is this a product of subsisting on bread and water for too long? Of course. These good vibes are the ultimate result of Knicks fan PTSD. For a competent franchise, a year like this is a necessary evil stuck in between high times. For the Knicks I’ve known most of my life, a 17-win season played mostly by relative children has been a cause for celebration.

So yeah…there’s a part of me that will miss it, especially because of what’s likely coming around the corner. The stakes, it would seem, are about to be increased tenfold. Losses will matter again, and there will be real consequences when stuff goes wrong. Things are, by any reasonable definition, about to get better, but also a lot more complicated.

Winning is hard, and when you’re expected to win, it can get even harder, especially in this town. Ask any Laker fan how much fun this season was. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll be exploited by a league getting smarter by the day. And the Knicks track record is against everyone else is, umm…not the best.

So yeah, while I’m excited, I’m also nervous as all hell. I want to believe they have enough intelligent decision makers in place to avoid a similar fate as LA, but really, I have no idea. For as much as I’m looking forward to finding out the answer, I’d be lying if I said a small part of me won’t miss this. It’s crazy, but then again, not much about following this team has ever been sane.

On that note, here’s to the lovable bunch of losers who made this year more bearable than it had any right to be. I’m not sure this was a season to remember even for those involved, but for reasons I still can’t fully explain, it’s not one I’m likely to forget anytime soon.

Now let the real fun begin. Giddy up.

 

On This Date: Ewing scores 36 and hit the go-ahead fade away in OT to defeat the Detroit Pistons

April 11th 1988: Patrick Ewing scores 36 and hits the go-ahead fade-away to defeat the Detroit Pistons in Overtime

Patrick Ewing carried the Knicks on offense with 36 points, on 11-15 from the field and 14-20 from the free throw line, to help defeat the Detroit Pistons 114-111 in overtime. Ewing hit the go-ahead fade away jumper to put the Knicks up 1 and was fouled on the play by Isiah Thomas. While Ewing couldn’t convert the 3 point play, Dennis Rodman was not able to secure the defensive rebound. Johnny Newman eventually went to the line to hit the two clutch free throws to put the Knicks up by 3 to win the game.

The Knicks, led by Rick Pitino, employed their two center rotation during stretches of the game to overwhelm the Pistons. Bill Cartwright scored 21 points off the bench in 35 minutes.

Furthermore, Mark Jackson clinched the NBA rookie record for most assists/game with a near-triple double effort. Jackson had a near triple double with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 13 assists, and 5 steals. He went on to average 10.6 assists/game to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award.

 

 

(Super) Mario Hezonja: Cuban Linx or Fool’s Gold?

Half of us’ll try to make it, the other half’ll try to take it
So many fake half real freedom-build
Born to science my alliance analyzes
Wild surprises, keeping my eyes wide to this
The unfortunate, laying in mountains counting
With jewelry on, can it be the next team house the horn
Chill dun, just for real ones, light the lye up
I hate to have to tie the next guy up
Pay attention to 1010 WINS, Wu blends
Now I’m steering you to truth, buckle up
Now who’s a legend?

Raekwon – Rainy Dayz

Wondering why I posted these lyrics?  Well, maybe there’s no relevance, but maybe these words will stick in Mario Hezonja’s mind as he enters an important summer.

Up until last night’s absence due to an illness, he had a mini 3 game run that included a triple double, a 30 point effort, and a near-30 point effort. As my fellow teacher Mike D. mentioned in his piece, he showed offensive versatility that was rarely unleashed during his tenure with the Magic and gave fans an impression of a Super Mario. His play recently was so sick, but even he couldn’t escape the wrath of the flu.2

But is it a Cuban Link or Fool’s Gold?

Bettin’ bricks up at the Knicks game with Cubans from Biscayne

Ghostface Killah2

Look, evaluating this season is hard. For the first time in team history, the team came into the season without expectations to win. This did not happen when the team drafted Ewing. It did not happen during any season of the Isiah or Scott Layden era. The teams in the 60s and 70s were not as bad as we are now. From the moment Game 1 began in October, the only question was whether we’d win 15 games or 25 games. 30 wins would equate a championship this year.

The life cycle of a losing season is generally predictable. Sometime after the NBA Trade Deadline or NBA All Star Game, most teams in the doldrums immediately shift to development mode. The equation is simple: more minutes for young players and reclamation projects, less minutes for veterans. As the games don’t matter, the expectation of the games sink. Opposing teams, unless in playoff contention, often play down to their inferior competition. As a result, teams in developing mode often win unexpectedly against opponents that are more talented.3

In the Knicks’ 6 year playoff drought, the organization shifted into development mode at various inflection points. The 2013-14 Knicks competed through the end of March. The 2015-16 & 2016-17 Knicks began their shift in the early portion of March, although both teams featured a largely veteran roster. Last year’s Knicks shifted quickly after the Kristaps Porzingis injury in early February. The 2014-15 Knicks were an outlier and began the shift in early January after the JR Smith & Iman Shumpert trade.

As for the 2018-19 Knicks, the season was a wash beginning the evening of Game 1. Sure, we faced tough competition early on in the season, but wins and losses didn’t matter. The Knicks played with house money this season. Wins were not a necessity, but rather an unexpected benefit realized within the focus on player development. However, if development is the focus over the course of the season, can box scores truly evaluate performance, especially in games that don’t matter?

The Knicks historian says:

As Knicks history reminds us, Mario Hezonja’s performance is not unique by any stretch. Take the following player who had the following stat-line for the last 10 games of the 2006-07 season:

14.7 ppg, 6.3 rbs, 5.9 asts, 1.9 stls

If you guessed Mardy Collins, then you know your Knicks history. What people may not tell you is that those numbers were over 44.2 minutes/game. As expected, his sophomore season never achieved the highs he enjoyed in the end of his rookie campaign. His stat line mainly stagnated and even shot a paltry 32% from the field. He spent 2 more years in the NBA before jumping around overseas. He’s currently playing for Frank’s Ntilikina’s old team in France.

In recent years, Westchester Knicks alumni Langston Galloway & Trey Burke had their moments with the Knicks during development mode. Galloway’s scoring proficiency led him to the NBA All-Rookie 2nd team despite playing 1/2 the season. Burke only played 36 games, but average 12.8 ppg on a ridiculous 50% from the field, including an even more ridiculous 56.6% from long 2. And just as expected, neither player was able to maintain their torrid performance in the following season. Galloway could not remain proficient scoring off the bench and Burke was not able to shoot well from the mid range. After the 2015-16 season, Galloway signed a 2 year, $12 million contract with the Pelicans and subsequently signed a 3 year $21 million deal with the Pistons. While becoming a solid three point shooter, he has yet to replicate the spark he showed with us.

A better comparison to Hezonja’s situation was Derrick Williams. Like Hezonja himself, Williams hadn’t lived up to the hype of being the #2 overall pick, behind Kyrie Irving, in the 2011 NBA Draft. After playing for the Timberwolves & Kings, the Knicks signed him to a 2 year $10 million deal at the age of 24. Outside of getting robbed of $750k of jewelry partying, Williams had a somewhat solid season for the Knicks. He took advantage of his athletic ability but aggressively cutting to the basket. He had plenty of highlight dunks during the season. In his final 19 games of the 2015-16 season, Williams averaged nearly 12 ppg on 50% from the field and showed flashes of being a rotation bench player. Despite his performance with the Knicks, he only received a 1 year $5 million contract from the Heat and was waived before the trade deadline.

Which Mario do we have?

To be honest, the last few games felt more like Mario with a star or Mario with a P-Wing than anything. A temporary jolt that seems quite exciting until the star wears off or Mario crashes into a flying goomba.

Before having this nice stretch, the maddening aspects of Hezonja’s game cloud his potential. Despite his ability to drive into the paint and score, he’d settle for terrible shots and shot only 41.2% from the field so far. Despite his ability to shoot from three, he’s only shooting 27.8% from three, largely due to questionable shot selection. Add in the questionable decision making, the lackadaisical play on defense, and inconsistency throughout the season and you begin to know why Mario’s approaching his second bout of free agency.

This run is also nothing new either. For a 17 game stretch during the middle of the 2017-18 season, Hezonja averaged more than 14 points/game and 1.7 steals/game. He also had a similar statistical stretch4during the final 10 games during the season. The ability is there, but can he harness those skills consistently over a full season?

Furthermore, these runs (especially this season) both occurred during the stretch of the season where his teams were not competing for wins and were prioritizing development. Will Mario’s PG skills translate next season when games are more competitive and outcomes actually matter? If the team is on a winning mandate, can it afford to absorb some of Mario’s poor decision making? Patience is thin within the Knicks organization and fan base when there’s a goal to win games. Young & talented point guards such as Mark Jackson & Rod Strickland were replaced by veteran-laden guards that provided consistent production to help the team win.

Perhaps Raccoon Mario is what we’d dream for, but perhaps we’d be satisfied with Fire Mario or even just Super Mario.

The Future of Mario:

Despite Mario’s overall performance, he still remains an intriguing free agent target. Not one that’s the priority (obviously), but someone that can potentially fill a role with one of the lower exceptions. Mario made $6.5M this year with the non-taxpayer MLE. Because the Knicks enter free agency under the cap, the $6.5M turns into $4.5M. Hezonja is less likely to take a cut especially if a team can offer him a contract around $5-6M on a one year deal. At the same time, the idea of pairing Mario with veterans opens up the possibility of a pay cut to join a winning team.

I expect Mario to sign a one-year contract for about $6 million with another team to show he can replicate his performance. Based on recent history, many of our role players (Kyle O’Quinn, Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, etc.) all settled for one year contracts at the same or lower value of their salary with the Knicks. None of the players mentioned lived up to their performance after leaving the Knicks. Let’s hope Mario changes his trajectory.

 

 

Part III: Leadership

As the season draws to a close, Jonathan Macri completes his assessment of the 2018-19 campaign by grading the highest levels of the organization. In case you missed it, be sure to check out Parts I (the players) and II (the coach) as well.

As we approach the two week mark for Avengers: Endgame – sure to be the coolest three hours of my summer5 – I’m reminded of the moment that got us to this movie in the first place, when a misbegotten Star Lord cost half the universe its lives.

About two thirds of the way through Infinity War (Spoiler alert for the seven people who haven’t seen it), the delightful Chris Pratt, playing an intergalactic hoodlum turned hero, had himself a moment he’d like to forget. The Avengers, or at least the half of them that had been jettisoned into space, had come up with a kick-ass plan to remove the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos’ big purple mitt. It involved loads of CGI wizardry that stuck the Mad Titan in a compromising position where he no longer had control of his bodily functions. Pretty freaking ingenious.

To finish him off, all the Avengers needed to do was remove the damn glove. They were thisclose to doing exactly that, until Pratt lost his shit because he realized Thanos had killed his girlfriend (who also happened to be Thonos’ daughter – long story). After repeatedly punching him in the face, the big guy snapped out of his trance, retained the gauntlet, and kicked everyone’s ass. You know the rest.

If your theater-going experience was anything like mine, the crowd reacted like the city of Cleveland as JR grabbed his rebound at the end of Game 1 of the 2018 Finals and immediately started running for a shot of Henny. It may have been the ultimate Nononononowhatareyoudoingnoooooo moment in cinematic history.

Here’s the crazy thing though: we knew it was coming. Marvel had announced the sequel to this film long before A:IW even came out. We knew Thanos wasn’t going to lose…and yet every person who saw the film was devastated when it didn’t happen. Not only did we buy into the fantasy, but we bought into the fantasy within the fantasy.

All Pratt needed to do was keep walking, and boom: universe saved.

Except he couldn’t help himself.

As those punches were landing, I was reminded of a feeling that has become all too familiar in my lifetime, one deep inside my core.

It’s the feeling I get any time I take out my phone (or, back in the old days, turned on the television or radio) and instantly know that the franchise I’ve rooted for since I was nine has done something stupid. It’s the feeling Lakers fans got a taste of on Tuesday night, when Magic Johnson decided to quit his job without telling anybody. I reacted to the Shams Bomb like every other Knick fan alive: Thank God it’s not us.

Because it has been us, so very, very often. We’ve seen those Tweets too many times. The feeling we get when we open them is what’s at the heart of #LOLKnicks. It’s the one responsible for all of our insecurity complexes, the reason we take every good happening with several grains of salt. It’s why I do what I do on this site – it’s cheaper than therapy, and healthier than scotch.

The first time I remember the feeling, I was 17. I was at the house of my first serious girlfriend, opened up a copy of the NY Post that was on the table when I walked in, and saw the news: Patrick Ewing had been traded. I tried for a bit to pretend like I didn’t care about this team far more than I ever would for the girl, but she saw through that pretty quickly. She was pissed; I was distraught.

It’s not the fact that he was traded that had me bummed – a possible move had been discussed for weeks, and the team badly needed a reboot. No, it was the return they got that had me perplexed. Even as a teenager, I knew that trading Ewing’s expiring contract for Glen Rice – a 33-year-old who played the same position as the team’s two best players – was odd.

It was a directionless move if there ever was one. It’s like someone told the team to shit or get off the pot and they couldn’t make up their mind, so they got up and lost their bowels all over the bathroom floor. We’ve seemingly been cleaning up the mess for 19 years.

Perhaps not coincidentally, James Dolan had taken over the running of the team the previous season. The messy missteps that have come during his tenure have been well documented, whether they be on the court, via trades or signings, or having nothing to do with actual basketball altogether. I’d go through them in more detail, but I’m writing this at 8:30 on a Sunday morning and it’s too early for a drink.

Point is, there have been enough of these moves since the Ewing trade that we should not only know an LOL Knicks moment when we see one, but expect it before it hits. Like the inevitable plot device that got us to the next Avengers, it shouldn’t be a matter of whether they’ll fuck up, but simply when, and how soul-seething will it be.

And yet, inexplicably, I entered this season with hope. Hope that we could pull off the glove, and somehow make it from October to July without adding another moment to the list. More than anything – more than developing the youth, clearing cap space, instituting an offense, or anything else – whether the organization could soberly walk that nine-month tightrope while touching its nose and not falling flat on its face would come to define this season.

Why? Because the fate of the Knicks’ universe depended on it.

For reasons only slightly less explicable than the Avengers nearly defeating Thanos, one of maybe the best dozen players ever seems to want to spend the second half of his prime playing basketball in New York. The rumors have been swirling since before training camp began. While nothing in this league is ever certain, for once, all the Knicks needed to do was not fuck things up and they might come out on top.

Did they do it? It depends on how you look at it, but as we assess how the organization as a whole did this season, one thing is for certain: Scott Perry did his part.

The basketball lifer from Detroit brought with him a reputation of professionalism and basic competence, two things often sorely lacking at MSG. His appointment had me hopeful, as did the fact that James Dolan had stayed out of basketball operations since vetoing a Kyle Lowry/Iman Shumpert trade because his backside still hurt from the Bargnani deal. #WhateverItTakes

Over his first year on the job, the closest thing to an LOL Knicks moment we had was when Joakim Noah and Jeff Hornacek got into it at practice one day. That’s small potatoes around these parts. On the plus side, he navigated the Carmelo Anthony trade saga about as well as could be expected, bringing back the pick that would become Mitchell Robinson. Most significantly, he added no future salary and finished his first year with more picks in the cupboard than he started with – the Robinson pick plus two more for Willy Hernangomez, and then one dealt for Emmanuel Mudiay.

(BTW, for all the hand wringing over the Hernangomez trade, Oh-Billy finished this year in Charlotte averaging seven points and five boards in 14 minutes a game and had the lowest net rating on the team of anyone who played more than 800 minutes.)

It’s way too early to judge the basketball decisions Perry made this season, but so far, so good. Knox is what we should have thought he would be. Mitch is a revelation. Allonzo Trier is an NBA player, ceiling TBD. Ditto for Kadeem Allen, who is signed through next year.

I just wrote a whole bunch of words about the coach Perry hired, who, if nothing else, has the team feeling like their best selves despite all the loses.

And then there’s the KP trade. It’ll likely take years before we can fully evaluate it, but the return was praised by most objective observers.

More importantly, the deal was very un-LOL Knicks in two very important ways. Primarily, it saved the organization from a bevy of distractions this summer in more ways than one. Less obvious but perhaps more importantly, it seemed to represent a tacit attempt to add to the culture through subtraction.

Ah, yes…there’s that “C” word again.

I feel the same way about team culture that my 17-year-old self did about getting laid: it seemed like everyone else was getting in on the action except me, and I was fairly certain that would never change. It seems like everywhere you turn, there are articles and anecdotes about the outstanding culture of Team X or Team Y, and I’m convinced that I’ll never read such an article about the Knicks.

It’s tough to argue that the juju on a team with the worst record in the league is on the up and up, but for as much as they stink, there does seem to be a different vibe around this particular group:

So Perry gets a small but shining gold star for his efforts. Steve Mills? When Howard Beck summarized the feelings of anonymous execs around the league that “[t]he front office leadership also draws skepticism from rivals,” it was a polite way of saying that people question why Mills still has a job.

While it’s not necessarily an unfair critique, whatever system the Knicks front office duo has put in place since Perry came aboard seems to be working. For the first time in a long time, all the decision makers are on the same page. Whether Mills has been involved in every move or no moves, it’s all been under his watch as much as Perry’s. If one gets a passing grade, so should the other.

Which brings us to the man in charge.

The feeling I had the moment I opened Twitter and saw that March 9 TMZ clip was the exact one I had hoped to avoid this season. It was Star Lord and Ewing and Isiah and Bargs and Oakley and every other moment I’d like to forget all wrapped into one. It was why, when Beck noted in the aforementioned piece that those same anonymous execs had doubts about the “generally poor reputation of owner James L. Dolan,” there was nothing I could do but nod silently.

What we can’t know, at least not until roughly 80 days from now, is whether Dolan’s inability to just keep walking will make one iota of difference to the Knicks summer plans. The effect that his general presence has on the franchise is something I’ve pondered more than any other topic this season. It’s why I’m not holding my breath for that positive article about the Knicks culture, and why for all the KD talk, I remain unwilling to allow myself to fully believe in the fairy tale.

If you go by the opinions of players and execs around the league, it won’t matter, at least not where Durant is concerned. Maybe we’ve hit the turning point. Maybe this is the start of an era when people will want to come here, and one occasionally curmudgeonly owner really doesn’t have the effect some would have us believe. It bears repeating: just because certain people clearly want Dolan’s existence to make more of a difference doesn’t mean it actually will.

It also doesn’t mean it won’t. There’s simply no way to know for sure.

Here’s what I do know: if July doesn’t go the Knicks way and the entire basketball world is once again laughing at our expense, a part of me will always wonder just how much a ten second interaction with a fan had to do with it.

And another part of me will be mad at the first part for ever believing there was another ending to a movie that’s been 18 years in the making.

Either way, the show must go on.