by Russ Bengtson
There are many ways I could start these notes. For example, I could ask a not-so-rhetorical question: “If Team A loses a game against Team B because Player C celebrates a would-be dagger dunk a bit too exuberantly, what chance is there that same player gives the refs the chance to make the same exact call in the same exact situation the very next time the teams meet?”
Or I could go to the same well I drew from for my last batch of notes—the local media surrounding a player with local ties, in this case Zach Randolph, who was sent forth to Los Angeles earlier this season. A favorite amongst the ink-stained wretches (and microphone holders) for his gravelly good-natured candor, Randolph took on all comers, pausing only to greet Nate Robinson when he poked his head in the visitor’s locker room (both to say hi and to collect on an old debt, which Randolph settled with the large knot in the front pocket of his tan Levi’s).
I could try the misdirection approach, effusively praising the speedy and tattoo-laden No. 4, un(der)estimated from Day One, who came off the bench and dropped 35 clutch points in 37 minutes. No, not Kryptonate, but the Clippers’s Mike Taylor, a second-round pick out of the D-League who piled up the most points for a rookie in the Garden since some fella named Allen Iverson more than a decade ago. Like Iverson, Taylor is listed at a hard-to-believe 165 pounds (soaking wet and fully dressed, maybe), like Iverson, Taylor is covered with more ink than it takes to print the Sunday Times, like Iverson, Taylor is fast enough to run literal circles around would-be defenders. As for the rest—the scoring titles and MVPs—we’ll have to wait and see. Coming into last night, Taylor was averaging a robust 3.9 ppg. That’s since gone up a bit.
Maybe I could use the Twitter tie-in. Although I’ve been on there for a while now, I wasn’t aware of the sheer number of NBA players who Tweeted until I saw Lang’s comprehensive list. But one guy I have been following is Baron Davis, who at one point yesterday posted looking for a restaurant near Central Park to hit up for lunch. So as the local types surrounded Z-Bo, I quietly asked Baron—sitting on the bench immediately to Zach’s right—whether he ever found a place to eat. He just started laughing. Turns out he went to Nobu—a rather fine Japanese establishment I’ve never had the pleasure of patronizing—but didn’t share that information with his legion of followers because the last time he did, the restaurant was flooded with phone calls. Honestly, that’s why I never Tweet where I’m going to lunch, either.
Then again, I could also just start from the beginning.
(I’ll try to not do play-by-play and not transcribe everything, because then this’ll be 4,000 words and won’t be up until April.)
(It’s worth noting that, while I brought my computer to the game, I never even took it out of my bag. And I forgot my recorder entirely. So these notes are brought to you by AMPAD (“Since 1888: America’s First, America’s Finest”) reporter’s notebooks and the Pilot G-2 07. And Seattle’s Best coffee.)
Since the Clippers have exactly zero beatwriters traveling with them, I get to sit on the baseline with the New York beatwriters, big-time national media and traveling scouts. In other words I’m two seats down from Chris Ford and a row behind Chris Sheridan. Big time! It’s amazing how different the game looks from up close—you get a far better sense of how fast and physical the game really is. I wish they put the retail value of the seat on each nametag.
You could say the Clippers get off to a slow start, but that would imply they get off to a start at all. Baron throws the ball away on an entry pass and gives the added gift of an and-one on the other end. And when Wilson Chandler misses a jumper, Zach Randolph beats out Marcus Camby for the rebound and tips it in. Which would have been a good idea if it were still November and Z-Bo were still a Knick. David Lee gets two free points for being vaguely near the play.
With 5:50-something to go, the Knicks are up 27-8, and Mike Dunleavy calls a 20-second timeout to discuss, I don’t know, the price of tea in China or the AIG bonuses. They’re certainly not going to figure out what’s ailing THEM in 20 seconds.
The Knicks do their part with back-to-back turnovers, Eric Gordon hits a corner three, and LIKE THAT, the Clippers are only down 14.
If Baron Davis looked any more disinterested, he’d actually be posting to Twitter on the court: “Maybe I should pass it to Z-Bo, LOL.”
The Knicks pass 40 with two minutes to go in the quarter. The Clippers don’t appear to believe in defense at all, and I’m wondering whether a team could possibly score 200 points in regulation.
Baron must have heard my thoughts, because he fires an entry pass directly into press row. It’s more towards the AP writer, though. Knicks lead after 1, 44-28. They’re shooting a robust 79 percent from the floor.
We don’t receive engraved invitations or anything, but The Mike Taylor Show begins regardless. Drives to the rim, free throws, and ones, you name it. And all of a sudden the Knicks once insurmountable lead is in danger of being surmounted. Just a few minutes into the second Mike’s got 11 points and it’s 49-45. Unbelievable.
Jared Jeffries stops the bleeding by connecting on a pair of free throws. Later, he’ll turn water into wine, cure a particularly nasty case of athlete’s foot, and feed a cast of thousands with a single Happy Meal.
You want more Mike Taylor? You got it. Two more points.
With 1:50 to go in the half, a Taylor layup gives the Clippers their first lead at 62-61. There are more embarrassing moments in Knicks history, I suppose, but this is up there.
When halftime mercifully arrives, the Knicks cling to a 66-65 lead. Taylor had 17 points in the quarter on 5-7 from the floor and 7-7 from the line, with no threes attempted or made. His previous career high? 15.
Mike Taylor starts the third quarter, Baron sits on the bench. Chair. Whatever. Camby doesn’t start either. Harrington hits an open three in transition to give him 25 on the night with 11-plus minutes to go, but yet another Taylor bucket allows the Clippers to regain the lead at 70-69. Wilson Chandler comes right back with a three. There will be 20 ties and 11 lead changes over the course of the night, so I won’t be noting all of them.
(Although I suppose it’s worth mentioning Mike ties it on the very next possession with a jumper over a rather effective and thorough Z-Bo screen.)
Around this time is when a lot of threes start to happen. I suggest to Chris Ford that they only take threes from hereon out. Can’t tell whether he agrees it would be a good idea or not. Nice mustache, though. And the championship ring he’s wearing is so delightfully unostentatious. Pretty soon they’re gonna start making crowns for the champs. Or solid gold Bentleys.
There’s a play right in front of us where David Lee clearly goes over Mike Taylor’s back for an offensive rebound and basically knocks him down while laying it back up and in. Taylor has clearly established position, has clearly not done anything wrong, and clearly gets called for the foul. He clearly looks surprised at the turn of events. Lee hits the freebie to put the Knicks back up by three.
Not long afterwards, the Clippers are back up five, but, as dictated by law, no one plays any defense, and Larry Hughes gets in the game for roughly .8 seconds before hitting a game-tying three from the wing. (I could look back through the running to see who scored the two first, but you don’t really care, do you?)
Nate Robinson throws a pass directly into an unsuspecting David Lee’s face from less than six feet away. Mike Taylor picks up the loose ball, is fouled by Lee.
Z-Bo misses in close, Al Thornton soars in for a fairly impressive dunk putback, and the only Clipper on the bench who stands up is Steve Novak. The rest of the guys are busy, I guess.
Couple plays later, Thornton gets the ball at the top of the key beyond the three-point line with the shot clock running out, and his man actually LEAVES him. He rattles home the open trey.
Larry Johnson, who hasn’t set foot in the building in eight years, is at his second Knicks game in three nights. Introduced to thunderous applause yet again, he stands and throws an L up. Thirty-seven minutes later, Antonio Davis is whistled for a foul with continuation.
Al Thornton jumper, in n’ out.
The Clippers lead 95-93 after three, and the natives are restless.
Marcus Camby starts the fourth quarter after sitting the entire third. I’m sure he’s overjoyed. He drives baseline, is fouled by Harrington, misses both.
Jared Jeffries misses a corner three. This does not come as a surprise.
Some interesting matchups going on, like Jeffries guarding Baron on the perimeter and Baron guarding Harrington in the post. Apparently no one has mentioned to Baron that they outlawed hand checking some time ago. If they were calling it, he’d foul out in seven seconds or less.
Mike Taylor checks back in at 8:45 with the Clippers up 1.
With 7:51 to go, Harrington is fouled by Kaman and heads to the line. He makes the first, gets dap from his teammates, and Baron steps up to slap his hand, too. Harrington obliges. Not sure whether I’ve ever seen that before.
The Clippers are over the limit with 5:56 to go. Jared Jeffries hits another pair of free throws, successfully pairs a plaid shirt with a polka-dotted tie, and mixes oil and water so they don’t separate.
Baron is called for a touch foul contesting a Harrington fallaway on the baseline. He colorfully disagrees, to no avail.
Lee picks up his fifth foul, the Knicks commit a 24-second violation (good defense?) and Baron wets a fading three over Wilson Chandler. Clips by four with 3:03 left.
(According to Lawler’s Law, the Knicks are going to win because they broke 100 first—like, five minutes ago.)
(Then again, the Clippers get to 115 first, so there’s that.)
(First team to 150?)
Baron misses a layup, gets mad there’s no call, Jeffries converts a driving dunk on the other end, and the Clippers turn it over on an inbounds violation. Yep, they’re still the Clippers.
The Knicks get to 120 first on a Larry Hughes 3.
Taylor almost gets a steal in the backcourt on a lazy cross-court pass—Mike D’Antoni looks like he’s going to pull his hair out—but Chris Duhon scores off glass—and one—and the Knicks lead by four with 1:30 left.
Clipper possession, 12 ticks on the 24, and the refs stop play to re-set it to 22. Chris Ford can’t believe it: “They had an open three and the refs stop play for that??”
Z-Bo can’t be Z-Stopped. Past Jeffries for a layup. He’s just posting and calling for the ball every time down. He’s got 29.
Hughes gets a bailout call on a falling away pass in the lane. Clips over the limit, Knicks go up four with under a minute. Until Baron hits a three eight seconds later.
This is when Al Harrington converts on a driving dunk along the baseline, pulls himself up on the rim and gets that tech. Mike D’Antoni goes ballistic, Harrington looks pained and perplexed, and an Eric Gordon free throw cuts the Knicks lead to two. Here’s what I thought: Was the call a no-brainer? No. Al Thornton was under the hoop. But the pull-up looked more exuberant than safety required, and if you’ve been called for more or less doing the exact same thing against the exact same team at the exact same time in the exact same situation, why even give them the opportunity to make the call?
Z-Bo Z-Beasts his way to the line, Wilson Chandler misses a three, and we’re headed to overtime knotted at 127. Deja vu all over again.
If you want more Mike Taylor, you got it. He runs completely around Harrington before sinking this one.
Taylor’s final points come off a runner off glass with 1:35 to go, and the Clippers go up four. He’s got 35.
And the rest is just paperwork. Clippers win 140-135, proving once and for all that the first team to 140 usually wins.
Mike Dunleavy is what passes for happy: “I didn’t like the way we came into the Garden, but I like the way we’re going out.” And he’s effusive in his praise for Taylor: “Mike Taylor—that young man played a great game. We changed the lineup in the second half because you don’t want to go away from a hot hand like that.”
A little more on Taylor: “He has this great speed—but speed kills unless you control it. We’re trying to tell him to dribble all the way through the paint just like Steve Nash does.” He also compares him to a young Tony Parker. Good company.
In the Clipper locker room, everyone’s waiting for Taylor (who talked to all of one reporter—Matt Caputo, stand up!—pregame). so Baron Davis is free to commiserate with Larry Johnson—who saunters in and sits in Chris Kaman’s locker across the way—about Marcus Camby’s impossibly baggy jeans, which make Wu-Wears look like Diesels. It’s possible he has Marithe in one leg and Francois in the other.
Mathematically, the Knicks playoff hopes are still alive. In reality? Even Jared Jeffries couldn’t pull off that kind of miracle.
I almost forgot the best part of postgame. Was standing in the tunnel afterwards with Caputo, waiting to say hey to LJ, when Z-Bo came out of the locker room. He was wearing a brown zip-up hoodie with a huge skull applique on the back, with two equally huge words framing it: SEX and DRUGS. You could read them from space—or at least from across the room. Amazing. Matt asked where he got it, and Z-Bo happily told him that one of his boys in Atlanta made it for him. So much for the dress code.