As the Milwaukee Bucks took a quick 11-4 lead in the first quarter of the Knicks’ season opener Wednesday, if you listened closely, you could hear tortured Knicks fans across the Big Apple letting out a collective groan. Missed shots, poor ball movement and unabated drives to the basket by the opposition were sure to be the portent of bad things to come for a long 82-game season.
That’s life as a Knicks fan—always dreading the worst, embracing mediocrity, and forever bowing in disappointment, or disgust. It’s our burden, and we begrudgingly carry it around until the day MSG can shake off the last decade of futility, both on and off the court.
In last year’s disastrous campaign the lowly Knicks managed only 17 victories—their worst record ever—but they did win more than the terrible Timberwolves, so even the smallest signs of improvement may be enough to provide fans with a tinge of hope, however fleeting it is.
Phil Jackson went ahead and gutted almost the entire roster and basically started anew, save for a few players, including star forward Carmelo Anthony. For their ineptitude on the hardwood, the Knicks were awarded the fourth overall selection, which they used to draft rail-thin 20-year-old Kristaps Porzingis from Latvia, who, we’re told, boasted a deft touch despite his lanky 7-foot-3 frame. Later in the first round Jackson took Notre Dame senior point guard Jerian Grant, an athletic ball handler. Jackson then used James Dolan’s money to sign big man Robin Lopez and a slew of other bodies just to fill out the roster for the upcoming season, or so it seemed. He famously missed out on all-star LaMarcus Aldridge and failed to convince free agent center Greg Monroe to bring his many talents to the Garden. Now Knicks fans are already dreaming of Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant’s impending free agency, even though history has not been kind to the Knicks when it comes to signing MVP-caliber players on the open market.
So the franchise was left with one top 15 player in Anthony and a potpourri of role players with little star power. And the selection of Porzingis, who was booed vociferously on draft night by the Knicks faithful, did little to appease a fanbase yet to wash away the stench that wafted through the Garden last season and stunk up the joint.
Knicks fans can’t be criticized for sitting down and viewing Wednesday’s opener against the Bucks with hefty skepticism. Afterall, the franchise has done little to reciprocate the loyalty demonstrated by its steadfast supporters over the last dozen years. So when the Bucks took a quick seven-point lead in the first quarter, we collectively cringed.
Surprisingly, the team fought back. Knicks head coach Derek Fisher replaced a number of lethargic starters with spirited reserves, who were aggressive on defense and were flying to the basket. Former second overall pick Derrick Williams, who played well in the preseason, continued to impress with a team-leading 24-point outburst. The bench, led by Williams, point guard Langston Galloway, and power forward Kyle O’Quinn, who grabbed 12 rebounds, opened up a double-digit lead that the Knicks never relinquished. Imagine that!
The reserves appeared to be all over the court. They crowded passing lanes, gambled defensively to force turnovers, and swarmed to the ball.
Even Porzingis contributed with 16 points and five rebounds. Porzingis, who is blessed with a lethal stroke from the perimeter but has a frail frame, showed some guts by battling in the post and frequently attacking the rim, which is encouraging to watch. But how long his body can sustain the abuse of a grueling NBA season remains to be seen.
Not everyone enjoyed a fruitful night. Anthony missed 12 of 16 shots, perhaps due to constant double teams, and point guard Jose Calderon came up empty on a number of occasions.
But for one night, the Knicks did display encouraging signs. But let’s not forget it was only the first game in a long season, so not even success-starved Knicks fans will let Wednesday’s 122-97 victory go to their heads. Our skepticism is too entrenched for that.
A quick trip to the past would also be helpful. Last season, the Knicks opened the year by defeating LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers. After that, the Knicks only captured 16 more victories.
On the surface, this doesn’t look like an NBA team destined for the basement of its division. So, maybe looking back is meaningless. This is an entirely different team. But these are still the Knicks we’re talking about, and they never fail to surprise us. Or disappoint.