High-scoring Knicks Hold Off Heat in Opener
NEW YORK – The scoreboard above the Garden floor read: 120-115. That could only mean one thing: The Mike D’Antoni Era has officially begun in New York.
The curtain fell on the 2008-09 Knicks Wednesday night as the Orange and Blue held on in an impressive season-opening victory over the Miami Heat. However, it was hard to tell after the game what the bigger news story was – the Knicks’ win, or coach D’Antoni’s benching of falling star Stephon Marbury. Last year’s starting center, Eddy Curry, also never moved from the bench. D’Antoni benched both former starters, ignoring loud chants “We want Steph! We want Steph!” late in the third quarter. Curry, who came into camp out of shape and overweight, spent the fourth quarter in the lockeroom icing a sore right knee.
“He should do should do whatever he feels he should do. I can’t control what he does. He’s the coach,” said Marbury, who understood D’Antoni’s decision. “If this is what it is, I mean there’s always next year. I’m happy…we won.
“It’s New York. I got mad love for New York,” Marbury added of the fan support. “I’m a New York Knick until otherwise, until my contract runs out.”
Despite the hoopla surrounding Marbury, New York looked good on both ends of the floor, relying on solid defense as much as its uptempo offense, proving it could win without Marbury and Curry in the lineup. The Knicks opened a 23-point lead in the third quarter and then held on after the Heat closed within three points in the final minute. New York was paced by Jamal Crawford, who finished with 29. Zach Randolph added 20 and Wilson Chandler totaled 17 points and nine rebounds as the team presented D’Antoni with his first Knick victory.
“We moved the ball well, and spacing was good,” said D’Antoni, who takes over a team that finished 23-59 last season. “I just liked the overall play. I thought David (Lee) and Zach (Randolph) played well. We mixed it up a little bit going inside-outside. I think those last five minutes … we kind of shut it down. We can’t do that. We’re not that good to be able to do that. We’ll work on that for sure and talk about it.”
The Knicks received contributions from their entire roster. David Lee and Quentin Richardson each finished with 16 points. D’Antoni also inserted rookie Danilo Gallinari, the No. 6 pick in the draft, into the lineup. He made his debut late in the first quarter after missing the entire pre-season schedule, while recovering from a back injury. The former Italian star played about four minutes and missed both of his shots. Still, D’Antoni remains optimistic about what Gallinari could bring to the team. “He’s going to be open a lot because he knows how to play, and that shot will go down consistently,” D’Antoni said of Gallinari. “Obviously, he’s two months behind. We’ll keep working. We’ll keep giving him more minutes, have him practice, and get comfortable. He’s going to be a very good player.”
New York used a 19-3 run in the second quarter to build a 56-42 cushion, but Miami rookie Michael Beasley’s 3-pointer cut it to 10 with 8:21 left in the third. Then New York scored 13 straight over the next 4:20 for a commanding 84-61 lead. Daequan Cook helped make it a close finish, making three 3-pointers and finishing with 13 points for the Heat, who roared back after star Dwyane Wade fouled out with 1:25 remaining. Wade fouled out on what appeared to be a good block of Crawford’s 3-pointer.
“I thought the Knicks played excellent,” said Wade, who finished with 26 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Wade hadn’t played a regular-season game since March, before the Heat decided to shut him down for the season so he could rest his surgically repaired knee before playing in the Olympics.
The Heat were an NBA-worst 15-67 last season, and they’ll be in for another long year if they can’t find more help from Wade, who was visibly frustrated. “We gave them a lot of shots early and then they got comfortable,” Wade explained. “We had opportunities to come back – we saw some good things and some bad things. If we want to win, we’re going to have to play hectic basketball and that’s not traditional Miami Heat basketball, but that’s how we’re going to have to play if we want to win.”
Beasley, the No. 2 pick in the draft, had only nine points on 4-of-14 shooting. Rookie point guard Mario Chalmers also started for the Heat. He finished with 17 points, including nine in the fourth quarter. Veteran forward Udonis Haslem added 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat, but it wasn’t enough for rookie coach Erik Spoelstra in his debut.
“We started the game so slow. By the time we woke up, it was too late,” Beasley said.