2005-12-09 / Sports

Brown, Knicks May Just Be ‘Kid-ding’ Themselves

By John J. Buro

NEW YORK – Larry Brown knew there would be days like this. When the roster includes a point guard with All-Star potential [Stephon Marbury] and a number of question marks, there is enough room for doubt.

“It’s obvious,” the 65 year-old coach said, “that we’ve got to grow up.”

His latest reference point was New York’s 102-99 loss to the Boston Celtics last Sunday at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks have only played 16 games to date this season and have already been beaten twice by the Celtics.

Which is not terribly surprising. Boston and New York have been playing each other since November 1963 and the Celtics have won 255 of 421 games, or approximately 61% of the time.

So, losing two games is to this division rival is not particularly earth shattering news.

Except for the fact that the 2005-06 Atlantic Division, as presently constituted, is as much of a question mark as the Knicks’ roster. And, as there isn’t any clear-cut favorite, New York can very well steal the top seed.

That is why such losses pain the coach.

A three-point differential may lead some fans to believe that this game was nip-and-tuck all the way. Basketball games, particularly those that are decided by single digits, often give that impression.

Statistically, New York played well enough to win. Across the board, their numbers were comparable. In fact, they dominated the boards, with a 62-43 edge. But 22 turnovers, to Boston’s 11, said more than enough about the Knicks’ immaturity.

Thus, on Kids’ Day at Madison Square Garden –where a 10 year-old performed the National Anthem, a 7 year-old black belt displayed her martial arts skills and a 13 year-old electrified the Sunday afternoon crowd with a drum solo- the fate of the Knicks rested with three kids of their own.

Channing Frye, the more accomplished of the three, scored 25, which is the most he has scored in his three week NBA career; it was also his third consecutive game with 21 or more. Jackie Butler, who was 0-1 from the field in nine first-half minutes, contributed 10 points during some very important fourth minutes.

And Nate Robinson, who launched a game-winning missile over Allen Iverson eight days earlier, narrowly missed tying the score with a off-center 26 foot attempt [an NBA three-pointer range is 22’ from the baseline and 23’9” from straightaway] that clanked off the rim as time expired.

“Sometimes the ball goes in; sometimes, it doesn’t,” Robinson lamented afterward.

The ball went in quite a bit when New York won in 1969-70 and 1972-73. Red Holtzman had a frontline of Willis Reed at center, with Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere on the wings. When the Knicks met the Houston Rockets in the 1994 Finals, Pat Riley had Patrick Ewing teamed with Anthony Mason and Charles Oakley; five years later, against the San Antonio Spurs, Jeff Van Gundy had Ewing with Larry Johnson and Kurt Thomas.

Brown must perform magic with the tandem of Butler and Eddy Curry in the middle, supported by Frye and Quentin Richardson.

Holtzman also had Dick Barnett and Walt Frazier; later, there was Earl Monroe. Riley had John Starks with Hubert Davis, Derek Harper and Doc Rivers, who is now Boston’s coach. Van Gundy had the exacta of Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell.

Here, Brown has Jamal Crawford paired with Marbury.

The team is what it is.

Before the game, Brown had stated that a better rivalry would develop between the Boston and New York if they played more frequently. But, he added, “I also think it’s important that both teams get better.”

In time, Frye –the NBA Rookie of the Month for November- will become a fine player. And, should Butler or Robinson emerge, the Knicks may have hope where there was once none.

“Our young people are improving a lot,” noted the coach.

It is wise of Brown to find optimism in every nook and cranny of the Knick game. His team is much too fragile to be spoken of in a negative manner –particularly by the person whose opinion means the most. “There’s still a lot of time left,” he also said.

For a young team, there is. But, for a coach who has both difficulties with contractual obligations and prior health issues, the next second, minute, hour, day or week could represent finality.

Larry Brown returned to New York because he is built to win now. His recent successes with the Detroit Pistons proved that much. The Knicks, however, have much to prove.

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