2006-04-07 / Sports

Robinson Court Play Doesn't Suit KnicksCoach Brown

By Steve Russolillo

The reigning slam dunk champion put hope and excitement into Madison Square Garden Friday night. Teammates Eddy Curry noticed it, Malik Rose appreciated it and the fans certainly loved it. Everybody seemed to cherish it.

Everybody, except Knicks head coach Larry Brown.

The 5-9 rookie sensation Nate Robinson put on an offensive show against the 76ers. He poured in a career high 34 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter to keep the Knicks in contention during their 117-112 loss to Philadelphia.

Robinson fouled out with 5.1 seconds remaining in the game. The Garden faithful serenaded him with a standing ovation, applauding him as if the man created a cure for cancer. He brought energy and enthusiasm, two crucial components the Knicks have been missing all season.

"Anytime Nate's in the game, he's definitely a difference-maker out there on the court," Curry said. "We love Nate, we love his energy and what he brings to the game. He's still young, he's still improving but when he's rolling like he was tonight, it's something to see.

At one point, the smallest man on the court threw down a thundering one-handed dunk that was as explosive as a firework on the 4th of July. Afterward, he posed to the crowd like he did after he won the Slam Dunk Contest. Later in the game, Robinson waved his arms in the air after a timeout was called to try to get the crowd pumped up.

Robinson seems to give the Knicks (19-54) a glimmer of hope in such a dismal season. However, Brown does not appreciate Robinson's showboating and is more concerned with teaching him the correct way to become an effective NBA player

Brown praised Robinson's 34-point effort, but was quick to point out his defensive deficiencies. Allen Iverson torched Robinson for 47 points and nine assists and Brown noted that Iverson never pounded his chest or played to the crowd after a basket.

While Brown criticized Robinson's defensive effort, Rose said Iverson had to work hard for all of his points.

"Nate had a great game, he's one of the most athletic guys in this league and he did a real good job of making Iverson work," Rose said. "Iverson had a lot of points, but he had to take a lot of shots and he was in his face on a lot of them.

Nate did well tonight, he kept us in it when we were struggling and he played both ends of the floor."

Robinson tried to tone down his performance in Sunday's rematch against the 76ers, but he finished with only 10 points. After the game, he told reporters he tried to change his game for Brown but he felt awkward not trying to get his teammates pumped up.

Robinson seems to be the only Knick who plays with any passion. There is no denying the 22 year old has a lot to learn before he becomes a great NBA player. But energy and emotion are instincts that can't be taught and Robinson seems to naturally have them.

It's obvious Brown and Robinson's basketball styles do not mesh well together. Brown is the type of coach who preaches good defense, ball movement on the offensive end and no showboating from his players. On the other hand, Robinson is a flashy player who tries to energize his teammates and the fans whenever he is on the floor.

After the latest rift between Brown and Robinson, the question must be asked. Will Robinson be a Knick next year?

If Brown tells Isiah Thomas he doesn't have the patience to work with Robinson, there is a good chance he will be traded over the summer. Robinson's desire and potential suit a lot of team's needs this off season and if he's available, many teams will be interested.

But the Knicks have hit rock bottom with no salary cap relief in sight. New York's best hope for success lies with their young players.

There aren't many reasons to cheer for the Knicks this season. But the Garden was alive Friday night because of Robinson's exuberant play.

Everybody loved it, everyone except Brown.

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