2006-11-10 / Sports

Knicks Fail To Keep Pace In Home Opener

By John Buro

NEW YORK -It is said that if a team stays in the game long enough, good things can happen at the finish. For three quarters of Saturday's home opener against the Indiana Pacers, the New York Knicks were intent on proving such an adage true.

Thus, even after scoring a paltry 14 points in the first quarter, and trailing by as many as 13 points during the first half, the Knicks were still in the contest as the third quarter expired. And that was the most disheartening aspect of their 109-95 loss before an announced sellout crowd of 19,763.

Indiana's Al Harrington, a product of St. Patrick's High School [NJ] starred with 32 points and seven rebounds; Jermaine O'Neal, another high school draftee, added 17 and seven boards. Jamaal Tinsley had 14 assists -as many as the entire New York team- and eight points.

Though much of the crowd singled out Stephon Marbury for an awful performance [four points on one-for-nine shooting, with six turnovers and just one assist in 26 minutes], the Knicks' collective game was largely at fault.

"Tonight," said Marbury, who was adorned in $15 'Starbury One' sneakers, "the Pacers were the better team. We didn't come to play, so I'm not surprised we were booed.

"I can't get mad at them if I play like garbage; when I play well, they applaud. I couldn't get a flow. And, it is frustrating because a lot is expected from me."

"He was pressing a little bit, and trying to make some things happen," said Head Coach Isiah Thomas. "But, I encouraged him to press. I wanted him to get involved. I wanted him to have the game that I know he's capable of having.

"There's a lot of basketball to be played," the coach underscored, after his team completed just the third of 82 scheduled games. We're not going to be an excellent team yet, but the more we work at it, the better we'll get."

On this night, the offensive sets were lethargic. Most times, one player held the ball and the other four watched. That New York actually converted 43% of their field goals [34-79] is surprising; still, the number would have been closer to 50% had they made more of the attempts from beyond the arc.

But, four threes in 17 tries would not win. The Knicks also turned the ball over 17 times, which ultimately accounted for 21 Indiana points. The up-tempo attack that Thomas had preached during training camp was soon abandoned when the Pacer defense [nine blocks] repeatedly altered the home team's shot selection.

"At this point," said David Lee, who scored as many points as Marbury in four fewer minutes], "we're still a work in progress. I think we're inconsistent because we haven't fully adapted to our new system, either on offense or defense.

"We're not there yet. But, in this locker room, we are all confident that it's coming together."

For a split second, it almost did. When Nate Robinson [13 points] cut the Pacer lead to 77-76, on a trey with :00.1 remaining in the third, the first sustained cheers of the new season were heard. New York, which had trailed, 71-60, less than five minutes earlier, had rallied behind the spirited play of Steve Francis, who scored five of his team-high 25 points during this span.

"This was a tough game for us," Francis noted. "Everyone wanted to win the season opener at home. And, at times, we showed composure. But, Indiana is a good team, and they capitalized on our mistakes."

The Pacers began the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run, sparked by Sarunas Jasikevicius [16 points] and tallied 32 points over the final twelve minutes to seal the victory.

"Tonight," Thomas said afterward, "was one of those games when we just didn't have enough energy to get over the hump."

He did, however, reserve some of that energy to comment on Indiana's postgame celebration. "This is an unmerciful league, and players have a long memory," he glared. "One day, we'll be the team on top, doing the kicking and the stepping. And, it's going to be a hard kick and a hard step, just the way we've been kicked and stepped on. "We will be just as unforgiving."

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