I got to work this afternoon and for the first time in 10 years, I was able to say with genuine enthusiasm to my boss, also a long time, die-hard Knicks fan, "big game tonight!"
And it was on a number of levels. The Knicks had won 16 of their first 25 games, and were off to their best start in nearly 15 years. The team downright stunk for the better part of the last decade, embarrassing itself both on and off the court with meaningless losing season after the next.
LeBron didn't come, and for a while early on this season, we understood why. Losing 6 straight and sitting at 3-8 had me thinking that while the names changed, the script remained the same.
However, 13 wins in their next 14 games showed me, and everyone else, that perhaps there was once again a pulse at Madison Square Garden, and that culminated tonight with an early season treat courtesy of the Knicks and Boston Celtics.
I'm not here to break down the game...those of you who saw it can take your pick as to what stung the most- Paul Pierce hitting a predictable game winning jumper and predictably running around the court in his home run trot like the hall of fame clown he is- or the four-tenths of a second that wasn't enough for Amar'e Stoudemire's would-be game winning 3 that will undoubtedly go down as the second greatest near buzzer beater in that building, following only Eric Devendorf's near magic which led to the epic 6 overtime game between Syracuse and Uconn almost two years ago.
After the game, which by the way, Boston did win 118-116, the question was whether or not the Knicks had answered their critics who said the winning was the product of a lousy schedule. (they did) Did they validate the utterly stupid debate as to whether or not these teams have a rivalry? (they don't). Did Amar'e back up the MVP chants showered upon him in the midst of another stellar offensive night? (he did)
In my mind, the Knicks have certainly regained respectability, if not yet full respect. I could care less if the Celtics respect the Knicks as Amar'e was quoted in the post game as saying he now believed they did. In sports, the one and only way a team earns respect is by winning. Not just in the regular season, but when it matters in the post season.
There were a lot of positives to be taken out of this loss, and while I don't believe in moral victories, this is a loss I can live with.
Am I upset the Knicks lost? Absolutely. Angry? You bet. To be in control of a game for 46 minutes of a 48 minute basketball game, only to lose by 2 after having a potential game winning 3 be disallowed because it was released .02 seconds late is frustrating.
However, theres a reason Boston is 20-4 and arguably the best team not only in the east, but in the league right now. They have 3- not 1, not 2, but 3 hall of fame players on the floor, and they all proved it tonight. Ray Allen hit a handful of clutch 3's, Pierce hit that game winning, and Kevin Garnett, despite being one of the most difficult players to like in any sport, looked like his old MVP self taking Amar'e to town inside. Amar'e is a stud, but Garnett is a hall of famer, and tonight it showed.
If you want to be among those who believe that the Knicks shouldn't be satisfied after that game, don't let me stop you. They were at home, in the midst of an 8 game winning streak and shouldn't be satisfied with a loss under any circumstances.
However, they lost to a better team. They played as hard and with as much heart as I've seen a Knicks play with since I was Bar Mitzvahed. To completely ignore the positives would be unfair. They went toe-to-toe with a championship caliber team and were tenths of a second away from upsetting them.
Don't mislead yourself into thinking the Knicks should have won that game, because reality is they're not as good as Boston, and although they played like the better team for 46 minutes, teams that win championships make the plays when they matter most, and the Celtics did that tonight.
It was refreshing to just care about a Knicks game this much, especially once as early in the season as tonight's game. It's December, and they still have more than 50 chances to make us proud with the kind of effort they put forth tonight, and with an effort like that, they'll win more than they lose.
Lets be honest Knicks fans, both loyal diehards and recently self proclaimed- whens the last time a loss bothered you this much? How about at all?
Are the Knicks really "back"?
They're certainly a lot closer tonight than they were June 30th, before Amar'e brought his talents here.
While there's still a lot of season left to play, its good get mad again, and that's a sign they're definitely heading in the right direction.
Another big test Friday when The big 2 and a Bosh come to town, where it'll be great to show the King how electric our Palace is without him.