New York — When Jamal Crawford, the former Knick guard who once scored 52 points in a game here at Madison Square Garden arrived tonight at this arena as an Atlanta Hawk, it was out of sheer habit from his five years of service that he initially turned toward his old locker room to get dressed for the game before he realized his error.
Had he continued down that hallway, he would have been confronted by many of the exact problems he dealt with in his five years as the Knicks leading scorer. In that room still exists issues with mismatched talent, lack of speed and quickness, rudderless at the point guard position, inconsistent perimeter shooting, non-existent inside scoring, and no defensive presence.
Funny how some things never change.
Instead, Crawford caught himself and turned around to join his newest team, the Hawks, in the visitors’ locker room where he was surrounded by a good mix of veteran NBA talent like Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson as well as high-flying athletes like Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, and Al Horford. These Hawks are a team on the rise and Crawford, an 11-year veteran who has never participated in a playoff game, is their key player off the bench.
When tonight’s game began, it was painfully clear to the Knicks faithful in the stands that their team didn’t stand a chance of beating the Hawks unless they played a near-perfect game. As has been the case in most of their games this year, the Knicks couldn’t live up to it and took another one on the chin, 114-101.
The Knicks’ 1-8 record matches the franchise record for worst start to a season with Golden State coming into town on Friday.
“There are teams that have come back from being 1-10 and made the playoffs and stuff like that,” Al Harrington said. “We’re just going to keep working and keep trying to get better. It’s very frustrating for us.”
As frustrated as the Knicks are, that’s how excited these Hawks seem to be at the outset of this season, as they improved their record to 6-2.
“We’ve grown,” Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. “The last two years we’ve been in some tough games. We’ve won some tough ones and we’ve lost. You know this team hasn’t quit these last two years and it’s a sign of the guys in that locker room. We’re all fighting for something. We’re trying to be better than a year ago.”
The changing of the guard for the Knicks began tonight in a literal sense because Toney Douglas, the rookie coming off of two shining games in a row was installed into the starting lineup at the point guard position, replacing Larry Hughes.
Douglas showed well, scoring a career high 23 points on 10 of 19 from the field while maintaining his energy on the defensive end. He cut into Chris Duhon’s minutes which was understandable as Duhon continued his poor play, going 0-for-6 with zero points and two assists in 25 minutes. Duhon has been miserable running this offense this season and it’s conceivable when Nate Robinson comes back to the team from his injury, Duhon will be moved further down on the bench, perhaps sitting next to 6’11” bust, Darko Milicic.
“I don’t know about Chris,” said D’Antoni. “That’s a good question. He’s got to come out of it. He’s going to have to play better, and hopefully he’ll do it.”
The Knicks blew a 14-point first half lead by allowing 67 points in the second half including 48 in the last 16 minutes and 30 seconds.
Atlanta, however, scored 37 points in the third quarter including seven points from Crawford and entered the fourth leading 84-77. The Hawks then outscored the Knicks 30-24 in the final period and that was that.
“We gave them a couple of plays at the end of the quarter that we shouldn’t have,” D’Antoni said. “Joe Johnson took over. We’re just not getting enough good plays. We’re just not playing hard enough.”
Harrington scored 23 points on 21 shots with a team-high 12 rebounds. Wilson Chandler and Hughes each scored 14, Gallinari finished with 12. David Lee had trouble in the second half keeping Al Horford away from the basket as Atlanta’s center scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half.