And, this is why they play the games.
After trying all summer to land LeBron James – and failing to do so – both New York area teams used the combination of some other new additions along with a few old, familiar faces to gut out season-opening wins down the stretch on Wednesday night.
But first, it’s worth paying some attention to that James situation and why they play the games:
Miami (1-1) did get the first win of its newly formed Big Three era in Philadelphia (0-1) on Wednesday night, 97-87, with James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh combining for 61 points and 20 rebounds.
However, the trio’s debut began with a very inauspicious start one night earlier, with the Heat coming out of the gate the opposite of its team nickname during 9-point first quarter and a 30-point first half, en route to an 88-80 opening night loss in Boston.
So, what does that have to do with the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets, in their own season openers on Wednesday night?
Well, it’s that nothing in the NBA is guaranteed, especially when you don’t mind grinding out games down the stretch, and if you believe you can find some extra wins simply with a good effort and some fourth-quarter toughness, regardless of any prior offseason moves you failed to make.
Case in point:
James defects Cleveland for Miami, which loses to Boston on Tuesday; without James, Cleveland (1-0) was thought to be one of the NBA’s worst teams this year, yet defending Eastern conference champion Boston (1-1) loses in Cleveland, 95-87, one night after beating James and Miami.
Go figure. Such is the NBA on a nightly basis sometimes, and it’s why the Knicks (1-0) and Nets (1-0), with some gelling and hard work, might each improve fairly significantly over last year’s disappointing seasons in which they combined for just 41 wins (29 for New York, just 12 for New Jersey).
KNICKS 98, RAPTORS 93
Following Cleveland’s cue against Boston, the Knicks pulled out a 98-93 victory in Toronto (0-1) after blowing all of a 40-24 second-quarter lead by early in the fourth quarter.
New York quickly thereafter took the lead for good and then hung on late, allowing just 16 points over the game’s final 10:48, surviving a potential-game tying three-pointer in the final seconds.
The Knicks held Toronto (0-1) to just 38.3 (36-94) percent shooting for the game and had six players score in double figures.
Forward Wilson Chandler, after compiling 134 starts over the previous two seasons, relished his new role of being head coach Mike D’Antoni’s spark off the bench, with a game-high-tying 22 points on 10 of 18 shooting from the field, to go along with 8 rebounds in 29:13.
The Knicks also received helpful contributions from other holdovers from last year. Forward Danilo Gallinari scored 12 points (albeit on just 3 of 9 shooting from the floor after starting 0-for-3) while adding 6 rebounds and guard Toney Douglas added 10 points on 5 of 9 shooting from the field to go along with 4 rebounds.
The combined effort of four newcomers each making their Knicks debuts though, is what aided Chandler in leading New York to the win.
Despite committing 9 of New York’s 15 turnovers, prized off-season signing (as the consolation to nabbing James), Amar’e Stoudamire, scored 19 points (including several key buckets late in the fourth quarter), and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
New point guard Raymond Felton made 6 of 14 field goals to score 15 points, while dishing out 6 assists to offset three turnovers.
Second-round draft pick, rookie forward Landry Fields made half of his three-point attempts during an 11-point, 4-rebound night, and free agent signing, French-born forward Rony Turiaf, scored 8 points while pulling down 4 boards, and blocking 4 shots.
The win came in the Knicks’ 5,000th regular season game, as they began their 65th season with their 38th win in a season opener against 27 season-opening losses. Ironically, New York’s first-ever game (on November 1st, 1946) was a 68-66 victory over the Toronto Huskies ay Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Only the Celtics (5,003) have played more regular season games.
NETS 101, PISTONS 98
The Nets meanwhile, were led by a couple of mainstays from last year, while getting some nice production from their own new pieces.
Net veterans, center Brook Lopez (game-high 25 points on 11 of 20 field goals, and a team-high 9 rebounds), guard Devin Harris (22 points on 8 of 15 shooting from the field, and a game-high 9 rebounds), and forward Terrence Williams (10 points, 6 rebounds off the bench) led New Jersey.
But, like the Knicks, the Nets also got some important contributions from new arrivals.
Undrafted free agent signing, forward Anthony Morrow, scored 13 points, making half of his 10 field goal attempts and half of his 6 three-pointers, including a go-ahead three with 26 seconds remaining to cap a 13-3 Nets’ rally over the final 1:40.
Free agent signing, and all-around L.A. guy, back up point guard Jordan Farmar (acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers after starring at UCLA and being born in Los Angeles), acclimated well to the east coast in his Net debut with 10 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 turnovers in 22 minutes off the bench.
And, third overall pick, rookie Derrick Favors (from Morrow’s Georgia Tech) had 8 points and a game-high-tying 10 rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.
One other similarity to the Knicks’ win, in the historic nature of the victory. Whereas New York won in its 5,000th regular season game, the Nets’ victory simultaneously marked the first-ever Net win for two other new faces – head coach Avery Johnson and Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov.