After successive blowout victories, New York Knicks welcomed division rival Boston to Madison Square Garden for a noon game on Sunday hoping to push their winning streak to three games. Later the same day, the Lakers welcomed their franchise leader, Kobe Bryant, back to the court at Staples against the visiting Raptors. Despite the expectations, both Kobe and the Knicks failed to get a win, so which one performed worse?
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The Knicks had actually won back-to-back games entering Sunday’s noon contest against visiting Boston, but the good times didn’t last. The 2-game respite from this season’s ills was most likely the result of Orlando missing a few key cogs in their rotation and the Nets simply stinking, more than it was anything the Knicks did. The blink-and-you-missed it interlude from New York’s losing ended on Sunday, and the Celtics walked away with a 41-point victory, the largest in the NBA this season, and the third-worst loss in Madison Square Garden history.
The final tally was 114-73, but even such a lopsided final score failed to highlight just how dreadful the Knicks were at home. The MSG crowd was loudly booing by the end, but those and could have started in the first quarter. That’s when the Celtics started off the game with a 25-3 drubbing in the game’s first eight minutes.
The Celtics would go on to win the first quarter 35-11 while also winning the remaining three quarters on their way to the blowout. After going into halftime down 27, the Knicks never cut the deficit below 30 in the second half. It was painful to watch, and owner Jimmy Dolan was up and out of his seat along the baseline before the final buzzer sounded as a cacophony of boos rained down. It might have reminded Dolan of some of the early JD and the Straight Shot shows.
After the Sunday afternoon massacre, everyone was trying to figure out what happened. Mike Woodson â€” trying his hardest to hold on to his job and keep the Knicks’ variegated problems from imploding the whole operation â€” took full responsibility for the loss, which smacked of seppuku more than leadership. But at least Woodson is owning up to how awful his team has been. He wasn’t the only one.
Marc Berman at the New York Post wrote that Carmelo Anthony seemed to have felt the sting of defeat more than his teammates after their awful loss on their home floor. Any conspiracy theorists out there will surely point to ‘Melo’s post-game comments as a sign he’ll bolt once the season is done.
Anthony described the loss as “an embarrassment,” and was torn up about it once the final buzzer sounded:
Anthony was by far the most distraught player in the locker room, speaking in a hushed, shaky voice. While several teammates shrugged it off as a day they missed early shots and let it affect defensive intensity, Anthony went deeper.
Asked if he was puzzled by the reversal, Anthony said, “That might be a understatement. It was an embarrassment to lose like that on our home court. I think everybody should be [ticked] off.”
“It was a good old fashioned [butt]-whipping to me,” Anthony added.
Jordan Crawford had 23 in the victory for the Atlantic Division-leading Celtics (record: 10-12) and Jared Sullinger poured in another 21. ‘Melo was just 5-of-15 from the floor to lead the Knicks with 19 points, and Amar’e Stoudemire actually looked good after scoring 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 21 minutes of action, but the numbers don’t really matter when you’re staring at 45-point deficit in the second half.
Kobe’s return Sunday night was given as much trumpeting online and on television as it would have if Michael Jordan were ceding ownership of the Bobcats so he could suit up in their ugly teal uni’s for the Hornets next season.
The Lakers video, the NBA’s video, and Nike commercial all trumpeted the return of No. 24 after spending close to eight months recovering from his torn Achilles tendon. The anticipation level was amped up so high, we found ourselves wondering if maybe Kobe would score 50 points and hit the game-winner. That was of course nonsense. He was barely in shape and certainly didn’t have his timing down with his teammates, accruing as many turnovers (eight) as rebounds and one less than his point total in 27 minutes of action.
Bryant scored nine points and dished four assists in his return, but he was 2-of-9 from the field and looked more than just rusty. He looked like a creaky 35-year-old mortal man that was coming back from tearing his Achilles tendon, an important enough tendon that it’s loss can mortally wound even a Greek demigod.
No matter, the NBA was still going to release a ton of footage of Kobe’s return, and we were going to eat it up, just like the MSG faithful did when they showed up to a noon game in Manhattan only to witness a D-League second team on the court instead.
The Lakers â€” more so than Kobe â€” did keep the game close, and when Mike D’Antoni inserted Bryant back into the lineup with 6:53 left in the fourth, the Lakers trailed by only seven. But D’Antoni inserted Mamba for Xavier Henry, the only Laker that looked better than competent on Sunday night, going 6-of-8 from the field (2/3 3pt) for 17 points in the loss. Nick Young showed some range too, leading the Lakers in scoring with 19, but he also threw a 360-degree layup over the backboard.
Perhaps because he failed to finish when the Lakers were within striking distance in that final half of the fourth quarter, it was obvious Bryant has a long way to go before he’s anywhere near returning to last season’s form. But all the hype of Kobe’s return couldn’t stifle a Rudy Gay-less Raptors team. Amir Johnson played out of his mind, scoring 32 points (on an unfathomable 14-for-17 from the floor) with 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals; DeMar DeRozan didn’t go shot-crazy in Gay’s absence and was a solid 8-for-19 for 26 points. Perhaps the one player on the Raptors who was trying to prove a point (guard) was Kyle Lowry. Remember, Lowry had to contend with Jose Calderon last season and just when he thought he might have had the starting point guard slot all sewed up this year, here comes assist-machine Greivis Vasquez as part of that Kings trade. But Lowry had 23 points (8/13), eight assists and three steals in the Toronto’s 106-94 victory, so keep an eye on that point guard battle in Toronto moving forward â€” some feel Raps GM Masai Ujiri would be happy to cut Lowry loose, too.
Regardless of Toronto’s personnel in the wake of the Gay trade, the Lakers lost and Kobe Bryant isn’t going to be the Kobe Bryant we remember for a while yet, if ever. Despite his poor form in his return, we’re happy Mamba’s back on the court in the purple and gold again.
VERDICT: Despite Kobe’s struggles in his debut, it’s not even close to what the Knicks experienced in their third-worst home loss in franchise history.
Was it Kobe or the Knicks who played worse on Sunday?
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