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It was like the photographic negative of a substance abuse intervention last night at Madison Square Garden. Rather than an intimate gathering of friends and loved ones to save someone they care deeply about from the personal demons (like heroin or gambling) that ultimately doom them to failure; it was a crowd of strangers amassed in one of the city's largest function rooms being forced to witness the actions of someone suffering deeply who was brazenly displaying the personal demons (inept coaching and worse personnel acquisition) that doom him to failure.
Before the least sympathetic (to him) crowd he could find Isiah Thomas issued a cry for help last night.
With his team playing fairly well against one of the game's top clubs he seized the moment and reached out to every fan and businessman with comp tickets in the crowd and every bored twenty-something through fifty-something male from the tri-state area sitting at home on their coach. He reached out to all of us and he said something as loudly and clearly as the boos that ultimately rained down on him. He said to all of us, "HELP ME!" March 3rd, 2008 is the day that Isiah looked for help. From all of us.
He coached last night's game against the Hornets with the explicit intention of giving the game away. And, he did it for us. He did it for me. And for you. And, for James Dolan, who was slouched over in a folding chair, wrinkling his expensive red necktie, just feet from where Isiah really needed him. He did it so that we could know how much he suffers and how badly he needs our help. He asked us, and especially Dolan and his cohort Steve Mills, to do something about this. He asked us to intervene and to stop his suffering. For his sake. And for ours.
The Knicks lost last night's game in a way that is unlike anyway that they have lost all season long. They'e been blown out. They've been down big and come charging back only to fall short. They've lost close games because they've just ran isolation plays for Jamal during the final minute. They've built leads only to allow the other team to charge back. They've lost in overtime. They've been done by halftime. I'd thought that they had lost every possible way. But, never have the Knicks lost a tight game against a good team because Thomas opted to play the inexperienced players. Never has he put the Randolph Morris, Mardy Collins, Malik Rose, Wilson Chandler and Jamal Crawford on the floor together with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. Never before has that happened.
In fact, Thomas has been staunchly against player development all year long. He has buried Morris and Chandler. He has kept David Lee from cracking the starting lineup when everything (per-48 numbers, +/-, and the up-tempo pace he brought) made it seem the necessary move. He has misplaced Renaldo Balkman (including last night) for days at a time. He has gone a step further and even prohibited younger players from getting some PT in the Developmental League during his tenure and spurned this potential asset at every turn. Isiah Thomas has, most assuredly, been an enemy of player development.
Until last night.
Last night, as I've already mentioned, he played the wrong end of the bench through much of the fourth quarter. The crescendo of this cry for help came when he pulled Nate Robinson from the game and inserted rookie Wilson Chandler with 1:32 left and the score 92-88 in favor of New Orleans. Robinson had been the Knicks' most effective offensive player (scoring 17 points on 7-11 shooting) and had proved surprisingly capable of slowing down Chris Paul. Or, at least far more capable then anyone else. The Knicks had the ball when Robinson was pulled. On the ensuing possession David Lee missed a 17-foot shot, which, um, isn't exactly the sort of result that a well-coached team wants from a possession that began after a stoppage in play. And, after that missed shot, and with Nate on the bench, Chris Paul gladly took the game that Isiah was handing him. And, he accomplished this feat in precisely 36 seconds.
A Game Lost in 36 Seconds
Chris Paul, after grabbing the defensive board from Lee's miss, pushes the ball up deliberately, lulling the Knicks defense to sleep and then lofts a devastating ally-oop to Tyson Chandler. On the other end, newly inserted Wilson Chandler takes a panic-shot early in the shot-clock before David Lee, our best chance at an offensive rebound off a miss, is even really under the basket. After receiving a quick outlet pass Chris Paul is across the timeline in a flash, but, again, he slows just past the three-point arc so that a few more seconds can tick off the clock and so that the bigger, slower defenders on the court can settle, standing at their spots on the floor. And, boom, he is off to the basket like patrons to the doors moments later. He blows by Crawford, who is now guarding him, and screams to the hoop where he is fouled by David Lee as he hits a tough layup. In 36 seconds Chris Paul, having heard Isiah's call for help, ballooned his team's lead from 4 to 9 and ended the game.
With the game ended, though, the real question is when we someone end Thomas's sideline pain? Will anyone else answer his cry for help as selflessly as Chris Paul did? Will it happen today? Tomorrow? After Lebron undresses Wilson Chandler tomorrow?