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By David J. Cohen
The Knicks played in their first summer league game in Las Vegas and edged out a 97-94 victory over the Cavs. With Jamal Crawford, Quentin Richardson, Donnie Walsh, Mike D’Antoni, and even Stephon Marbury in attendance, the Knicks debuted their new up tempo offense. Wilson Chandler looked like the player who flourished at the end of last season and was consistently New York’s best player when he was on the floor. He showcased every facet of his game, finishing with 26 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Incumbent Mardy Collins had a nice game, scoring 17 and adding 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Former Gator and current NBA journeyman Anthony Roberson had 22 points off 19 shots. But the Knicks fans and the front office were at the game to see one player and one player only – Danilo Gallinari.
Gallinari got off to a bad start. Within the first 3 minutes he had 2 fouls and 2 turnovers. He finished the half 0-3 shooting with no points, 3 fouls, and 3 turnovers. He looked like a scrub that had no business on an NBA team. He seemed overpowered by the bottom of the NBA as the likes of Robert “Tractor” Traylor were bouncing him around.
The next quarter started with a great comeback block for Danilo. Then it was more problems. With 3 minutes left in the quarter he had 4 fouls, 4 turnovers, and no points. He looked like a train wreck. Then suddenly, and finally, the potential shined.
First he helped recover a broken play and hit a nice jumper at the end of the shot clock on the wing. Then after a missed 3 pointer he came back and had a nice follow-up dunk. That got him going. Shortly thereafter Danilo posted up and made a nice up and under move to get to the line, where he calmly knocked down 2 free throws. Gallinari finished the quarter with a sideline jumper just inside the 3-point line with 3 seconds left. Suddenly he had 8 points and 5 rebounds. Not bad.
He then continued his hot streak at the start of the 4th. He knocked down another jumper on the Knicks first possession of the quarter. Later on he swished another jumper. Then with just over 5 minutes left Danilo showed his versatility. He took the ball up the court like a guard, then pulled off an impressive deceptive dribble drive move to the rack and drew the foul. The move was the only play of the game that drew “ahs” from the crowd. He sank both free throws. He finished with 14 points off 5 of 11 shooting, and he missed his first 5 shots. He also grabbed 6 boards.
Overall his performance in the latter end of the game certainly showed flashes of a great player. He has some good instincts and his jumper is silky smooth; his makes don’t touch the rim. He showed the range and ball handling skills that could give opposing teams fits once the Knicks get the right players for D’Antoni’s system. He looks better than former top pick and fellow countryman Andrea Bargnani. But he’s still has plenty of room for improvement; his defense wasn’t good and he needs to toughen up. He and Chandler meshed well together and are clearly the future of the Knicks frontcourt. Danilo showed flashes of brilliance in the 2nd half after looking like the bust of the year in the 1st half.
The important thing now is improvement. Which Gallinari will show up against San Antonio on Wednesday: the good, the bad, or the ugly? We’ll see in game 2.
It should also be noted that it really seemed like Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson were genuinely pulling for him. Both of them were part of the telecast at different points for extended periods and both were clearly cheering him on. That’s something the Knicks were visibly lacking as a team last year with Isiah. The Knicks might suddenly turn into a feel good team.
Immediate success for this team is a definite reach. But as of now the Knicks are undefeated in the post-Isiah era.