The Three Pointer: Polishing off the turkeys
By David Brauer
1. A look into the funhouse mirror. Tonight was a romp for the Wolves, playing a Knicks team with many of Minnesota's faults and fewer of their strengths. There won't be many games this season when Minnesota fans witness a backcourt with even worse defensive skills than our own Davis, James and Hudson in Marbury, Francis and Crawford. Simply put, if Davis and James couldn't take it to the rack on these clowns, we'd all need daily doses of tryptophan to mellow our pain. The Wolves best D was their O; hitting over 60 percent of their first-half shots, they neatly nullified the Knicks' potentially potent transition game and forced New York to think. This proved to be fatal for the Knicks. Both squads lack anything resembling a "pure" point, but Isiah Thomas delivered a nicely timed (for us) mindfuck to Stephon Marbury two days ago by pulling Steph two minutes into the second half for a turnover; in tonight's first half, Marbury was as tentative as I've ever seen, unwilling to take open J's left by James and passing on drives he once finished. (Poorly, too - Steph had 5 turnovers to just 3 assists.) The bigger, meaner but no less perplexing version of Eddie Griffin, Eddie Curry, got Mark Blount in foul trouble early but was deftly tamed by Mark Madsen, who, even if Curry blitzed him for a couple of dunks in the second half, did the job in the first half when the game was decided. (Watching the Dance Master closely tonight in the first half, I got a whiff of his Jazz-like sneakily dirty play - OK, since it's Mark, let's call it rascally - when he twice shoved Curry hard in the back away from the basket to take him out of a play. That Curry did nothing in return speaks volumes.)
2. Missing persons report. The TV guys gave Ricky Davis the MVP for his 21-point, 7 assist night. So what if he did that watch-the-ball-forget-the-man thing all night on defense? The Knicks couldn't get the ball to the open man - 11 assists, just 3 in the first half - and they sure as heck couldn't shoot. With Craig Smith's emergence solidified (tonight's crossover-dunk was a highlight-reel special and will edge him into national consciousness, and he made a couple of other swell dribbling plays), tonight's pleasant surprise was Marko Jaric like you've always dreamed he could be: a savvy yet confident shooter (yes, yes, the team never trailed by less than 12 in the second half, but still) and a mixed-breed bulldog-whippet disrupting Knick plays in the backcourt and baseline. (Beaten on a screen for Crawford in the second half, he nearly got a clean block from behind on pure hustle.) He was, quite simply the only defensive guard in the game. There aren't many teams as clueless as the Knicks, so I'm skeptical that this is a portent, but it was nice to see Marko display his range of swingman talents when the matchup allowed. He deserved this one.
3. A defensive shutout. As gratifying as the night's repast was, the most amazing stat may have been Knicks forward Quentin Richardson's zero shots from the field. This is another opportunity to laud Trenton Hassell, who, in a flip of his starting backcourt, was 0-for-4 from the field, but impenetrable defensively. But before you give Hassell too much credit, note that Richardson was 0-for-9 and 2-for-10 in his last two games. You could argue the Q saved his team some pain by simply not shooting. Be it a longer-term funk or Hassellvirus, Richardson's C.O. status left Marbury with one fewer option; I don't think I've ever felt sorry for Steph since he left here, but tonight, he looked beaten so soundly I'll admit a little twinge. Then it passed.