February 27, 2013 was a big deal for me. For the first time in 20 years the Knicks and Warriors were both having good seasons simultaneously.
Wait, say what?
The two teams I followed — which in some sort of dystopian nightmare had been owned by the tragicomedy duo of James Dolan and Chris Cohan for so many of those years — were both good at the same time?!
By the way, if you’re not familiar with their work, lucky you. Here’s a pretty decent potted history of the torment of Knicks fans in Dolan’s tenure, though it does miss out the time he installed the aural equivalent of the eye of Sauron courtside in Madison Square Garden.
Of course, here’s the work of one Chris Cohan, with the Warriors (from 1995-2010). Oof. I feel bad just writing that.
Anyway, I digress. Not since the Chris Webber year had anyone been able to say that these two teams had been anywhere close to good at the same time.
There was a battle raging in my soul between darkness and light: Who would emerge victorious?
On the dark side stood the Knicks. They had lucked into playing Carmelo Anthony at the four due to injuries to Amare Stoudemire — spacing the floor with shooters, playing two point guards to combat Anthony’s worst tendencies and keeping the ball moving. You could see how Jason Kidd, even pushing 40, was on a different plane in terms of how he observed and directed the game.
Raymond Felton was actually playing pretty well and making the fans forget that Linsanity had been unceremoniously dumped after he turned up to James Dolan’s summer barbecue and complimented the potato salad.
And Anthony had finally decided after 18 months of fighting Mike D’Antoni — and forcing him out of New York — to play exactly how D’Antoni had wanted him to all along. I’m definitely looking forward to that reunion in Houston ... if it happens.
A sign of things to come
Meanwhile in the light, signifying hope and renewal, stood the Warriors’ exciting core that would become the 2015 champions.
Stephen Curry was playing well and staying on the court, putting his ankle problems in the rear view mirror.
The three 2012 rookies had arrived, even if Draymond Green wasn’t playing huge minutes. Old Knicks’ favorite David Lee was on his way to the All-Star Game for the second time. But the Warriors entered Madison Square Garden with Lee suspended and Andrew Bogut out injured, giving Green the start and match-up with Anthony, who was on his way to the scoring title (aka Melo’s championship ring).
First defensive possession of the game, Green harassed Anthony into dribbling the ball off his foot. He followed that up by bodying up Bully-Ball Melo and forcing a tough shot that missed.
It all started politely enough. Curry opened with a nice pull-up off the screen from Green for two. Then a whip pass across the shoulder for a Harrison Barnes’ memorial corner three.
But the Knicks were looking pretty good with three, big Tyson Chandler dunks off some nice sets.
Our friend JR Smith — on his way to the Sixth Man of the Year award and one of the most amusing basketball songs of all time — nailed a trademark step-back long deuce. Curry came back with a nice floater in the lane. Smith responded with a three and a fast-break dunk.
Amare, a guy I always rooted for, entered and had a nice driving dunk down the lane. At the end of the first quarter, the Knicks led by nine.
And then it began.
Dancing through the lane for a lovely floater, a three from deep in the corner, another one pulling up in Pablo Prigioni’s face. A steal, on the fast-break, bang. Another three off the dribble.
The game tied after Curry, cutting away from the corner, pulled Richard Jefferson’s defender away and left his teammate with an open three. Without touching the ball, the deadly effect his gravity would have on defenses was already evident.
Then another three, curling off the screen over Anthony’s outstretched hand to take the lead as he backpedaled down the court. Green raised his arms in the now familiar Warrior salute.
Madison Square Garden: the Mecca of opposing players
Now, I’d seen some of the great opposing players dump on the Knicks plenty. Kobe Bryant’s 61 and Lebron James’ 52-point near triple-double in one week in 2009.
The first time I ever saw a game live at Madison Square Garden was Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks putting a massive hurting on the Knicks in 2010. The ferocity with which the guy behind me yelled “Jared Jeffries, you suck!!” as the player blew an open layup on the fast break still haunts me to this day.
I saw the Heat come in and stroll to a win without even breaking a sweat in 2012.
But this was different. This was something new. It’s like Curry wasn’t even playing the same game.
Shot after shot. Splash. Splash. Splash. It was like a flow of fiery lava that couldn’t be stopped. It was brutal, clinical and beautiful.
What was this nonchalant pump-fake-flip-fade-away-floater thing in the lane, perfectly pitched over Tyson Chandler’s flailing arms? That’s the reigning Defensive Player of the Year! Have you no respect?!
“Oh, come on!” exclaims Doris Burke doing a turn in the ESPN commentary booth. (Can’t remember where Mark Jackson is ...)
By the end of second quarter, I was gripped. I knew this kid was good from those Davidson runs. But this? Wow. This was for real.
The second half
Opening the second half and another little pump-fake saw Felton fly past like there was a buffet car in the corner, leaving Curry open for the three on the wing. A nice whipped pass with the left hand off the pick-and-roll to Festus Ezeli for a dunk.
Coming down on the fast break, a little shimmy to throw off the defender (Felton again) and a three from the top. He’s cooking with some hot grease right now!
Next possession: Felton picks Curry up at three-quarter court, harassing our hero all the way. No matter. Slicing his way through the lane, a lay-up off the left hand over Tyson Chandler again.
Back on defense, Curry knocks the ball away from Felton, then Iman Shumpert, and all of a sudden he’s diving on the floor to grab the loose ball, draw a foul and get possession. Not just a pretty boy on offense, but showing the kind of heart, grit and determination for which he is, even now, constantly underrated.
Things cool off a little bit as Barnes refuses to pass for several straight possessions. Thompson finally makes a lay-up off a Curry pass on the fast break. Jarrett Jack enters and proves he doesn’t like to pass.
The game went back and forth. It was one of the better games the Knicks played that year and they won 54, including beating the Heat three times, finishing second in the East.
I’m reminded on several offensive (in both senses of the word) Warrior possessions that Mark Jackson is on the sidelines.
The quarter winds down. Felton picks up Curry at full court. He must be knackered, having played every minute so far.
With 12 seconds left in the half, outside the top of the arc, Curry crosses over, starts his drive, then doubles back around. Felton slips trying to navigate a screen, and Steph nails the three from several feet behind the line.
Enter the finale
To the fourth quarter we go!
Coming up the court, Smith and Prigioni sink back. Curry picks up his dribble and drills one from the hash mark. People didn’t know yet. Knicks coach Mike Woodson looks a strange mix of disbelief and sad.
Next time, Prigioni presses up. Curry dances around him into the lane and floats it up with his right hand. Doris Burke starts waxing lyrical about the “I can do all things” slogan inked on Steph’s shoes.
The rookie Green is out there playing hard. Poking the ball away from Amare to start a fast break, blocking the rim-rocker Tyson Chandler, grabbing snarling rebounds. (Mental note: He could be good.)
Curry crosses over Felton, the final move to shake him, going behind the back with a little help from a screen. He’s going left, Tyson’s charging out ... The ball arcs up to the heavens and splashes down as Steph hops on one foot and then falls backwards onto the hardwood. Wow! Unbelievable! Making it rain in New York!!
The Knicks start trapping. Twice Curry passes out to Green for an easy jumper and then a lay-up. Green battles hard on the defensive end, forcing Anthony into a tough shot. A fast break ensues. Here comes Curry, full speed. Curry … why not? For three! Bingo!
What the actual f*%k is this?!
Steph runs down the court shimmying, leaving Dray hanging for that high five.
I can’t help being reminded of Sam Cassell’s Big Balls dance, but the way Curry’s shaking his arms out made it look like those balls were on fire. A big balls of fire dance — definitely appropriate for the kids, and an ominous portend for what we now know as human torch mode.
His final piece comes off a sideline out of bounds. Shakes Felton off a screen, runs to a step outside the three point line, turns and fires over Felton’s desperate, outstretched hands … Butter!!
In the end, the Knicks managed to close the deal as Felton, after 54 points being shoved down his grill like too many hot dogs, finally got his fingertips on a Curry shot. But what an almighty scare had been put in them.
What it said about this Curry kid in the big moment, on the big stage? The Warriors fan in me was hooked. Stephen Curry’s fiery lava bombs had detonated the evil lurking in my soul, like Frodo dropping the ring of power into Mount Doom.
It’s over. It’s finally over.
My quality of life and well-being greatly improved as I escaped Dolan’s evil clutches. Even food tasted better.
For poor Raymond Felton, the game portended doom. His new role:
Ray Felton was there as Curry drained a three-pointer in his face, capping off 51 points against Dallas in 2015. He was there on the Clippers last year with a bird’s eye view when Steph had arguably his best game of the regular season, with 43 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and one magnificent half-court bomb.
I, for one, cannot wait to see what Curry does to the Thunder now that Felton is over there with those crazy, cupcake-obsessed Oklahoma City fans.
And, for the NBA, it was quite simply a sign of the coming revolution that would devour all, and change the league forever.