The motto seemed to apply to the and as they met in the grungy construction site of Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Both teams were learning each other’s names and moves, but in the end, the vastly more talented Knicks prevailed, 120-116.
This was the kind of night the Knicks’ management envisioned when it tore the team apart Feb. 12. The Knicks needed almost a half to play defense, but after that, (39 points) and Chauncey Billups (33) showed why they were brought in to team with Amar’e Stoudemire (23).
Is the concentration of scoring in three players a good idea? “It is if I’m one of the Big Three,” said , the Knicks’ coach. But this is why the team was rebuilt, and he knows it.
“We’ve got to find the right rotation,” D’Antoni said after the comeback victory. “But we’ll find the intensity.”
Both the Knicks and the Nets are mutants — teams that keep evolving, on their way to someplace else. Eventually the dust and disorder at the Garden will be replaced by a vastly more expensive new version of the arena, while the Nets continue their loopy hegira from the Meadowlands to Newark and onward to Brooklyn, three-card monte with players. Now you see them, now you don’t.
Change seems to be the constant in New York. There used to be a where the Garden now hunkers, but our masters tore down Pennsylvania Station, perhaps to teach us a lesson.
New Yorkers should be used to change. A decade or so ago, after a concert in , my wife and I found a nice little hole in the wall on the West Side — good coffee, local clientele, an earth-mother proprietor of indeterminate New York ethnic charm. The place was so local that people stashed dry cleaning, mail, even keys, for friends and lovers who might be needing them. We vowed to come back in a few weeks.
A few weeks later, we patrolled the neighborhood but could find no trace of the cafe or the earth mother herself, but the neighborhood did seem to have a few extra and nail salons, just what the city needs.
The Knicks induced a similar shock of change on Feb. 12 after D’Antoni had blended various skills to make the Knicks the type of cohesive team that in the past has charmed Hoop City.
Was that other Knicks team of February good enough to cause damage in the postseason? Not necessarily, but it would have been fun to watch it try.
Then somebody blew it up, . Somebody could not wait to see how it turned out. The Knicks sent away four key players — point guard Raymond Felton, the solid forward Danilo Gallinari, the large center Timofey Mozgov and the agile sixth man Wilson Chandler, a first-round pick in 2014 and second-round picks in 2012 and 2013. In return they got Anthony, mercurial but undoubtedly a scorer, and Billups, sometimes looking all of his 34 years.
They arrived just in time because Stoudemire is looking weary. “He’ll get his legs back,” D’Antoni promised afterward. He can only hope. He did a terrific job coaching one team earlier in the season and now he is fitting together a different team.
The Knicks had a 28-26 record with their original team, and they are 9-12 with the new look. They are still likely to make the playoffs, if they can afford the defensive sloppiness of the first half on Wednesday.
“Don’t rain on my parade,” D’Antoni said with a smile. He’s a nice man, but will pay the price if the Knicks do not have a good April and maybe even May.
The Knicks were not a big team before the trade, and they are even less imposing now. The crowd was booing their lack of defense as Brook Lopez scored 16 points in the first quarter, but “we raised our intensity,” D’Antoni said, which was true enough.
The Nets were also retooled a month ago, on Feb. 23, as they traded Devin Harris and other assets to bring in Deron Williams, the point guard who is not related to , the patron saint of rebounds in bygone years, or Aaron A-Train Williams of the punctuating dunks of that to two consecutive finals in 2002 and 2003.
Deron Williams had missed six games with a strained right wrist tendon but experienced the healing power of the Garden.
“He wants to play, and this was one of those games,” Nets Coach Avery Johnson said.
The Nets have (Russian and English), the charismatic , and to the section of Brooklyn, with all the urban disruption and mixed blessings that entails. They are a work in progress, sharing the old slogan with the Knicks: Dig We Must.