It’s been a while since I did a blog post. Football hasn’t quite been the TV priority it’s always been – the BT Sport subscription hasn’t seen much use in particular. However, a recent trip to New York brought another of those opportunities that I really enjoy – a bit of sports tourism.
In this case it was the New York Knicks against the Houston Rockets – 48 minutes of basketball that, in the great tradition of American sport, took at least 2 hours. Madison Square Garden, or “The World’s Greatest Arena” was the venue, the not-that-long-ago renovated 19,000-seater about 2 blocks from our hotel.
My pre-match knowledge of either side extended to one point – that Carmelo Anthony played for the Knicks, and that as far as basketball players went, he was pretty good. After the fantastic pre-show razzmatazz, which featured the star of “School of Rock” on Broadway singing the national anthem and the Knicks City Dancers’ spectacular lighty-up suits dance number, it was time for the tip.
The Knicks won it, duly made their way up the court and found 2 points. On their return in the other direction, the Rockets’ James Harden was left wide open for 3. In response to that three, New York failed to register after some over-intricate passing and a pretty relentless defensive press on Mr Anthony.
To say that that brief passage set the tone for the entire game might be oversimplifying things a little bit. But then, being a chap who knows very little about basketball, that seemed to be the constant error on the part of the Knicks for the remainder of the evening. The home side were over-elaborate going forward and prone to fairly glaring lapses in defence, where Houston players were constantly being left open for 3-pointers. Indeed, the crowd’s chants of “de-fense” when the Rockets were going forward almost seemed like a reminder to their team at times.
Harden for the Rockets was the most impressive man on court all evening – his 30 points and 15 assists were by far the evening’s biggest contribution. Every time he got the ball, I was convinced he was going to shoot and score – he also had an excellent line in big beard. I was more impressed by Courtney Lee for the Knicks than I was with Anthony, though the latter did pick up 21 points to Lee’s 16.
From a playing point of view, for we amateur enthusiasts (Clare was, as ever, in attendance) at least, the most notable, though certainly not the most impressively skilful, point in the game came about midway through the first quarter. In quelling yet another over-elaborate Knicks attack, a Rockets fast break found Sam Dekker all alone at the New York end. Just as he made to shoot and seal an inevitable two points he dropped the ball, fell over and to cap it all, the ball hit him in the face on his way down.
Unfortunately for the home fans, that didn’t really set the tone for their opponents’ overall performance. The Knicks were behind from that opening 3-pointer from Harden, eventually losing 118-99. The fact that the Rockets hit 100 points by the end of the third quarter before easing off a little in the fourth perhaps demonstrates how dominant the Texans really were.
American sport, of course, is never just about the sport. The frippery that goes alongside – whether that’s some bloke shooting from halfway to win a new Kia (he missed) during a timeout, or a chap managing to paint a 10-foot picture of a former Knicks star player in about 4 minutes at half time, or the various t-shirt shootings – makes it worth the admission fee almost on its own. Not forgetting the bloody organ which seems compulsory at most American sports venues – if it was meant to be putting the Rockets players off, it didn’t really work.
And then Madison Square Garden itself is pretty special. I’d imagine there are a number of venues worldwide which might have something to say about the “World’s Greatest Arena” claim, but it is a rather impressive beast. The Chase Bridge, though high up, gave us an amazing birds-eye view of the action, as well as the Knicks City Dunkers (guys doing ridiculous slam dunks off trampolines) and the rest of the extra-curricular stuff. It’s quite a sight from the outside too – dominating Penn Plaza with only the Empire State Building in the background vying for your attention.
In all, another great evening of sports tourism, and a pretty memorable way to spend part of our last night in New York. It would be great to go back some day.
New York Knicks 99-118 Houston Rockets