The Madison Square Garden Follies continued Sunday, with interesting developments both on and off the floor. Beleaguered Knicks’ owner James Dolan responded to the overwhelmingly negative public reaction to his banishment of former Knicks mainstay Charles Oakley by grandstanding a parade of former Knicks to the afternoon contest with the Spurs. I guess this was supposed to be his quasi-Sally Fields moment; i.e. “See? Somebody loves me!” Included among the former Knicks: Latrell Sprewell, who was himself a Garden pariah for night onto 14 years. Others on the guest list: Larry Johnson, who really shouldn’t count since he’s on the Garden payroll in some capacity; the great Bernard King; Kenny (Sky) Walker; John Wallace and even — I find this hard to believe — the honorable Bill Bradley. I hope the Garden high-rollers were suitably impressed.
Now what was impressive was the play of the ball club in question. In what might very well have been their best performance of the season, the Knicks fought off the Spurs to win, 94-90. They survived a 36-point outburst by the estimable Kawhi Leonard. They had the lead, lost it and then made the requisite number of key, winning plays, including two big buckets by, yup, Carmelo Anthony. It was the kind of victory that had eluded them time and again during this frustrating campaign. Does it mean anything in the Big Picture? I have no idea. One good game does not a playoff team make.
Perhaps I have been a bit too harsh on Phil Jackson. The Zen Master has his managerial faults, for sure, but he, or his scouts, does appear to have an eye for young talent. Kristaps Porzingis has been obtained on his watch, and he is not the only intriguing Euro Big on the Knicks’ roster. The Knicks got a very useful 12 points and 9 rebounds in 29 of play from Willy Hernangomez, an aggressive 6-11 Spaniard whom the Knicks obtained in a draft day deal with the 76ers in 2015. The lad is getting his minutes with Joakim Noah battling through what seems to be an endless run of injuries, and he is making the most of his opportunity. I’m betting the Knicks have already entered into the “Take-your-time-coming-back’ mode with Noah, whose four-year $72 million contract has become a horror show.
With their victory over primary rival St. Mary’s last Saturday night, Gonzaga more than likely cleared the last hurdle between themselves an an undefeated regular season. That’s very nice, but they know very well out there in Spokane that they will be judged on just how far they can go in the NCAA Tournament this year, and that the minimum requirement is the Final Four. The Bulldogs were the number two overall seed when the Tournament Committee revealed their preliminary rankings last week. Villanova was number one. Standing tall was the Big 12, with number one seeds Kansas and Baylor. And speaking about a Usual Suspect, the ACC checked in with five of the 14 slots. with North Carolina (2), Florida State (2), Louisville (2), Virginia (3) and Duke (4) all represented. I don’t know that we have what you would call true clarity yet. There are many intriguing teams. Note that Gonzaga is the lone non-power conference team among the 16. What a shock.
We’re creeping up on April and a certain golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Jordan Speith reminded us what he is capable of at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (loved it better when it was simply the “Crosby”). Spieth successful protected his first 54-hole lead since the notorious disaster last spring at the Masters. It was a vintage Tiger final day approach as he methodically parred 14 holes in succession before posting birdie on the 17th. Don’t look now but he has put up 16 consecutive rounds in the 60s, 17 if you include his final round of ’15.
I write in advance of the UConn women’s quest for consecutive win number 100. By every expert evaluation, Dawn Staley’s South Carolina team has the talent to end the streak at 99. But do they have, well, What It Takes? Do they have the heart and the head to do what no one has been able to do for oh so long? We are about to find out. By the way, if Dawn Staley herself were going to be in uniform, I wouldn’t be asking these questions. I would be congratulating the Gamecocks in advance. When people start listing the great point guards we’ve ever know, they’d damn well better put Dawn Staley’s name on the list.