It has always been the same voice in the locker room this season, the one that gets everyone to listen because what’s being said isn’t clichés or empty rhetoric. It is a stern voice of intensity, one that speaks from experience with the hardware to back it up. One that also practices what it preaches.
And so the voice filled the air at halftime on Wednesday night at The Garden. It bellowed a strong reminder as the players sat in the luxurious new locker room, patting themselves with plush Egyptian cotton towels and changing into a fresh pair of sneakers or thick, dry socks, that theirs was still a life of grit and grime.
Tyson Chandler made his point clear. He has a way with holding teammates accountable without calling people out. What we’re learning about him is he’s not only the best defensive center this team has had since Patrick Ewing, he may be the best leader, as well.
“I don’t know how you describe someone like him,” Mike D’Antoni said, “other than he’s a champion. He’s showing the way.”
Chandler has a lot to say behind closed doors, but he doesn’t grandstand in the media. What he revealed to reporters was merely the Cliffs Notes version — probably G-rated, too — of the challenge he made in the locker room during a game that saw a lifeless effort in the first half against the young, energetic Cleveland Cavaliers only a day after the team was talking about competing for a championship.
“I just let my teammates know if we really want to be true contenders, on nights like this we have to show it,” Chandler said. “Nothing is going to come easy.”
Chandler only had three points in the second half, but we know by now that his impact is rarely quantified in points. He came out in the third quarter and set an immediate tone with his defense and came up with three steals, three blocks and grabbed seven rebounds in 14:14 of play in the second half. His game was about floor burns, sweat beads and snarl. That’s about as New York as you can get.
“I wouldn’t ask anything of my teammates that I wouldn’t do myself,” he said after he totaled 13 points, 15 rebounds, four blocks and three steals.
Steve Novak caught fire, Baron Davis ran a terrific show and Jeremy Lin (19 points, 13 assists) and Carmelo Anthony (22 points) combined to put the game away. But the comeback doesn’t happen without Tyson Chandler. In a season of wild ups and downs, of great frustration and inspiring comebacks, of the emergence of Garden heroes such as Lin, Novak and Shumpert, it is Tyson Chandler who has emerged as the true star of this team. He is for the Knicks what Ryan Callahan is for the Rangers: not the most talented, but the most respected. He is the player who sets the standard and the identity of his team.
“I can sit up here and talk about Tyson the whole time,” D’Antoni said. “His impact is on and off the court. He’s a superstar on the floor and off the floor. What he gives, the intangibles, we can go on and on…
“Whatever you need, it’s all about the team.”
‘SUPER-NOVA’ EXPLODES AGAIN
While in the locker room at halftime, Steve Novak was still in shooting range. The gunslinger then buried the Cavs with three from downtown in that third quarter turnaround for the Knicks. He finished 5 for 8 from three-point range for 17 points off the bench and is now shooting a blistering 47 percent from beyond the arc, which is fourth best in the NBA.
“Novak, he was ridiculous,” D’Antoni said.
Amar’e Stoudemire referred to him as “Super Nova” after the game. Even my colleague, MSG Network analystKelly Tripucka referenced him as “Steve Novak-aine” on the post-game show.
And his teammates have taken to copying Novak’s “championship belt” celebration, which is homage to quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his beloved Green Bay Packers. And, yes, Rodgers is well-aware of it all. After the game, Rodgers tweeted that he is “a big Steve Novak fan.”
Nineteen thousand-plus at The Garden are, too.
“Hearing your name chanted at Madison Square Garden, there’s nothing like it,” Novak said in his walk-off interview with MSG Network’s Tina Cervasio. “The fans here, it’s unbelievable. I can’t imagine playing in a better place. You know, growing up, a basketball player, no matter where you’re from, Wisconsin, Indiana, New York, wherever it is, you come to play in the Mecca of Basketball, here at The Garden, there’s nothing like it.”
Baron Davis, who had a strong game with eight assists in 14:38 off the bench, also earned a loud ovation from the crowd, which he relished.
“That ovation is sweet,” Davis said. “That’s why I came here, because I love the energy and I love the fans. They love basketball, they can appreciate good basketball.”
OBAMA KNEW ABOUT LIN
Apparently the government was keeping a secret from the rest of the basketball world. President Barack Obama told Grantland creator Bill Simmons that he was aware of Jeremy Lin’s talents before anyone else.
Oh here we go. This isn’t another Al Gore “I invented the internet” thing, is it?
“I can’t take credit for [Linsanity],” President Obama told Simmons. “But I’m just saying I was there early.”
Obama, who we know is a huge basketball fan, had a reliable spy report to him. That would be Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education (and, as we saw in the NBA celebrity game at All-Star Weekend, a serious baller), who is a Harvard grad.
“He said, ‘I’m telling you, we’ve got this terrific guard named Jeremy Lin at Harvard,” Obama said. “And then one of my best friends, his son is a freshman at Harvard, and so when he went for a recruiting trip he saw Lin in action. So I’ve been on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon for a while.”
The Prez may appreciate Lin’s game and story, but it stops there. Remember, he’s from Chicago.
By the way, where’s Bill Bradley been throughout all of this?
BENCH NEEDS A NICKNAME
Red Holzman‘s beloved 1970 championship team had a group of reserves affectionately known as “The Minutemen.” The Knicks deep bench, with Novak, Davis, Iman Shumpert, Jared Jeffries and Co. may need one too. Shumpert offered “Bench Mob” on Twitter, but that’s being used by the Bulls.
We’ve received some good ideas so far on Twitter. One that stands out is “B-Sides”, which is a play of a nickname the team gave themselves in training camp, “Knicks Tape” (as in “Mix Tape”). Another really good one that could easily catch on is to call them “Mobb Deep” after the hip-hop group from Queens. Fitting, since depth is something this team clearly has now.
A few weeks back, I started calling them the “2.0 Boys” after the Slaughterhouse song with Eminem and Yelawolf.
Can we do better? Let’s hear some of your suggestions.