Unconvincing Red Bulls tie with Colorado

The Red Bulls hosted Colardo in the home opener of the 2014 MLS season at the Red Bulls Arena in Harrison, NJ on Saturday, March 15, 2014.

The Red Bulls hosted Colorado in the home opener of the 2014 MLS season at the Red Bulls Arena in Harrison, NJ on Saturday, March 15, 2014.
© Samindra Kunti

Soccer fans always look forward to the home opener of the season.  They get twitchy in the off- season; They need soccer to sustain themselves. By the time the home opener arrives, they crave the game.

On Saturday afternoon,  New York fans welcomed back soccer as the Red Bulls took on the Colorado Rapids at Red Bull Arena in Harrison. Blue skies and mild temperatures provided an excellent setting for an afternoon of soccer in the Big Apple.

The fans in the South Ward attempted to make the game a fest. They sang and danced throughout the game, but they had been warned that the Red Bulls might not whizz their way past the Rapids. Last week Mike Petke’s team slumped to a 4-1 defeat away to Vancouver.

Petke took the blame for the humiliation. His game plan of pairing Tim Cahill and Peguy Luyindula up front completely backfired. His defense was also not without fault. This time Petke went for the orthodox partnership of Thierry Henry, returning from injury, and Bradley Wright-Philipps.

The Red Bulls applied pressure early on; Cahill failed to convert a free header from Henry’s cross. Lloyd Sam’s  pace opened up space on the right, but few crosses turned into real danger.  Gradually the Rapids restored the balance. Deshorn Brown unsettled Armando and Jamison Olave at the heart of the Red Bulls’ defence. Robbles, like so often, produced three excellent saves to keep a clean sheet.

New York stormed out of the locker room and again Cahill had a free header. This time, the ball just sailed over the bar. But it was all a bit lacklustre by the Red Bulls – laborious, but without real direction. Armando and Olave didn’t click, and looked fragile. In the final third the Red Bulls were often at a loss.

In the 57th minute, the captain delivered. Lloyd Sam sent in a delicate cross from the right, Cahill drew two defenders and Henry’s diving header left John Berner, the visiting goalkeeper, with no chance.

But clumsy defending cost the Red Bulls. Olave bumped Vicente Sanchez. The referee pointed, somewhat controversially, to the spot and Sanchez cooly converted the spot-kick to the bottom right corner. The Red Bulls were deflated and only regained their composure in the dying minutes. They heaped on the pressure, but there was to be no grandstand finale, common currency last season.

During midweek, Petke indicated that the loss against Vancouver had been analysed – that all the t’s had been crossed  and the i’s dotted. Not so by Saturday’s evidence. If Petke wants to send the fans home happy, he’ ll have to go back to the drawing board.

Knicks coast past Bucks for sixth consecutive win

The New York Knicks hosted the Milwaukee Bucks at noon at Madison Square Garden, New York, Saturday, March 15, 2014.  © Samindra Kunti

The New York Knicks hosted the Milwaukee Bucks at noon at Madison Square Garden, New York, Saturday, March 15, 2014.
© Samindra Kunti

Phil Jackson is the new Messiah at Madison Square Garden. That is at least what James Dolan wants him to be, as the Knicks owner finally  realised that his franchise needs a back-breaking personality in its front office if he wants the grand ambitions he harbours  for the Knicks to materialise. Jackson will be presented officially at a press conference on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Knicks, who have a 26-40 record, are still in with a shot at the play-offs. They entered the game against Milwaukee tied with Detroit for the 9th place, 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the final play-off spot.

They continued their push to try and rescue their season, steamrollering  the Bucks, 114-94. The Knicks are now on a six game winning streak, their longest in the season.

For Mike Woodson, the win is another straw he can hold onto. The much-maligned coach has faced job insecurity all season long as his Knicks have hovered somewhere between the abysmal and mediocre, but Woodson has always conducted himself with dignity in the face of severe criticism.

When asked what he thought of Phil Jackson, Woodson was diplomatic as ever saying that Jackson is ‘a great basketball mind’ and would be ‘a plus’ for the Knicks. Jackson has been rumoured to eye a more experienced coach for next season.

Ironically, the Knicks have been playing relatively well by their standards. Their last five wins did came against sub 0.500 teams, with the exception of Minnesota. But they recorded 114.2 points on average and shot 50 percent from the field.

The Bucks had a record of 13-52 going into the game. The lone highlight of their season has been the rise of 19-year old rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they picked up at a high school in Athens. But the Greek prodigy could not stop the Knicks’ onslaught.

Anthony, yet again, led the Knicks with 24 points; Raymond Felton was positive, both defensively and offensively, and Stoudemire put in a trademark gritty performance. Tim Hardaway is fast becoming a crowd favourite with his dynamic and energetic play. He scored 20 points.

The Knicks demonstrated control throughout the game. The Bucks’ resistance was non-existent.  By halftime the game was no longer a contest. The Knicks scored 60 points, shooting 56.4 percent from the field. They led by 18 points. Woodson decided to rest Anthony Carmelo in the last quarter.

Woodson looked a little more relaxed courtside. At times he even produced a meek smile.

The Knicks still have their backs against the wall with only fifteen games left to salvage their season. The Garden will only host five of those games. If the Knicks can show their mettle in the daunting away trip to the West Coast this week, with tricky games at Phoenix and Golden State, Phil Jackson might well consider to keep Woodson for the next season.

Another routine embarrassment for the Knicks


Knicks coach Mike Woodson addresses the media after the Knicks’ woeful performance against the Golden State Warriors at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Friday, February 28, 2014.
© Samindra Kunti

The Knicks never cease to amaze this season: while they lost away to Miami Heat by 26 points yesterday, New York slumped to a 126-103 defeat at home to the Golden State Warriors on Friday night as their chances for a play-off berth are fading rapidly.

Worse, even Carmelo Anthony has lost the will to compete. With 23 points he top-scored once more for New York, but for most of the game Melo looked tired and uninspired.  It didn’t help that the Knicks went to bed at 3am after returning from Miami.  With four minutes and 30 seconds left, he threw the towel.

“When we lose games, it’s embarrassing like [Friday night],’’ Anthony said.

The non-contest was over after the first quarter with the Warriors leading, 38-27 –  another sign of how this season is over for the Knicks. Stephen Curry, who scored a dazzling 54 points at the Garden in February, hit 12 points, including two threes.  He’d get a triple double for the visitors, scoring 27 points. The lethargic Knicks defense often left him wide open.

“It was probably the worst of the year, I thought, from a transition standpoint,” Mike Woodson said of his team’s defense. The Knicks’ rearguard looked confused and overmatched. Thompson, part of the ‘splash brothers’, hit five threes, scoring 25 points overall, and O’Neal, 35 and not precisely in his prime, chipped in with 15 points.

At half-time, a shower of boos rained down from the Garden with the Knicks trailing, 73-52.  Threes from Melo, Hardaway Jr. and J.R. Smith briefly boosted the Knicks, cutting the Warriors’ lead to 17 points. The Knicks outscored the Warriors 28-26 in the third stanza, but it was never going to be a renaissance.

J.R. Smith questioned the Knicks’ ‘heart’ after the game.  “We’re not playing like we can [turn it around],’’ Smith said. “It’s not a mental thing. It’s a heart thing. Letting people score 50 points in the paint over and over again. We’re not going to win games like that. Guys getting open, hitting shots, high-fiving. I’m not into knocking somebody down and hurting somebody but we got to do something.”

The Knicks’ exasperation culminated when Tyson Chandler got ejected with four minutes and 33 seconds left for jawing Marreese Speights repeatedly. In many ways, Chandler’s anger was nothing more than a concession that the Knicks got beaten by a young, fresh-legged, and ultimately, better team.

It was the tale of their season, and while it was torture to watch, the Knicks are now gradually acknowledging that the play-offs are a distant dream.  Trailing the eighth seed by six games, New York can only make it on a technicality.

Slowly attention is turning to next season

Knicks secure narrow win against Phoenix Suns

The visit of the Phoenix Suns at the Garden at times felt like a bizarre procession with the New York Knicks simply inept at shaking off their opponents. Did the Knicks not execute their game-plan well?

With 53.1 seconds on the clock, Raymond Felton scored a crucial three-pointer for the Knicks to regain the lead, 92-89. Poor shot selection from Anthony Carmelo with 10.6 seconds left – he missed a 15 foot open jump shot – allowed Leandro Barbosa to level the score with free throws after a controversial foul by Raymond Felton, and Carmelo nearly committed the same mistake with 47.2 seconds remaining in overtime. It was a tired effort from Carmelo at the end of a grinding, physical evening, but the Knicks survived by the skin of their teeth.

“It was a total team effort again,” assessed Mike Woodson. He stressed the solidity in the defense in his post-game talk. Indeed, the Knicks won it at the back, keeping the Suns to  35.5%  shooting and allowing just four points in overtime.

For a very long time it had looked as if the Knicks wouldn’t need overtime to claim victory. New York got off to a very decent start. With 4:02 minutes left in the first quarter the Knicks sped away from their own back court after a turnover; Shumpert passed it to the omnipresent Anthony Carmelo, who hit the bucket from downtown. It was a sweeping and fast move, as if the Knicks were beating the Phoenix Suns, a young and pacey side, at their own game.

The move oozed ball movement, unselfishness and understanding; in short all the qualities that the Knicks have been demonstrated during their 2014 renaissance.  Encouragingly, the Knicks have become more than a one-man-show. They scrambled in defense, holding off the Suns and the much-feared  perimeter play of Phoenix. The flow and transition in the Knicks’ game came naturally. Truthfully, Anthony Carmelo was in superb form again as he set the pace in the first quarter with 13 points, leading the Knicks to a 28-21 lead. Raymond Felton chipped in with 7 points.  Carmelo would go on to score 29 points, 16 rebounds and four assist over 46 minutes. 

The Knicks machine rolled on, but not without spluttering – and almost coming to a full standstill. Goran Dragic scored a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer to cut New York’s lead to nine points, 52-43. The Slovenian roamed around the court, and his footwork gave the Knicks plenty to think about. Dragic top-scored at the half with 20 points.

But folly is never far away when it concerns the Knicks: totally lethargic, the Knicks allowed the Suns a way back into the game. New York and the Garden cringed as the tension became palpable. Phoenix got a 11-2 run after the interval to tie the game at 54. Three-pointers by Felton and Carmelo provided much needed relief. The Knicks took a lead of seven points into the final quarter.

The Suns went hard at it and their pace and gusto were too much for the Knicks to take. Brazilian Leandro Barbosa played hugely off the bench. He drained and pained the Knicks with his creativity, penetration and shooting. With 14 points he forced overtime. 

The Knicks should have never looked back after the first quarter, but the cliche goes that NBA only becomes interesting in the last quarter – a little too interesting for the Knicks this time, but they got their redemption in the end.

Anthony Carmelo stars in tight win against the Pistons

By Samindra Kunti – One quarter was all that the Knicks required to defeat the Pistons on an eve when they collectively failed, but were aided by  talisman Carmelo Anthony, whose tentacles of influence and 34 points guided New York on its way.

“I have seen him score so many points. When he shoots the ball like that he is probably the toughest guy in the League to guard. He can score inside and outside. There isn’t anything he can’t do,” said J.R. Smith of Anthony Carmelo.

Carmelo was in imperious form. He laboured hard in the back court and found the hoop with ease, scoring six three-pointers and four rebounds. The interplay with Raymond Felton, returning from injury, opened up the Pistons. New York’s number seven singlehandedly dragged his team out of a few lulls throughout the game.

Yet out with another injury in Texas, Carmelo had conveyed the message to his colleagues to apply more patience in their game and let the ball do the work. In general, few NBA franchises survive the Texas Triangle, or leave it unscathed, but a 2-1 record down south boasted the Knicks’ ambitions in the new year. “It was a positive road trip. Everything went as planned. Our defense really set the tone in all three games,” coach Mike Woodson had said. Certainly the collective effort had been impressive: the Knicks led at the end of the first quarter in each game with an average differential of 5.7 points and their rebounding improved markedly.

But against the Pistons Anthony’s message was soon forgotten. A pitiful first half was unworthy of NBA basketball. A lone highlight was perhaps the play of Andrea Bargnani as the ball gravitated towards him. The center scored 9 points, including a three-pointer, inside the opening five minutes. The Knicks then lost their flow, and despite the Pistons’ low outfield scoring rate of 33%, were just 24-21 up after the first quarter. New York staggered in lethargic fashion, stumbling and bumbling around. The Pistons were equally bad offensively and therefore both outfits did not deserve more than being tied at the half, 41-41.

The Knicks needed to come out with another mind-set after the interval, but the lack of tenacity continued to bother them. Bafflingly enough Woodson’s men were unable to force the Pistons out of the paint. A livid Woodson called a time-out. It resulted in a hat-trick of three-pointers, including two corner treys, from the ever reliable Anthony Carmelo. The gusto and energy from the Texas road trip were back as the Knicks powered to a 15-o run in 3.31 minutes.  They outscored the Pistons 32-17 to lead 73-58.

In the first game, back in Detroit, the Pistons had run away with the third quarter and never looked back. In reverse roles, the visitors  did catch up this time, storming back into the game. With 3.20 minutes left the Pistons had cut back New York’s lead to just three points, 83-80. Fittingly Anthony Carmelo had the final say. Another three-pointer and free-throws were enough to keep the surging Pistons from snatching the win.

Melo was the Knicks’ most valuable player yet again. Without Anthony, New York  would be decapitated. Next time when Melo has another thing to say, his colleagues ‘d better listen more carefully.

Jason Kidd and the Nets on a roll after win over Atlanta Hawks

By Samindra Kunti – Maybe Jason Kidd should never wear a tie again; the bald and staunch looking Kidd is not a superstitious person, but at least in 2014 his dress code has brought the Nets good luck, or better, good fortune – for the win against the Atlanta Hawks was mainly down to Brooklyn’s positive all-round play, and not the basketball gods.

The Nets were without one of their own gods: Deron Williams was out with a sprained left-ankle. The outlook of the line-up for the Nets was rather smallish, but would prove effective. For the Atlanta Hawks, coming off a 91-84 loss at the Chicago Bulls but still with the third best record in the Eastern Conference, star player Al Horford had been missing since December 26, 2013.

The first quarter got off to a fast start with little interruption. There was much good movement from the Nets and the impetus of Andrei Kirilenko was a refreshing sight. He set up Joe Johnson with a clever blind pass, and then Paul Pierce for a double flush finish. Kirilenko proved his cerebral qualities again with little deflections and disruptions that brought that little extra liveliness for the home team. Kidd kept Kirilenko on court for 21 minutes. “I thought it was 14 minutes. He played 21? Wow. We probably stretched him a little bit farther than we wanted to, but AK was a big plus for us, offensively and defensively,” Kidd commented.

The Nets, led by Paul Pierce’s nine points, closed out the first frame with a six point lead (27-21).  The Hawks nearly seemed afraid of the paint. Stifled  by the Nets’ decent organization, the visitors were restricted to perimeter play, attempting three-pointers. There was little creativity from Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap just scored five points in the first quarter.

But the Nets did not manage to play through the many three-pointers of Atlanta. Indeed, the contrast with the second frame was big as the Nets went ice cold, loosing their swift ball movement. With one minute left, the outfield scoring rate for the Nets had dropped to 35%. Atlanta pummelled Kidd’s troop by 31-19, including a 11-0 run. With 28.8 seconds remaining, Paul Millsap hit another three-pointer for the Hawks as they took command. The Hawks cracked the 50-point boundary, leading at half-time by 52-46.

The struggles for Brooklyn were a bad harbinger for the third quarter, which has been the Achilles heel for the Nets the entire. Yet the Nets responded strongly with a 14-0 run. Two three-pointers from Anderson opened up a 8-point lead, 60-52. An excellent record in free-throws, 18/18, kept the Hawks in the game before Teague finally missed from the line, 60-59. A three-pointer from Kirilenko and a hat-trick of three-pointers from Mirza Teletovic maintained a healthy lead for the Brooklyn outfit at the end of the third quarter, 72-67.

Earlier in the season Teletovic had said he didn’t know what his role was in the team, but it was clear tonight he was there to space out the field and hit it big with three-pointers. Teletovic did just that, scoring 16 points overall, of which four were three-pointers. “That is what he does. We have always counted on him to be able to knock down the three, and tonight he did that for us. I thought his defense was big for us too – being able to switch on smaller players and being able to keep them in front,” assessed Jason Kidd.

Were the Nets on their way to a third consecutive win? It was a little muddy, but their industry and penetration around the hoop was sufficient to hold off Atlanta. Johnson’s three-pointer and driving dunk shot should have been the signal for the Nets to switch to a defensive mind-set with six minutes on the clock, but poor shot selection around the paint left Atlanta with a chance. With 3 minutes and four seconds on the clock, the scoreboard read 82-80 to the Nets. Teague drilled in a three-pointer to keep it tight. While the Nets defended solidly most of the night, Jason Kidd must have been upset with their occasional lapses of concentration. Teletovic’s crucial three-pointer with 44.6 seconds left sent the home fans into a delirium as the Nets went on to win 91-86.

The Nets thus remain undefeated in 2014  and for Jason Kidd there were plenty of positives to take from the game: the Nets gelled in a consorted and conscious effort on both sides of the court. In defense, where Kirilenko made another defining impact, the Nets held the Hawks to 34 points in the second half – the fewest points conceded by the Nets in any half this season. Furthermore the third quarter no longer is jinxed for the Nets, closing it out 72-67 and allowing Atlanta to just score 15 points, an opponent season-low for the Nets. Offensively Joe Johnson, who struggled with his shooting in the past few games, made a game-high 23 points, putting a stop to a streak of five straight games scoring just in single digits. Teletovic grew in confidence with his firm scoring.

The Nets now face two tricky games at home to two top franchises, the Golden State Warriors from Oakland and the Miami Heat. Not precisely cupcakes like Kevin Garnett indicated in the locker game, but Oakland, Cleveland and Atlanta weren’t exactly pushovers either. Brooklyn take it game by game, and by the looks of it, have finally got something to build on.

Brooklyn Nets usher in 2014 with consecutive wins

By Samindra Kunti – 2013 was a torrid year for the nine local sports franchises, including the Brooklyn Nets,  in New York City’s metropolitan area. The Nets had an overall winning record of 46-43 in 2013, but the pre-season hype soon turned into an odyssey of misery as rookie coach Jason Kidd and his team were overwhelmed, even in a largely mediocre Eastern Conference league.

The new year has started off on a more positive note for the Brooklyn-based franchise: last Thursday the Nets beat Oklahoma City on the road and yesterday the Nets saw off the Cleveland Cavaliers 89-82 at the Barclays Center to record back-to-back wins.

Jason Kidd decided to rest Kevin Garnett; the visitors were missing their star player Kyrie Irving with a left knee contusion.

The Nets coasted to a convincing halftime lead of 14 points, 51-38, with Paul Pierce (11) and Deron Williams (13) leading the charge. The overall play of the Nets was encouraging: Williams showed consistency and Pierce played the stretch. Andrei Kirilenko chipped in with admirable defensive work during his 7:30 minutes on the court.

Kidd recognized Kirilenko’s contribution. “He is a pro. Sometimes the stat sheet doesn’t show it but he does all the little things, coming up with loose balls, finding open teammates and being able to cut and finish plays,” he said after the game.

Kidd’s outfit nearly lost the plot, once again, in the third quarter as the Nets allowed Cleveland back into the game. The Cavaliers outscored (27-16) and outrebounded (13-4) the Nets in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to just two points.

Again, it seemed a little mystifying why the Nets couldn’t capitalize on a strong first half. This time, however, they rallied and avoided a dismal third-quarter becoming their downfall once more. Andrey Blatche scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and Mirza Teletovic hit a crucial three-pointer with 14.6 seconds on the buzzer as the Nets hung on to victory, 89-82.

The question remains now whether Kidd and his charges can build on the momentum they have gained in the past two games? The Atlanta Hawks are up next on Monday.