Woodson’s Leadership Needs to Shine at Critical Juncture

Tommy Dee

Pat Riley would get the most out of players. He was a master motivator with the Knicks and with that motivation, that win at all costs bravado, came moments of severe violence. For all intents and purposes compared to Riley’s Knicks that stuff was pretty tame.

Riley’s game plan tarnished the Knicks as “thugs” and “punks” until Commissioner David Stern decided to finally do something about it. Their reputation for such incidents ultimately cost them in 1997 when a technicality killed their chances of cruising past Miami with their sites set on the Bulls. The Knicks were peaking as a championship team that year until P.J. Brown flipped Charlie Ward and Patrick Ewing tip toed onto the court in Miami. The 1990s Knicks, led by Riley, essentially changed the way the game was officiated and policed.

It’s a brand that Knicks fans still love being a part of.

People will tell you that the Knicks didn’t invent the rugged style of play, that it began in Detroit which spilled into Boston and Chicago. And those people would be right. But the Knicks thrived on it. It was the heartbeat of their game plan every single night. Anyone remember when Kevin Johnson knocked out Doc Rivers teeth during a regular season game in Phoenix because the Suns were tired of being called “soft” ?

No one will say differently around these parts. Mike Woodson has done a tremendous job coaching the team this year. Just when you thought that integrating Amar’e into the line up was challenge one, Kevin Garnett baits Carmelo Anthony into a 45 minute tirade.

Who knows what really happened, but Melo transformed into a player on the loose last night both on the court and off. It’s something Knicks fans have witnessed in a very ugly and memorable way when he was in Denver. We’ve seen this before both with the Knicks and in New York sports. Mike Piazza tried to have a post game conversation with Guillermo Moto in Vero Beach back when for example.

For the 90s Knicks this was tame. I recall dodging bottles being flung regularly during playoff games IN BARS back then and the atmosphere last night certainly reminded you of the old Knicks/Bulls/Pacers/heat games.

Minus the actual brawling.

This game is a rivalry and a good one.The atmosphere last night gave me flashbacks to a time where fighting for a victory often included fighting. These teams hate each other. Paul Pierce continues to be this generation’s Reggie Miller or Tim Hardaway, and Garnett plays every bit the part of Dennis Rodman, Davis bash brother or P.J. Brown/Zo Mourning.

But let’s focus internally for a second. Mike Woodson, whose leadership has been strong these year, who wanted veterans around this group to take the team to a championship level, needs to step up. He needs to snuff this out before this becomes THE game plan to beat the Knicks.

Melo was not Melo last night when they needed him to be. The intensity didn’t make him elevate his game, instead it left him out of synch, out of rhythm and basically out of his mind at the end.

That can’t be the M.O. of this team. That responsibility falls directly, 100% on the coach.

Doc Rivers knows this. He knows what he is doing and I assume that was part of the game plan. It must have been for Pat Riley when they tried to get under Michael Jordan’s skin, right? Of course it was folks, and fans loved it.

The game plan last night was to pressure the ball and get under the skin of the Knicks best player. Getting Melo suspended could help the Celtics close the gap on the Knicks lead. This team has to maintain focus and composure in moments like that IN THE MOMENT and the responsibility is on the coach. Riley lacked that skill with Anthony Mason and often times John Starks. He lacked that skill with Brown and Mourning. One way or another that hurt his team.

Woodson cannot let that happen to these Knicks and his best player. As we’ve seen in the past, it can be a hinderance on how the game is called and ultimate the outcome of big games.