The difference is like night and day, salt and pepper, Laurence Olivier and Pee-wee Herman. Or in this case, the Knicks offense this season compared to their offense of last season. Yup, “Hamlet” against “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”
“They’re just playing freer. It just seems like they have a whole different spirit,” coach Doc Rivers said before his Clippers failed to stop the fun in a 107-85 loss Monday. “It’s fun to watch them play.”
Yeah, how many times did you watch the Knicks last season and say, “That was fun” afterward? About as often as you said that after an earache.
“They play hard, they’re moving the ball. They play at a higher pace,” Rivers said. “They’re attacking the paint. You could see it early, early in the year, like the first couple times you saw them, ‘That’s a different team.’ For whatever reason. Sometimes it’s more just their mindset, their spirit, whatever you want to call it.
“They’re an enjoyable team to watch.”
Forget some of the numbers. The Knicks are averaging 104.5 points, up marginally from 104.3 last year. But they are shooting .467, compared to .447 last season. And the biggest difference? They have a winning record.
Kristaps Porzingis might have a little to do with that.
“He’s just a beast,” Rivers said before Porzingis’ defense outshined his offense. “I mean he’s going to be — or he is — one of the great ones now. He’s just going to keep getting better. You look at his numbers and you forget his age, I think, and what he’s doing. It’s just a scratch. … He’s going to keep getting better and better. And that’s going to be scarier for all of us. But they have a good one.”
The Clippers now have lost nine games in a row and are suffering from injuries — although they had point guard Patrick Beverley back Monday. Danilo Gallinari (strained glute) and Milos Teodosic (left plantar fascia injury) were out.
And of course, like the Knicks, the Clippers are adjusting to life after a superstar. Chris Paul got out and is in Houston while ex-Knick Carmelo Anthony is in Oklahoma City these days. Rivers was asked how a team adjusts after getting rid of a star.
“We didn’t get rid of ours. Ours got rid of us. There’s a big difference,” Rivers said. “For us, I don’t think it was as hard. It would be more interesting if we were healthy and you can say that. We still have Blake [Griffin] and DJ [DeAndre Jordan] and you still have some remnants. But Melo is a big change.
“He was the cornerpiece here and when you move that, it’s a big change. But it looks like it was time for Porzingis anyway. So I think that wasn’t as hard either. They both did great things,” Rivers said. “Chris was phenomenal for us. Melo did his best here. He he had some terrific years here. When that happens, you thank them and you move on. Franchises keep going on long after them and us.”
Before Monday, the last time Doc Rivers and the Clippers invaded Madison Square Garden was Feb. 8. The Clippers beat the Knicks, 119-115.
But that’s not what Rivers recalls most about that game last season. Feb. 8 was the night of the Charles Oakley incident at the Garden when the ex-Knick was arrested during his ongoing feud with owner James Dolan.
“I just recall standing there and when I noticed it was Oak, I literally walked to half-court. It was my teammate,” Rivers recalled. “I was literally thinking [of interceding].
“Thank God I didn’t, but it was my teammate. It was surreal, and when I went back to the bench, I couldn’t get my focus back for a while. Clearly, Oak was the only thing I was thinking about.”