For much of Wednesday night's opening game, it was hard to see just where the Knicks changed this offseason.
They built up a decent early lead, gave it back with sloppy play on offense and an indifferent defensive effort and appeared to be in position to give the game away in the fourth quarter because they couldn't close out the Raptors. And just when things couldn't get any bleaker, Amar'e Stoudemire showed up to save the day.
He didn't wear a cape and there weren't any cartoonish sound effects spelled out on the screen, although no one would have argued with the appearance of either. Stoudemire scored seven points in a 90-second span of the fourth quarter after Toronto closed within two points and the Knicks wound up with a season-opening 98-93 win. His game was hardly perfect -- nine turnovers and 7-of-16 shooting -- but that late stretch served as a whopping reminder of just why the Knicks were so eager to bring Amar'e to town.
They haven't had a player capable of taking over a game down the stretch since the big fella from Georgetown lost his touch in the late '90's and Allan Houston's knees went kablooey and it only took one night to remember just how good life was when such a player wore the orange and blue. It's not enough to get you wins every night all by itself, in fact the Knicks would have lost if not for a strong all around night from Wilson Chandler, but it makes such a huge difference that one is tempted to overstate just what it means to the team.
So we'll take a deep breath and point out some things that still need fixing with the Knicks. Danilo Gallinari played like he had a big meal and lots of red wine before taking the court. Perhaps the preseason trip to Milan left him homesick or maybe the constant trade rumors are grating on him, but something has sucked the life out of Gallo this year. Also of concern is the team's rebounding, which seemed nonexistent despite the fact that the Knicks actually wound up with four more boards than Toronto, and starting center Timofey Mozgov's inability to play defense without fouling.
Such follies are easy to swallow because of what Stoudemire did down the stretch, however. We'll find time to really rend our garments about them when Amar'e can't bail the team out and simply smile and enjoy the arrival of the new Knicks for the time being.