LOS ANGELES – The sign on the outside of the building insisted that this was the Staples Center, epicenter of the NBA universe in 2020, where the Knicks spend this corner in January, against the Clippers and Lakers in three days to play and get a picture of the best the Western Conference has to offer.
The sign lied. At least it was on Sunday.
This was actually downtown LA YMCA, and the start time was also perfect: 12:30 p.m. The Clippers and Knicks paced up and down like a crowd of stock analysts, lawyers, and insurance agents filling them for lunch.
"It was pretty wild outside today," said Doc Rivers, Clippers coach, and you could see that the former player lurking in him envied everyone for their race, even if the coach was completely horrified by all of this.
Defense? In theory, the boys "guarded". Every now and then there was a hand in a face. From time to time someone blocked a shot and stole it. Then someone would do a 12-2 run. And someone else would run 15-4.
The knicks had risen by 16 at one point. At one point they had dropped 16. They had dropped by eleven when clippers star Paul George caught his sixth foul, and soon they were within three, and the 19,068 in downtown Y became restless and uneasy the day after they saw clips 140 against the grizzlies in a 26 task blowout loss.
"We didn't want to repeat that," said Clippers guard Lou Williams. "Not in front of our fans. Not after what we did on Saturday. "
There would be no encore. Even without Kawhi Leonard, the clippers had just enough. The Knicks continued to shoot. The Knicks continued. Marcus Morris continued to empty 3s and undoubtedly gave the clippers a look at what might be theirs with the right trade deal. RJ Barrett, who played Steve Nash before his godfather, played one of his best professional games, 24 points and six rebounds.
Nash, the point guard of the Hall of Fame, who is now a consultant to the Warriors sitting in the yard behind the Knicks bank, seemed to be enjoying it all. Afternoon fun in downtown Y.
The Knicks lost, 135-132, and so the record is now 10-26 with two more killer games on this road trip, back Tuesday against the Lakers, then in Utah against jazz. The Knicks had a shot in Phoenix on Friday. They had a Sunday shot against the clippers. They shot 57 percent off the ground.
"Have we ever won a game in which the opponent made 57 percent?" Asked Rivers.
The Clippers actually made a bit of history on Sunday. George, Williams and Montrezl Harrell each scored 30 points, scoring 98 points, the last two from the bank. The clips had never hit three boys in the same game 30.
"The story is good, someone has to make it," said Rivers. "But I wouldn't mind if we defended better."
As you listen to Rivers, remember, however weakly, that NBA seasons can be a wonderful mix of emotions for teams with big ambitions: enjoy the moment, live for the future. The clippers are built for May and June. It's why Leonard hasn't played against each other, why they put George, why their coach looks like someone stole his wallet when his team won a shootout.
Look, Mike Miller cannot be satisfied with the 135 points – the Coach’s Creed clearly states that defense is the be-all and end-all. But he was as honest as he could be. With a dose of truth serum, he could have said, “A three point loss on the way to this team for this team? Sign me up!"
What he said was this: "The biggest thing that comes to mind is the effort, the struggle, the junk. This is a high level team and one of the wilder games I've participated in. The effort and strength that we have shown to stay in this game and position ourselves to win – I am proud of this group. "
It's the professionals. There are still no medals to try. But if you want to play a game, why can't it be entertaining? If you lose, why don't you go down? If you want to take a lunch break at the Y, let 19,068 witnesses have the fun work out for you.
For more information on the Knicks, see the latest episode of the Big Apple Buckets podcast: