Lenny least of worriesPlay of Raptors is what is deserving of fans' boos
Let's face it, it's a lot more fun when Tracy McGrady comes back to town. Or Damon Stoudamire, before he became irrelevant. I mean, how do you get worked up about Lenny Wilkens? He's too cool, too classy, too dignified. Aside from drifting off occasionally when he was supposed to be coaching, what did Lenny ever do to infuriate anyone here except wear nice suits and wear them well?
When they booed his introduction at the ACC last night in his first trip in with the Knicks, there was no real passion. It was fabricated, almost embarrassing.
He was ready for it, of course, and unmoved.
"That's sports," said Wilkens, speaking yesterday morning in anticipation of some fan reaction. "Why should I (be concerned)? I'm proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. I have nothing to be ashamed of, so why should I worry about that?"
Why, indeed? It took about 10 seconds for everybody in the place to forget about Wilkens. There were more important aspects to this confrontation than beating up on a 66-year-old man. If indeed, Wilkens came to town to get the last laugh, he got his chance to chortle all the way back to New York on the right end of a 109-103 slugfest.
This was a litmus test for the Raptors, given the traffic jam that surrounds the final three playoff spots in the East.
And they failed miserably. They choked like dogs in the final 15 minutes of the game, blowing an 11-point lead at home. After shooting at an unbelievable 65% pace until late in the third quarter, they finished with a pitiful 6-for-22 shooting performance in the fourth. Worse, they got absolutely killed on the boards, outrebounded overall, but a decisive 19-8 on the offensive glass.
Despite the Knicks' recent 2-8 slide, Wilkens' team had managed to get back over .500 (12-11) since he arrived. In the weeks following his hiring, the love-in factor prevailed and the Knicks won nine of Wilkens' first 12 games. Now comes the hard part: Trying to keep it all together down the stretch. Judging from the commitment and grit they displayed last night, it'll be no contest, at least as far as the pathetic Raptors are concerned.
However it turns out for Lenny, it can't possibly be as bad as life was with the Raptors a year ago. At this time last season, Wilkens' tenure as a coach in Toronto had long since outlived its shelf life. Whether or not the game had passed him by is a matter of opinion. It certainly didn't help that he was trying to run a team that lost a record 519 man-games to injury.
Worse for him, he could be still here, trying to figure out this enigma that is the Raptors. That is Kevin O'Neill's job and he hasn't yet figured out a way to make his smallish front court players grow a few inches.
Last night, Nazr Mohammed and Tim Thomas made the Raptors rebounders look like high school kids, snatching one rebound after another and thus keeping the Knicks in range, despite Toronto's torrid shooting pace.
When the Raptor shooters went cold late, they became easy pickings for the unrelenting inside game of the Knicks.
As for the job Wilkens is doing with his new team, it appears that the honeymoon is not yet over. The Knicks went into a swoon but now have won two in a row. More importantly, they came into the Raptors lair and made them look stupid.
Still, Wilkens was too professional, too proud, to take this as some sort of personal victory against the team that spurned him, at least for public consumption.
"You can't misplace things," he said. "It was special because this is one of the teams we're fighting with to get into the playoffs. It was huge.
"But if you start to take things personally in this game, you're in trouble. You've got to move on."
And he did. Without even a trace of a smile, too classy to gloat.