By Matthew Curtis | Enzian Theater December 20, 2006 at 3:07AM
I can't believe I'm writing this, but I actually agree with what NY Knick coach Isiah Thomas did on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks were getting blown out by the Denver Nuggets with a minute and a half left in the game, and Denver's coach, George Karl, was rubbing their nose in it by still playing four of his starters (including Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby). Karl apparently hates Thomas' guts for the way Isiah treated his good friend and fellow North Carolina alum Larry Brown last year, canning him after perhaps one of the worst year-long coaching performances in league history. The fact that the Knicks beat Denver on their home floor in a weird game earlier this season didn't help matters.
Though he hasn't admitted it, and even thought he was caught on camera mouthing a warning to Carmelo to stay out of the lane, Isiah had obviously told his scrubs to foul anyone driving for a layup hard--really, really hard. Like a beanball coming after a previous batter had hit a monstrous home run or shown up the pitcher, the Denver players should have expected it given their coach's infantile behavior. But the fouled Nugget player took great offense to the (admittedly) ugly flagrant foul, got all up in the Knick player's face, and the full-scale brawl was on. And Carmelo, one of the NBA's bright (maybe not so) young superstars, decided to sucker punch a Knick player and then run away--real nice.
Seven players were supended for a total of 47 games, with Carmelo deservedly getting the biggest (15). Both clubs were fined an unprecedented half million apiece as well. Whether or not these stiff penalties help curb future melees who the hell knows. First Indiana and Detroit and now Denver and New York. Each coach may have acted in a manner to send their own message, but it's the immature players who lose their cool and control of their emotions, jeopardizing their team's chances of success and the NBA's image problem.
Isiah has been a horrible GM in his day, and whether or not he can coach his ragtag group of millionaire misfits to a respectable record remains to be seen. Ugliness aside from the aftermath of his actions, I respect his decision to protect his team's honor. Now let's see if George Karl can keep the ship afloat and figure out a way to create enough shots for both "The Answer--AI" (acquired today) and Carmelo when he returns in a month.