The World's Most Famous Arena is what Madison Square Garden calls itself, and it would be difficult to dispute that. However, it had not been aging well and my last visit there back in 2008 left me unimpressed. The owners obviously felt the same way and in 2011, they began a $1 billion renovation program which is still ongoing. However, the majority of the changes have been implemented and my friend Gary had told me that the Garden was much improved, so I wanted to get there this week. The Rangers had home games against the Jets (Tuesday) and Lightning (Thursday), while the Knicks were hosting the Warriors on Wednesday. ESPN was covering the basketball game and the start time had been moved to 8 pm, making it easier to get to after work. Combine that with my ridiculously stupid NHL boycott, and Gary telling me he had an extra ticket for the Knicks game, and the decision was made. Turned out to be a great decision too.
Gates opened an hour before game time, and I met up with Gary to get the ticket and we followed the masses into the building. The entry procedure involves a bag inspection, wanding, and then a long wait as the ticket takers scan everybody's ticket. There are not enough ticket takers for the volume of people so you have to be very patient as you inch your way up the ramp. Once inside though, you will immediately notice how the arena has been transformed. The concourse is big and bright, with plenty on display as you make your way around. Along the top they have an anniversary timeline, with one event that happened at MSG for each day of the year. For major happenings such as Stephan Matteau's overtime goal in 1994, they have memorabilia from the player or game in question.
I was surprised at how easy it was to navigate the main concourse and to go inside the seating bowl to take a picture. Before the renovations, there were inner walkways that were in constant use during the game and made sitting in the first couple of rows behind them a frustrating experience as your view was blocked on a regular basis. These have been removed and now the lower bowl is more like a typical arena, with nice new seats to boot. There are some temporary floor seats for basketball that are not in use for hockey (capacity for the Knicks is 1,833 more than for the Rangers) but getting close to those wasn't going to happen, so I satisfied myself with a couple of snaps and then toured around the Madison Concourse (below).
The upper deck is known as the Garden Concourse and there are a series of escalators that make getting there a bit annoying. In some spots there is only one escalator, so it has to be turned off to allow people to come down as well, which means you are walking up about 3 flights of stairs. This is just a minor inconvenience, but it will be difficult to resolve given the limited space available in the downtown location.
Our seats were in the 400 level just below the new West Balcony, which has two rows of seats with glass in front of them, plus an open area with barstools for seats. This might be the most interesting place to sit but at $81, it isn't cheap. You do get a great view of the banners as you can see above. The balcony partially blocks the sightlines for fans in the 400 level and significantly affects the acoustics; I had trouble making out the PA announcer at times. I found the best place to stand was next to the stairs to the West Balcony. There is a small space that has great views of the whole arena and is right next to the exit so you can make a quick getaway and beat the rush down the escalators. I don't know if you'd want to stand there for the whole game, but I spent the last few minutes there and thought it was great. The photo below is from that spot.
Other new features include much better lighting - I remember watching Ranger games on TV and thinking how dark it was. When I watched the Rangers host the Jets on the tube at my hotel, the view to the ice was clear and the camera angles were much better.
Overall, the new Garden is an improvement in every way and a joy to visit again. The renovations are still ongoing, so I hope to come back soon and see a hockey game here. But for now, it was the Warriors and the Knicks which turned out to be another wonderful Wednesday ESPN game.
There were so many storylines here including one-time Knick David Lee being suspended after a skirmish the night before in Indiana. More importantly though was another ex-Knick returning for the first time as a head coach. Warriors' boss Mark Jackson was a fan favourite when he played here and he received a prolonged cheer when he was introduced. His team didn't seem to care much though as they came out flat, although they showed respect to the Square by falling behind 16-9 and then 25-16. Meanwhile Tyson Chandler of the Knicks was a monster on the boards, grabbing 13 in the first 9 1/2 minutes. Steph Curry finished the quarter with 4 points as the Knicks led 27-18.
Early in the second, the Knicks were up 32-22 when Curry decided to get involved. He made a layup, technical free throw, and three 3-pointers in less than three minutes to bring the Warriors to within a point, 35-34. After the teams traded baskets, another Curry trey made it 40-37 Golden State and the fans were puzzled, because the reversal had happened so quickly. The Knicks responded just as quickly as Carmelo Anthony (above) added 9 points in the final 5 minutes of the half and they went to the locker room up 58-55 despite Curry (dribbling below) scoring 27.
The third quarter saw the score tied on four occasions but the Knicks maintained their 3-point advantage, leading 84-81. Curry potted 11 more to give him 38 and there was a noticeable buzz whenever he touched the ball as it seemed like every three pointer he took went in.
The final frame was thrilling. Another Curry bomb brought the Warriors within one and then he drove for a layup to give them a 90-89 lead. Over the next five minutes the teams fought to a 13-13 standoff as Curry continued to hit from downtown, adding three more treys to give him 52 points. Still, Golden State could only manage a 103-102 lead with 3:42 to go. After J.R. Smith missed a 3, Chandler grabbed his tenth offensive rebound and fed out to Anthony who drained his three. Two possessions later, Curry sank two FTs and the game was tied at 105 with two minutes left.
After Raymond Felton missed a three for the Knicks, he fought his way back on defense to make a key block on Curry, with the rebound falling to Chandler naturally. The Knicks drove back up the court and Smith hit a jump shot for the 107-105 lead. After the Warriors called time out, Jarrett Jack traveled while being double teamed and Anthony made a jumper on the subsequent possession, giving him 35 points on the evening. Another Warrior turnover forced them to foul, but Felton missed both freebies, grabbing the offensive board in contrition. The Warriors chose not to foul and after Anthony flubbed a layup, they drove down for a chance to get close, but Klay Thompson missed two threes and the Knicks held on 109-105.
Curry's 54 points were an NBA season high, and his 11 threes (on 13 attempts) were a franchise record, just one short of the NBA mark. Chandler finished with 28 rebounds, second most in the NBA this year. It was an unbelievable performance from both men and pushed Anthony to the sidelines despite his 35 points. Truly an incredible game.
Statistically, Golden State outshot New York from 3 point land (55.6% to 32.4%), and the charity stripe (85.7% to 78.8%) and the teams were both at 47% from inside the arc. How did the Knicks win? Rebounding, turnovers, and driving to the basket. New York took 16 of 49 boards on their offensive end, leading to 27 second-chance points (compared to just 2 for the Warriors). Meanwhile, the Knicks protected the ball, giving up only 10 turnovers compared to the Warriors 18. Finally, the home team went to the line 33 times (hitting 26) compared to just 21 (making 18) for the Warriors who spent most of the game on the perimeter. Shooting well is important, but if you neglect the other areas of the game, it won't matter in the end.
During the game, they show celebrities on the big screen. Famous names were Katie Holmes (no Suri in sight) and Katherine McPhee, as well as Victor Cruz of the football Giants.
I've seen some excellent basketball games on this trip. A week ago in Houston was James Harden's 46 points, and the Heat over OKC the previous week was great to watch. That is the beauty of Sports Road Trips, getting to see different teams in different venues and sometimes being rewarded with fantastic performances. I wonder if anyone else was at all three of those games…
Finally, thanks to Gary for his hospitality during my stay in New York, he was instrumental in getting tickets to the Nets and Knicks.
I fly to Toronto on Saturday and immediately make my way back to the great State of New York as Sharpy will drive me to Buffalo to watch the Sabres and Devils. Yes the NHL boycott will be broken but First Niagara Center is a venue where I have yet to see a regular season game and as I am getting tickets from my friend Andrew, there is no direct payment to the NHL. You may call it rationalization but I call it dedication to the Quest for 400!
Sunday will see me visiting the Powerade Centre in Brampton, home of the OHL's Battalion who are playing their last season before moving to North Bay. A CHL team is scheduled to begin play there next season. Yes, that is the league with the team in Allen, Texas. Lots of long road trips for those guys next season. Anyway, check back next week for all the updates.