The Natrix very nearly died in its infancy over the past three weeks. On Halloween night, Nate Robinson severely sprained his right ankle against the 76ers and left the Garden on crutches. (He blamed the injury on being "caught wearing low-tops.") Upon his return two weeks later, his play and his playing time began a steady slide. He shot three-for-nine with four turnovers in 23 minutes in a loss to Golden State, then one-for-four in twelve minutes against Indiana last Wednesday. With the Knicks front office batting their eyelids at Allen Iverson, Nate's days as the team's go-to undersize scoring guard seemed set to expire. Matters hit rock bottom on Saturday against the Nets, when, apparently just for giggles, Nate tossed in a three-pointer at the wrong basket as the clock ran out in the first quarter. The shot didn't count, but Mike D'Antoni was hotter than coal tar on an August afternoon (he's from West Virginia; we assume this is how he talks), and Nate played only three minutes the rest of the way. Then, yesterday afternoon against the Celtics, the clouds parted.
Nate entered with five minutes to go in the first quarter and immediately provided a jolt to a so-far sleepy game. By quarter's end he had grabbed an offensive board, assisted Al Harrington on a three, and hit a pair of jump shots. And he was just getting started. Nate began the second quarter with a boneheaded foul on an Eddie House three-point attempt, but proceeded, in the course of a twelve-point Knicks comeback, to streak for a transition layup, hit another pair of pull-up jumpers (the second from a good three feet behind the three-point line), and make a spectacular block from behind on a Ray Allen layup. He had to make the block because he had been caught out of position, but still. Defense!
Nate didn't play for much of the third, but he did cap another Knicks comeback with a three at the end of the quarter. In the fourth he made yet another three to put the Knicks up seven, and yet another spectacular block on a driving layup, this time from Rajon Rondo. "Jubilation by Nate," exclaimed Clyde. "He feels emancipated this afternoon." Mike Breen, for his part, suggested that Nate's play might be explained by the presence of Will Ferrell, who was seated in the front shooting a scene for the upcoming The Other Guys with Mark Wahlberg. Nate, you see, is a big fan of Ferrell and his "shake and bake" catchphrase, and the last time Ferrell was in town, Nate scored 41 points against Indiana.
The Knicks, of course, would go on to lose the game in overtime, during which Nate was mostly invisible, but all in all it was a good showing. As much fun as it can be to watch Nate score 40, this is really the best use of him: bursts of scoring punch off the bench. D'Antoni didn't allow Nate to try to take over the game at the close of the fourth quarter or overtime. And, the two blocks aside, he was still a liability on defense.
But he generally passed when he should have passed, shot when he should have shot, and made hustle plays. Indeed, we were surprised to find in the box score this morning that the Knicks were minus one while he was on the floor — but, then again, the Knicks are usually minus something.
The final tallies:
Spectacularity 7 out of 10
Nate the Greatness 7 out of 10
Spectacularity 8 out of 10
Nate the Greatness 1 out of 10