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NEW YORK -- Amare Stoudemire had to grab the $100 million, of course he did. He had to act like he was all for a reunion with Mike D'Antoni, the two of them breaking bread and dismissing old grudges in seven summertime seconds or less.
Stoudemire has nothing to apologize for. He wanted his big score, and the New York Knicks were desperate enough to pay him more than any other free-agent buyer would.
To his credit, Stoudemire has swallowed the Big Apple whole, embracing the same franchise-elevating burdens LeBron James fled and assuming the role of good corporate citizen from here to Jerusalem.
|Amare Stoudemire had 18 points with 10 minutes to play, and he finished with ... 18 points.|
But Stoudemire sacrificed something in the transaction, something that will tug on his conscience in the small hours of night. He gave up his quarterback while running his fly pattern to Broadway, and Saturday night he might've been willing to trade a year of guaranteed wages to share one last huddle with the man who always got him the ball.
Steve Nash would've made Stoudemire a winner on opening night in the Garden, and that's no knock on Raymond Felton, a point guard out of smalltown South Carolina with all the herky-jerky moves expected from a playmaker out of Brooklyn.
Felton gets to the basket better than Nash ever did. "He's a bulldog out there," Stoudemire said. A bulldog who made a reverse layup off a left-handed drive and spin move near the baseline to give the Knicks a six-point lead over the Portland Trail Blazers with just more than six minutes left, a move that would have broken both of Nash's ankles and torn a few ligaments to boot.
Felton finished with 16 points, five assists and five rebounds and played the kind of in-your-face defense Nash couldn't or wouldn't play. And yet likening the Knicks' point guard to the Phoenix Suns' point guard is tantamount to likening Eli Manning to Peyton.
Like Eli, Felton is a good quarterback capable of excellence, just not on a consistent basis. Like Peyton, Nash is a visionary, an athlete forever seeing the field one frame ahead of everyone else.
So those five assists Felton had against the Blazers? Nash would've turned those into 15, complete with a few alleys for Stoudemire's oops.
In the deciding sequences of Portland's 100-95 victory, the Blazers surrounded Stoudemire with taller and longer willow trees the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby. The lane was so clogged with Blazers, it appeared Nate McMillan had pulled Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla out of street clothes and Bill Walton out of retirement.
"It's tough for me and Amare to build chemistry," Felton said, "because every time I come off the pick and roll the whole team is sucking in on him. ... It's not like it was in Phoenix, when he was able to get that easy pocket pass."
|Yes, Raymond Felton, you wear uniform No. 2.|
Now get the ball to the big fella who wears No. 1.
That easy pocket pass from Steve Nash.
"I'm not trying to match [anybody]," Felton said. "I am who I am. Steve Nash is who he is. I'm not trying to match anything he did. I'm just trying to build chemistry with Amare so we can make things work here."
It didn't work with Stoudemire in the Garden, not when the Knicks' $100 million man had 18 points with 9:53 left, and finished with that same 18 points.
The Knicks blew a nine-point lead with five minutes and change to play. Felton either got the ball to Stoudemire in the wrong places, or couldn't get him the ball at all. With the Knicks down one in the closing seconds, Felton came off a pick and made a daring dash into the lane.
Camby and Nicolas Batum raced over to challenge, Felton failed to see any open windows to Stoudemire, and the potential go-ahead layup became a contest to see which Portland big would get credited with the block (the stat sheet said Camby, the replay said Batum).
On the next frantic trip down, Blazers up two, Stoudemire kept the game in his hands. He drove hard down the left side of the lane, only to have Camby swat the ball off his thigh and out of bounds with 6.5 seconds to go.
"They did a good job of mixing it up with the zone," Stoudemire said of the final five minutes. "That threw us off a little bit. ... We didn't recognize it quickly enough, and that had us stagnant."
Of course, it's the quarterback's job to recognize the defense and, ultimately, to slice and dice it. Of course, Felton's task would've been made easier if Danilo Gallinari didn't pull another disappearing act before Carmelo Anthony makes him disappear for good.
But Felton's own inability to consistently make the open jumper at a Nash-like rate hurt his cause on the pick-and-roll front.
"He's one of the best in the league at running the screen and roll and making the right plays and making the good pocket passes to Amare when he's there," Felton said of Nash.
"I definitely watched them and watched what [Nash] did. You definitely try to learn from them. At the same time, I've still got to play my game. Steve Nash did it his way, I've got to do it mine. ... Once we start hitting more outside jumpers, then those passes will be there."
The Knicks missed 21 of 28 3-point attempts, no way to make Amare's home debut one to remember. Yes, the point guard could've helped him more. Asked if he felt he could build the kind of relationship with Felton he had with Nash, Stoudemire said, "Yeah, I think we can. We just have to keep working at it. There has to be a little more pace to it, and really, really attack them on the screen and rolls."
It's not that simple. There are only so many Steve Nashes on the planet, and the Knicks won't get their hands on Chris Paul or Deron Williams for two years.
Between now and then, Stoudemire will make the best of it with Felton, and deal with the consequences of running his fly pattern from Nash.
Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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