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NEW YORK -- The moment Amare Stoudemire plopped down on the padded seat at his locker to give an explanation for this loss, a protein shake that had been placed on the edge of that seat bounced up and spilled over, the contents landing inside and atop Stoudemire's traveling shoes.
He was asked: Were the shoes ruined?
Why not just travel to Detroit wearing a different set of footwear, such as the game sneakers that were sitting atop his locker?
"That's against basketball religion," Stoudemire replied.
|Amare Stoudemire had good numbers on Saturday (24 points, 10 rebounds), but that wasn't enough against Atlanta.|
The basketball gods were not kind to Stoudemire's shoes or his team's fortunes Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, as the Knicks' five-game winning streak came to a sluggish end in a 99-90 loss to the Atlanta Hawks that represented the Knicks' lowest scoring output since Nov. 9.
The Knicks were brutal when the game began; they were booed as the fourth quarter ended; they were mediocre at best during the time in between.
"We've got to be mentally ready for these early games, and we weren't," Stoudemire said. "We didn't come out from the start with energy, we had to fight so hard to get back into it, but the Hawks had the confidence and momentum, and it's hard to beat a team when they're feeling that good."
The Hawks were the first team with a winning record playing at full strength that the Knicks had seen since David Lee and the Golden State Warriors came through town 17 days earlier, and the steady diet of cupcakes the Knicks had been feeding on -- the five-game win streak came against Golden State (without Lee), Sacramento, the L.A. Clippers and Charlotte (twice) -- finally caught up with them.
The Knicks were lethargic from the get-go, dreadful from behind the arc and didn't get a meaningful lift from anyone as they dropped back below .500 and underwent a reality check as to where they stand in relation to the better teams in the NBA.
Atlanta led by as many as 20 before the Knicks cut their deficit to four early in the fourth quarter. But Jamal Crawford hit a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound, Wilson Chandler missed a 3, and Al Horford scored on Atlanta's next two possessions to make it an 11-point game. After New York again got within seven, Crawford closed them out with a long 2-pointer, a transition jumper and the last of his three 3-pointers to push the lead to 15 with just under five minutes left.
"It was like we played the first 10 games," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I think the whole game came down to when we came out we had no pop, we didn't get into people, didn't push the tempo, got way behind and paid for it.
"Whether it was Thanksgiving or whatever, we weren't as mentally engaged as we should have been. Hopefully we solve that for tomorrow."
Tomorrow (Sunday) brings the rarity of the second end of a back-to-back pair of matinee games, this one coming in Detroit against a Pistons team that has won four of its past five at home -- the loss coming to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Whether Saturday's game was merely an aberration or an actual regression, it was a sign of how fragile the Knicks' chemistry can appear as they continue to acclimate themselves to each other while closing in on the 20-game mark, a.k.a. the quarter-pole in an 82-game NBA season.
Through 17 games, they've shown they are at their best when they push the tempo, get the score into the 100s and feed off their 3-point shooting -- none of which happened against the Hawks.
Danilo Gallinari logged only 23 minutes and shot 2-for-6, while Toney Douglas -- who had made 11 3-pointers over the Knicks' previous three games -- went 0-for-5 from the field with his first four misses coming from 3-point range, where the Knicks were just 4-for-15 overall. Stoudemire, who aggravated a twisted ankle, had 24 points and 10 rebounds but turned the ball over four times. Also, starting center Ronny Turiaf couldn't keep going on a sore knee and took himself out of the game just over three minutes into the second half.
"It's a long season, and looking back on it, a lot of guys took off for Thanksgiving, and we were feeling good about ourselves, and we just didn't quite get it ready for a 1 o'clock game,' D'Antoni said. "A lot of little things mounted up and we couldn't overcome them, but again, tomorrow's another game and we need to go out and cure our ills."
For Sunday, that means having everything in its proper place, mentally and physically, when it comes time to get down to business.
And for Stoudemire -- and his traveling shoes -- that was a lesson learned the hard way Saturday when the Knicks knocked over and spilled all the good vibes they had built up over the past week and a half.
Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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