David Lee makes triumphant MSG return
Warriors forward gets best of Stoudemire, former team in the Garden
NEW YORK -- It would be an injustice to describe it as anything other than a triumphant return to Madison Square Garden for David Lee, who came up huge down the stretch -- especially from the free throw line, where Amare Stoudemire came up short.
It all happened in the final minute of the Golden State Warriors' 122-117 victory over New York on Wednesday, a night when the Knicks came all the way back from a 19-point deficit and took the lead with less than 3 minutes remaining.
It was bad enough for the Knicks when they failed to convert three consecutive shots, two of which came off offensive rebounds, as they trailed 114-113 with the clock inside 2 minutes. After the third miss, Dorell Wright had his layup blocked at the other end by newly reinstalled starter Wilson Chandler, but Wright grabbed the rebound and put the ball right back in to make it a three-point game.[+] EnlargeJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty ImagesDavid Lee posted a season-high 28 points in his return to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
Stoudemire, who scored 13 of his 33 points in the final quarter, went to the foul line with 49.4 seconds left and a chance to cut the lead to one. He had been 14-for-14 to that point but he missed them both, and Lee made one of two from the line for a four-point lead with 28.1 seconds left.
Stoudemire made things interesting by sinking a 3-pointer with 12.5 seconds left to cut the Knicks' deficit to one, but Monta Ellis made two free throws, Chandler missed a 3-pointer and Lee corralled the game's final rebound with 1.5 seconds left to complete a double-double of 28 points and 10 rebounds.
The Warriors won consecutive road games for the first time since 2008-09, while the Knicks dropped their third in a row as they head into a stretch in which they will play five of their next six games on the road.
"I haven't been on a winning team since college, so going to games now, it's amazing," said Lee, who was demonstrative throughout the evening -- and physical, too. At one point he chipped a piece off one of Chandler's teeth with an elbow. "By no means was it miserable here. Losing is never fun, but the crowds here, the media, the coaches, I really did enjoy my time here. And if I didn't enjoy it I'd let you guys know that. It was an unbelievable five years, and my girlfriend still wakes up every day and wonders what the temperature is in New York."
Lee never wanted to leave the Knicks, but the feeling was not mutual.
He was a victim of circumstances, a player who did everything the team asked of him during a five-year stretch in which they failed to make the playoffs every single year and never won more than 33 games. The feeling among management was that the team was just as well off moving forward without him as it would be trying to move forward with him.
"I heard about just about every scenario possible, and I think every single one of them was 'You're gone.' I had a pretty good idea toward the last 15 games of the season that it was going to be a tough scenario to come back," said Lee, who was traded to Golden State in a sign-and-trade deal for Ronny Turiaf, Anthony Randolph and Kelenna Azubuike.
"I love it here in New York, but I'm very happy with the way this turned out because I'm very happy with situation we have in Golden State," Lee said. "Now if we were coming in here 1-6 or 1-7 and guys were fighting in the locker room, I'd probably say 'Hey man, is there any way I can come back and play for free or something?' But it's a great situation, there's unbelievable team chemistry, a great new coaching staff, great new energy, and it's something I'm happy to be a part of."
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Actually, Lee could see what was coming for more than the final 15 games of last season.
The writing was on the wall when the Knicks made it known in 2008 that the summer of 2010 would be all about the pursuit of LeBron James, and when they committed $99 million to Stoudemire a couple of days before James announced his decision to play for Miami, Lee knew his days in New York were done.
And according to Lee, one of his former teammates is probably feeling some of the same thoughts he felt a year ago.
"No hard feelings. This is a business. [Danilo] Gallinari was the first guy they drafted, and Gallinari was the guy they promoted from day one as this kind of new regime, and now there's a chance to get to Carmelo [Anthony] and his name is coming out in it, and Gallo said it best at halftime of that Chicago game -- he said 'Hey, it's not personal, it's the way the NBA works.'
"Every team is trying to get better. And that's what the Knicks did in the offseason: They made a run at LeBron and tried to get better. So there's no hard feelings there, just like there should be no hard feelings with Gallo. It's the way the NBA works, and it's the way New York works. Whether it's Knicks or Yankees, there's constantly going to be change, and the dollar amount is not really the issue, it's finding the best guys that they can get to come here and deal with the pressure here."
The Knicks gave him a warm welcome back, playing a highlight tape during the first timeout of the game (years ago, when Charles Oakley returned as a member of the Raptors, his highlight tape was played while the teams were in the locker room at halftime) and giving him the "Once a Knick, Always a Knick" treatment on the public address system (can't imagine they'd do the same for Latrell Sprewell if he ever showed his face in this building again).
The fans gave Lee a standing ovation, and then coach Keith Smart inexplicably gave him a seat on the bench for a large stretch of the fourth quarter -- even inserting Vladimir Radmanovic as the sub for Andris Biedrins, who was defending Stoudemire -- as the Knicks mounted their comeback and eventually took the lead.
But then came the final minute, and the player making the biggest plays was Lee, not Stoudemire.
And when Lee left the building, he got aboard the bus of a winning team -- something he rarely got to do in New York. He certainly seemed happy and content before the game and during it, and there was no doubt he was feeling the same way after.
Stoudemire? He got to feel what Lee felt a total of 270 times during his half decade in New York -- the sting of defeat.
Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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