New York Knicks Fans Again at the Center of the Storm After Pelicans Player Essentially Thanks Them for Their Help

Jan. 20 brought another game and another loss for the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. On Jan. 20, the New Orleans Pelicans handed the Knicks a 102–91 loss at MSG. That dropped them to 11–14 in the so-called Mecca of basketball. New York is 11–10 on the road. Add it up, and it’s a squad that’s a game behind the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors out of the play-in tournament race.

The Pelicans improved to 17–28 with the win. Afterward, the Madison Square Garden crowd was part of the story. This season it’s becoming a regular occurrence between strange chants and angering the players for whom they’re supposedly rooting.

Comments from one New Orleans player after the win hit particularly close to home, though.

New York Knicks fans are notoriously demanding

Fans of the New York Knicks are hungry for a winner, but their boos on Jan. 20 were appreciated by the visiting New Orleans Pelicans.
Fans of the New York Knicks are hungry for a winner, but their boos on Jan. 20 were appreciated by the visiting New Orleans Pelicans. | Elsa/Getty Images

The New York Knicks enjoyed some success in the early 1970s, winning the franchise’s only titles in 1970 and 1973. From 1988–2001, the club made 14 consecutive playoff appearances, including a pair of trips to the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999.

Since then, however, it’s been mostly misery. The front office regimes of Isiah Thomas and Phil Jackson were disastrous, and New York had made only five playoff appearances since 2002. The Knicks won their lone series in that span in 2013.

Last season brought new hope to Gotham. Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau and Most Improved Player Julius Randle led the team to a 41–31 record and a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference. In his first postseason appearance, Randle flopped, and the Atlanta Hawks advanced in five games.

This season, Knicks fans made the “bing-bong” sound of opening subway doors a rallying cry. Randle got so disenchanted by booing fans he channeled his internal New York Met and gave them a thumbs-down sign.

The Knicks play worse at home than they do on the road. In 25 games at MSG, New York has a net rating of minus-1.7. On the road, the net rating is minus-0.2. The offense scores at a rate of 108.8 points per 100 possessions as the visiting team. But in front of the home fans, the rating is 107.9. New York’s defense is slightly worse (109.6) at home than on the road (109.0).

The fans are restless. But opponents are finding solace in their displeasure.

Josh Hart said it felt like the Pelicans were playing ‘6-on-5’

After halftime, New Orleans took control with a huge surge out of the locker room. In the third period, the Pelicans outscored the Knicks 35–15 and took an 81–57 lead into the quarter break.

The Knicks made the final margin closer, but the only time they got the margin into single digits came with 36.7 seconds left. Quentin Grimes’ 3-pointer made it a 100–91 game and was primarily window dressing.

According to The Associated Press, New Orleans guard Josh Hart said his team got help from the home crowd.

“It was really like 6-on-5 out there because they were frustrated and missing shots,” Hart said. “The crowd was frustrated, so they were booing them and giving us fuel. Usually, on the road, the only guys you have are those in our locker room. I’m not saying the fans were on our side, but they weren’t on their side either.”

Knicks fans want a winner, and after almost 50 years since the team’s last championship, who can blame them? But Hart’s comments illustrate that there’s a fine line between tough love and harming the ballclub.

The New York Knicks aren’t the only team in the city struggling at home

Playing better on the road than at home isn’t exclusive to the New York Knicks. It’s not even the lone case of the phenomenon in their own city.

The Brooklyn Nets are 16-5 on the road and just 12–11 at Barclays Center. It’s to the point where one ESPN commentator suggested the Nets play for a fifth (or worse) seed.

It seems the key to winning in New York is playing in another city. But unlike Brooklyn, the Knicks haven’t always struggled to win at Madison Square Garden.

Last season, New York was 25–11 at home. In the last pre-pandemic season in 2018–19, when the Knicks won only 17 games, nine of the wins were at MSG.

The team is 0–3 on its current homestand. After hosting the Clippers on Jan. 23, the Knicks play eight of their next 10 on the road.

Maybe that will give them a chance to get some momentum as they struggle to reach the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 2011–13.

There is one thing the New York Knicks can do to reverse their fortunes at home. But to get the crowd back on their side, they must play better first. It’s the only way to win over fans in a New York state of mind.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com.

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