The Return of the Real Tyson Chandler
The end of last season – a bitterly disappointing defeat in Indiana, which eliminated New York from the playoffs – left a terrible taste in the mouths of all Knickerbockers, but it is likely no player took it more personally than Tyson Chandler.
Chandler was shockingly and thoroughly outplayed by Pacers center Roy Hibbert, as Indiana steamrolled past New York and into the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite dealing with a nagging neck injury and a bout with the flu that had sapped his energy and left him 10 pounds under his ideal playing weight, Chandler did not make excuses back in May.
Yet, the first time he had an opportunity to address reporters this season (back on Media Day prior to the start of training camp), Chandler let it be known that last season’s embarrassment would be fuel for this season’s fire.
“I vowed to myself I would never let that happen again,” Chandler said. “I would never let my team down and be in that situation again.”
A proud former champion, Chandler explained that his disappointing postseason play had gnawed at him all summer.
“I’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Chandler said. “My job is to stop whoever is in front of me and outplay them, no matter who it is. I’ve got to look at it like motivation, like I got my ass kicked. So next time I’m not going to let that happen.’’
After the Knicks raced out to a 25-point halftime lead in their 2013-14 season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, it appeared as if the Knicks would be able to coast to an early-season victory. However, the Bucks eventually came all the way back late in the fourth quarter.
However, when New York desperately needed stops to stem the Bucks surge, it was Chandler that protected the paint and swatted away shot after shot. On the offensive end, he aggressively attacked the rim and finished numerous Knicks possessions with thunderous dunks. In the end, the Knicks walked away with a 90-83 victory.
After the game, players and coaches alike affirmed it was the defiant man in the middle that made all the difference on this night.
“I thought we made every defensive play we needed to make,” head coach Mike Woodson said. “Tyson was huge coming down the stretch, with the blocks and finishing at the rim. We had to have that to secure the win.”
“I just wanted to play with energy,” Chandler said after the game. “At that point, I knew my team needed something on both ends. I was trying to provide big plays.”
Chandler finished the game with 10 points (shooting 5-of-7 from the floor), six rebounds and five blocks. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, no New York player had shot at least 70 percent from the floor and blocked at least five shots in a game since Dikembe Mutombo (87.5 percent, eight blocks) against the Chicago Bulls on January 2, 2004.
Still, it certainly wasn’t box score numbers that mattered most. It was the energy he supplied; the chest-pounding, emphatic swats and rim-rattling dunks that electrify The Garden. Opening night marked the return of the fiery and ferocious Tyson Chandler that Knicks fans had grown to love, yet had been AWOL during the second half of the 2012-13 season.
Seemingly close to 100 percent healthy for the first time in a long time, Chandler was flying all over the floor on Wednesday night. When Knicks perimeter defenders know they have Chandler lying in wait to clean up their mistakes, they can be far more aggressive up top. This was on display in the first game, as the guards pressured their Milwaukee counterparts 94-feet for much of the evening, and aggressively overplayed passing lanes. By the time the final buzzer had sounded, New York had forced a remarkable 23 turnovers.
When Chandler is at the top of his game, he is undoubtedly one of the game’s most dominant defenders. Knicks fans know this from first hand experience.
During his first season in a New York uniform, back in 2011-12, Chandler became the first Knick in franchise history to take home the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. It wasn’t a coincidence that the Knicks, as a team, finished fifth in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency that year.
Last season, with a sluggish Chandler far from healthy, the Knicks slipped all the way to 18th overall in the defensive efficiency rankings.
Simply put, it is impossible to overstate the importance of Chandler when discussing the short-term and long-term future of the New York Knicks. With a healthy and dominating Chandler patrolling the middle, the Knicks have a much-needed defensive anchor that allows them to compete with nearly any team in the NBA. Without an able-bodied Chandler, it’s almost impossible to envision New York advancing past the second round of the playoffs in the East, or even getting there for that matter.
We are still a long way from even thinking about the postseason, but Tyson Chandler got off to a very strong start on opening night. The question is whether he will be able to stay healthy over the remainder of this season, allowing him to deliver on the promise he made last month.