Bad apples

More on the brawl: Counterpunch to the Commish

Beyond the sucker punches and sorry stunts at Madison Square Garden on Saturday came the most pathetic part of all for the NBA – Isiah Thomas whining about run-up scores and poor sportsmanship, like the once proud New York Knicks are nothing but a lowly college mid-major in need of mercy.

Just when you thought Zeke couldn't embarrass this franchise any worse, just when you thought he couldn't let down this city any more, just when you thought building and coaching a dog team wasn't enough, there is this: a whiny coach making excuses for dirty fouls and poser players.

Oh, there were all sorts of people at fault when the Knicks and Denver Nuggets decided Saturday night was all right for fighting, and David Stern will certainly hammer them the way he did Detroit and Indiana for their brawl in Auburn Hills. Carmelo Anthony is going to sit his 31.6-point scoring average for a long time.

Isiah Thomas isn't the only one in the wrong here. But his postgame press conference performance was the most disappointing, if telling, of them all. He blamed Denver's perceived running up of the score, complete with a highlight reel dunk, as simply too much for his humble guys to handle.

"Up 19 with a minute and a half to go, (Carmelo Anthony) and (Marcus) Camby really shouldn't be in the game," Thomas said. "We had surrendered. (Those) guys shouldn't even be in the game at that point."

Thomas is correct about this much. The Nuggets were brutalizing the Knicks on their home court, 119-100 with 1:15 remaining, making a mockery of Thomas' salary rich club. And yes, stars Anthony and Camby were still in the game, maybe even because Denver coach George Karl wanted to hit up Thomas for firing Larry Brown, Karl's old University of North Carolina buddy.

Whether or not Thomas told Mardy Collins to exact some revenge by tackling a breaking J.R. Smith around the neck is something Stern will decide. But Thomas may not have had to say anything. The boorish play might simply be Collins responding to his coach's unspoken outrage at the injustice of once again having his team get its ass kicked.

It's certainly telling that Collins did nearly the same thing – a late flagrant foul – in Indiana's beat down of the Knicks on Friday. So that's back-to-back flagrant fouls in back-to-back blowout losses for New York.

But those are Isiah's Knicks. This is on him. If he had an ounce of self-respect, he'd realize there is only one person to blame for this disaster and it isn't George Karl for his substitution pattern.

Instead, he went with some sad, victim routine.

"They were having their way with us," Thomas said. "I think J.R. Smith had just made one dunk when he reversed and spun in the air. And I think Mardy didn't want our home crowd to see that again. So he fouled him."

Said Nate Robinson: "It's like a slap in the face, saying we're going to embarrass you like that."

Boy, thank goodness the NBA has a coach and a player willing to stand up for sportsmanship like these two.

We know a respectful sort such as Robinson would never, ever show up an opponent by, say, bounce-passing a ball off the backboard to himself so he could dunk it. And we know if, say, such a thing happened on his watch, say Nov. 29 in Cleveland, Thomas would never, ever leave Robinson in the game like it was completely acceptable.

Of course not. Not these virtuous souls.

"If we're up 20 points, we're not going to play Stephon (Marbury) and Eddy (Curry)," Robinson said.

Of course not, because if the Knicks were up 20, Robinson would just honor his fallen opponent. Like when he botched that ESPY-campaign self-alley-oop and claimed humbly, "I won't be trying it again unless we're up by 20."

The good news is the Knicks aren't getting up 20 on anyone anytime soon.

If Robinson really wants this to end, if he wants the MSG boos silenced, then he should get his teammates to compete hard the first 46 minutes, not just foul hard in the final two.

If Thomas wants to stop people from running up the score on him, then he should have built a better club. He shouldn't have wasted all that money on illogical signings, outrageous trades and heartless characters.

No, Thomas and his guys weren't the only ones in the wrong Saturday. The Nuggets have their own issues. But when it was over, at least they weren't crying, at least they weren't punking.

It's all gone in New York now – the pride, the respect, the dignity. This isn't just a bad team; this is a bad act. A once proud franchise and fan base brought to its knees as its pathetic coach makes excuses and whines for mercy.