Marv Albert had the perfect word for this.
He would call it “gar-BAHGE.”
Usually, that was simply a reference to the final portion of a blowout, when the professional equivalents of walk-ons were summoned to the scorer’s table, when they’d spend their rare and valuable minutes trying to chuck up as many shots as they could, barely breathing on each other much less guarding one another.
It was awful on the ears and worse on the eyes, those who would still keep the dial on the radio station and the TV network, and Marv would give a French twist to it, turn to Cal Ramsey or Butch Beard or John Andariese or Clyde Frazier.
“Gar-BAHGE time,” he’d say.
Yeah. This was garbage. This was a game grafted out of too many nights the past 20 years, when the effort was lacking, the defense was a rumor, the execution laughable. The difference was, a lot of the past coaches who would absorb this 119-93 loss to the Spurs on their permanent record — David Fizdale, Jeff Hornacek, Derek Fisher, Don Chaney, name one — would sit quietly and helplessly on the bench as the garbage fermented around them.
Tom Thibodeau, he doesn’t sit quietly on benches.
This coach doesn’t passively allow blowouts like the 140-121 pasting the Knicks laid on the Kings last week to pass by in silence, so he was certainly not going to sit idly by as the Spurs hammered the Knicks, humbled them, humiliated them, dragged them back down to sea level, back down to .500 at 18-18 at the official halfway mark of the season.
“You get,” Thibodeau said icily, “what you deserve.”
One game doesn’t cancel what’s come before. If you were smart, as most discriminating Knicks fans tend to be, you sensed where this was headed early in the third quarter, when the Knicks stopped defending anyone and the Spurs took advantage by looking like they’d smuggled Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan back onto the roster for a night.
Maybe you sensed where it was going in the space of seven-tenths of a second. That’s how much time was left in the first half — after the officials reversed an earlier call and didn’t simply let the half end with the Spurs up a point. Somehow the Knicks lost track of Patty Mills, who found himself alone in the corner.
Seven-tenths of a second is plenty of time for an expert marksman like Mills to catch, settle and fire. Mills caught, settled and fired. A one-point game was a four-point game.
The word “harbinger” was invented for moments just like that.
And the word “gar-BAHGE” was invented for what followed.
Remote controls were, too.
Thibodeau, of course, isn’t exactly known for euphemistic speech. Even after wins he looks like a man in need of a pint glass of Pepto-Bismol, so he wasn’t going to mince his words.
“We didn’t play our best,” Thibodeau said, leading with a generous dose of irony, “and when you’re on the road you’ve got to play well for 48 minutes. We didn’t do that.”
But even as he lamented, he turned the page. Because you have to. Because dwelling on garbage doesn’t make the garbage disappear, no matter how you pronounce it..
“It’s a prideful group,” he said. “We’re disappointed with the way we played. We’ll make some corrections. We’ll be ready to play [Thursday, against the Pistons at the Garden].”
Thibodeau isn’t blind, and he isn’t naïve, and he isn’t stupid. He knew exactly what he was signing up for when he took this job. He had to know that there were going to be nights like this one on the schedule; most everyone else in creation expected far more of them than they’ve had.
But Thibodeau has created an unspoken understanding with these players, a professional compact that goes something like this: I believe you are better than the rest of the world does, and I will coach you accordingly. But I will also react appropriately when you fall prey to low expectations. That’s the fee for the coach’s confidence. That’s the cost.
Another New York coach once put it this way: “No medals for trying.” This New York coach would certainly subscribe to those four words, and maybe add his own twist to it: you get what you deserve. And some nights what you deserve is a trip to the garbage dump.