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NEW YORK POST
Guards' Garden Party
20 December 2004
CARLOS Arroyo felt like he was at home even though he was in an opposing gym. The Puerto Rico native was the inspiration for what was billed as "Una Tarde de Ritmo" yesterday at the Garden where the Knicks met Arroyo's Utah Jazz in an afternoon game.
"Una Tarde de Ritmo" translated means "An Afternoonof Rhythm," and was intended to celebrate Latino pride. Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion sang the U.S. national anthem, the concession stands offered traditional Caribbean and Mexican fast foods and a group called La India backed by an energetic ensemble of meringue dancers provided the halftime entertainment.
"You don't hear a lot of meringue played at NBA games, especially in Utah," Arroyo would say. "I feel like I'm at home in New York. A lot Latinos come out and they make themselves noticed. It's a good thing."
While the Knicks City Dancers and the Knicks City Kids added to the theme by performing to Latin music, the day's best rhythm came from the Knicks backcourt tandem of Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford though Arroyo did his best to interrupt their flow.
Battling an ankle injury that has kept him in and out of the lineup, Arroyo went mano-a-mano with Marbury down the stretch after the score was tied 83-83 with 3:49 remaining.
After an exchange of misses and turnovers, Marbury drove hard to the basket, drew a foul from Arroyo and converted a three-point play that gave the Knicks the lead for good at 86-83. On the Utah's next possession, Crawford swiped an Arroyo pass, collecting a turnover that resulted in an 18-foot jumper by Tim Thomas to put the Knicks up 88-86.
Arroyo, who finished with nine points, would score Utah's next four on a driving lay-up and two free throws, but with Marbury and Crawford teaming for the Knicks' final six points, the Jazz wound up 94-93 losers.
It was a better outcome for Marbury than the first round of the Olympics in Athens where Arroyo outscored him 26-2 and led Puerto Rico to an upset victory over the Americans. Puerto Rico went on to a sixth-place finish, but the win over the United States prompted a hero's welcome when Arroyo returned to Puerto Rico.
"It was like a party back home," Arroyo said. "It was like when Tito (Trinidad) beat (Oscar) De La Hoya. We let the world know that basketball in Puerto Rico is improving. We made history that night."
Basketball at the Garden is improving, too. Crawford's erratic jumper hurt the Knicks in a 94-93 loss to the Pistons Wednesday, but he showed more poise and patience yesterday, giving up the ball when the shots weren't there and also converting a four-point play and another three-pointer to kept the Knicks close.
"He kept his flow," coach Lenny Wilkens said of Crawford. "Three or four nights ago he would have tried to get it all back right away."
Give Marbury credit. It would be easy for him to put the game on his shoulders, but the maturing point guard understands developing Crawford's game and mental toughness is best for the Knicks future. "If he's not put in that situation, he's not able to learn," Marbury said.
The Knicks, two games above .500 for the first time in three years, feel good about themselves. For Arroyo, there is frustration. The Jazz lost for the 10th time in 12 games. Recently, Arroyo has been coming off the bench. He'd rather be a starter.
"The lineup's been changing a lot," he said. "As long as I'm playing, I'll be all right."
Same for Marbury, Crawford and the Knicks.