Wednesday night was a warm-up, a friendly first date between Stoudemire and his adoring new audience at Madison Square Garden. It was a promising start to the relationship between the desperate fan base and the $100 million star.
Stoudemire, who with a big contract and a big proclamation, began fulfilling his vow. He dunked a little, preened a little and smiled a lot, scoring 30 points in his Garden debut, as the , in a preseason game.
It was Stoudemire’s third game in a uniform, but his first in New York. Stoudemire said he was not trying to put on a show — “just playing hard, trying to win” — but he could sense the anticipation in the building, most of it directed at him.
“They’re waiting for a good product on the basketball court,” he said, “and I think so far, so good.”
The crowd roared at his introduction and eagerly anticipated his every move. It took awhile for him to deliver.
His first pass was a turnover, and his first shot was an errant 18-footer. But the crowd swooned as Stoudemire drove hard for an early dunk attempt, and the disappointment was palpable when he was instead fouled at the rim. His first field goal was a jumper. His first dunk did not come until late in the second quarter, on a nifty bounce pass in the lane from Wilson Chandler.
Stoudemire turned on the star power in the third quarter, when he scored 16 points on jump shots and driving layups, drawing fouls on seemingly every close attempt. He finished with an impressive line: 9 for 13 from the field and 12 for 15 from the free-throw line.
Timofey Mozgov made his first start and continued his bid to become the Knicks’ first-string center. He played just 16 minutes but was energetic early on and finished with 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, an assist and 4 fouls.
Stoudemire owned the evening. The referees owned the second quarter.
In a vivid display of the league’s new crackdown on whining, officials handed out four technical fouls in 16 seconds and ejected the ’ . drew the first technical, for yapping at the referee Zach Zarba. Garnett then complained to Kane Fitzgerald, who called two consecutive technicals — an automatic ejection — when Garnett refused to stop. Garnett laughed in disbelief before leaving the court.
Moments later, Mozgov picked up a technical for saying something to the referee Kevin Fehr. Considering Mozgov’s limited English, it was not clear what he might have done to earn the call.
“It was Russian language,” Mozgov said. “I don’t know why technical foul.”
Otherwise, Mozgov enjoyed his debut. He scored the Knicks’ first 4 points on a pair of midrange jumpers, assisted Raymond Felton on a backdoor layup and broke up an alley-oop lob to O’Neal.
Mozgov surely avoided a more bruising N.B.A. introduction when the Celtics’ other O’Neal (Shaquille) decided to rest his sore right hip — “my arthritic, 28,000-point-scoring hip,” as he called it. O’Neal is likely to play when the Knicks and Celtics .
Stoudemire may play sparingly over the Knicks’ next four preseason games, in deference to his surgically repaired knee and to his experience. The Knicks play back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday and another set on Tuesday and Wednesday. He could skip a game in each set, or just play a quarter.
“We don’t want to grind him in the dirt,” Coach said. “He’s in great shape, and we’re just trying to be cautious.”
Stoudemire has been durable since having microfracture knee surgery in 2005. But his contract is uninsurable, and the Knicks are taking no chances. They held him out of the world championships over the summer.
Much of the Knicks’ rotation remains in flux with five exhibition games left to play. Mozgov has the edge at center, but D’Antoni could still use Stoudemire there, as he did to open the second half Wednesday.
The Knicks are still waiting for breakout performances from three critical players: Danilo Gallinari, Chandler and Felton. Gallinari again struggled with his shot, going 2 for 8 from the field and finishing with 11 points. Chandler was merely steady, finishing with 13 points and 5 rebounds. Felton, the new point guard, missed 8 of 11 attempts and finished with 7 points and 6 assists.
Asked what he hoped to see by Oct. 22, when the Knicks close out the preseason against the , D’Antoni said, “Hopefully, a better team.”