There's a sign on the top left-hand corner of the whiteboard in the New York Knicks locker room that reads: "Play Hard, Play Smart, Play Together, Have Fun." Today at The Garden, as the Knicks began falling back into some of their old habits, they proved why having a deep team is essential in today's NBA, and that playing together is vital to their success. Things quickly started unraveling for the Knicks towards the end of a first quarter in which they'd seen a 21-6 lead evaporate as Phoenix went on a 14-3 run late in the term, then, just 85-seconds after he'd entered the game, Rasheed Wallace was given his second technical and ejected.
With nowhere else to go – Marcus Camby didn't dress, and both Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony in early foul trouble – coach Mike Woodson looked towards the end of his bench for help, and rookie Chris Copeland delivered.
Copeland came out aggressive, active on both ends of the floor. The 28-year old looked for his shot – to help spark a flagging offense for New York – but was also active defensively, forcing a steal just seconds after a made jump shot. Copeland said he was just merely playing his natural game, it's a case of staying ready so he doesn't have to get ready.
"I've always been pretty aggressive as far as scoring is concerned," said Copeland, who finished with career highs in all statistical categories, 8 points (4/5 FG), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and a block. "I tried to play hard on defense, get a steal here and there. Just whatever play presents itself, I'll try to make it."
Copeland's hustle helped the Knicks steady the ship, and extend a mere four-point lead at quarter time to a comfortable 17-point cushion at the half. The effort did not go unnoticed by Woodson who explained his decision not play 'Cope' at all in the second-half during his post-game press conference.
"I think our team is deep. I feel good about everybody in that uniform," said Woodson. "Cope came in and stepped up, he helped us in the first half and then I rode the starters pretty much the second half all the way. I started Novak in the third because I was looking for shooting at that particular time and we were thin [in terms of bigs], so I gave Kurt [Thomas] a chance to come in and back-up Tyson [Chandler] and that worked out, I thought.
"But when I took Melo out we were up 20 and they made another run, so I had to come back with Melo."
With play like today Copeland will endear himself to the faithful of Madison Square Garden who respect the blue-collar guys who step up when their number is called. For his part, Copeland says playing at MSG is a thrill, especially when the crowd roars like they did after his soaring put-back dunk of a missed Anthony three-pointer.
"There's nothing like MSG. You know I dreamed of playing in a place like this," remarked Copeland. "That [hearing the crowd] was an amazing feeling, something I'll remember forever. Hopefully we'll have a lot more better moments to come, but that was a special feeling."
Defensive anchor Tyson Chandler noted Copeland's contribution in helping the Knicks maintain their unbeaten record at home.
"He did a great job of coming in and bringing a spark. Copeland is a great offensive player, that's what I'm saying by how deep we are," maintained Chandler. "We have guys like Copeland who doesn't get many minutes, but can definitely contribute."
Even amongst all the praise, Chandler was still adamant that the pink backpack Copeland has been carrying around is here to stay for the season, despite the break-out performance from the rookie.
"Absolutely. He's gonna have to wear it all year."
Some things may not change, but today Copeland made sure that his name was known for more than just the pink backpack.