For Mike D'Antoni, his return to Madison Square Garden – where he coached up until midway through last season – was left with the sting of defeat. Most of the early damage was done by his former star, Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 30-points in just 23-minutes of court time.
It was a rollercoaster of emotions for the coach, beginning with some hugs and handshakes with some of his old troops; but once the introductions were complete, and D'Antoni's name was thoroughly drowned out by booing from the MSG crowd, the former Knick coach was made well aware he was no longer part of the home team.
"Well, after the initial seeing everybody, I think there's a lot of guys on that team that you get close with. When you coach somebody you get close, [so] that was emotional but then after that, it's a ball game," said D'Antoni post-game. "Boos are boos, and I didn't expect anything different."
From the opening tip it was downhill for the Lakers, and D'Antoni. Anthony, the man who supposedly drove the master of the '7-seconds or less' offense out of town, began (almost) single-handedly picking the Lakers defense apart. Melo finished with 22-points in the first quarter alone leaving D'Antoni to praise the forward later on.
"Carmelo was unbelievable in the first quarter. When Melo gets like that, that's Melo. I think he did an unbelievable job," said D'Antoni.
The Lakers did manage to claw their way back from a 26-point deficit in the second quarter, to get within 13 at three-quarter time – Anthony only played a shade over 5-minutes in the third stanza after mildly spraining his ankle – but by that stage the lead would prove insurmountable. As the end of the game drew near, sarcastic chants of 'Mike D'Antoni' rained down from the rafters, the final jab from the fans.
D'Antoni was indifferent to the fans mocking him, of more concern was the Lakers 9th loss in 12 games, and the head starts they appear to be giving opposition teams nightly.
"We have reoccurring themes in the first quarter. In the second half we turned it on, but we have to get out of our slump. We scored enough to get back in the game," said the coach. "We made a run at it. We have a lot of things to work on, transition over, obviously get out of this slump and go forward."
Ironically, the new-model Knicks are playing the type of basketball the Lakers hope to – spreading the floor, moving the ball, and finding the open man – but the blame for the Lakers struggles will be laid on D'Antoni, who has a 4-9 record since taking over.
Star guard Kobe Bryant said that was unfair to the coach who has not had a full complement of players at his disposal.
"It's not fair," Bryant. "It's not. It’s been a huge adjustment for all of us, and we have some figuring out to do. We have some key pieces out. When they come back, we’ll get this thing locked and loaded.”
The strain is already beginning to show on D'Antoni, but for a coach who has now had jobs in the two largest markets in the United States, the pressure is the same, no matter what the situation: "It's the same. It doesn't matter where you coach – you could be a high-school coach, it's the same thing. You got to win," says the coach.
When that will come for Los Angeles is still to be determined.