This was the final night of fake noise at the Garden. And this was also the final night of no Garden boos.
The sound of artificial cheers pumped in by the building’s entertainment staff for 14 Garden games will be replaced by real live voices Tuesday vs. the Warriors.
Now those live voices can cheer as well as jeer.
Which brings us to The Tom Thibodeau Revenge Game Sunday that nearly turned into a disaster, but wound up as a 103-99 razor-close, rather-lucky win.
The fourth-quarter comeback still got Minnesota’s coach Ryan Saunders fired after the game two years and one month since Thibodeau got axed there. The timing was poetic.
Thibodeau’s Knicks built a 21-point lead in the second half but then collapsed. Thibodeau’s former team rallied to take a one-point lead in the final minute. Yes, it’s a good thing Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t lift the fan ban for Sunday’s game because the Knicks would have been booed mercilessly against the NBA’s worst team.
Karl-Anthony Towns, the Minnesota player who had ripped Thibodeau in the past, led the fourth-quarter surge and nearly became the hero. But with 30 seconds left, Towns’ potential game-winning turnaround over ex-Minnesota mate/Thibodeau favorite, Taj Gibson rimmed out. Towns finished with 27 points but finished with another loss.
“I got lucky,’’ Gibson said.
“Ultimately we found a way to win the game,’’ Thibodeau said.
The Knicks victory gave the Knicks a home record of 8-6 before empty seats. Not too shabby considering the basement expectations.
The pandemic doesn’t end Tuesday, but the Garden’s locked doors do. Under Cuomo’s new regulation, the Garden will host 2,000 fans starting with Stephen Curry’s 30-foot 3-point bombs.
It’s been louder at MSG in recent games than when the season started on Dec. 27. Thibodeau, according to sources, likes the fake fan noise. Perhaps he encouraged the Garden to pump up the volume.
When the Knicks were blowing out Minnesota in the second quarter, RJ Barrett knocked a ball away, Alec Burks dove on the floor to corral it and flipped it while prone to Derrick Rose. Rose sprinted upcourt and led Barrett for a breakaway jam.
It was Knicks’ grit personified and an artificial swell of noise erupted, then faded quickly. The fans will decide Tuesday when to stop making noise through their masks.
“Even with the fake noises, it kind of sounds like the way it sounds when I watch it on TV,’’ rookie fan-favorite point guard Immanuel Quickley said. “It’s definitely a buzz even without fans. So I’m sure with fans, it’s going to be even more lively. So I’m excited to get the fans back in the building.’’
Wait until Quickley hears real genuine cheers when he checks into the game Tuesday. Julius Randle, who finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds and four assists, will be serenaded, too, for his All-Star-level campaign.
By Tuesday night, Randle will know if the coaches selected him as an All-Star reserve. With the Knicks record moving to 15-16, there is little doubt.
A cap of 2,000 patrons is not a lot, but it’s a slice of normalcy. Don’t expect ticket scalpers outside since all tickets are digital. But the secondary market is hopping.
Tickets on the 100-level priced on the Knicks website for Golden State at $360 are selling on secondary-ticket websites for between $578 and $1,554 for the club’s second home opener.
“I miss Knicks fans,’’ Frank Ntilikina said. “Knicks fans are the best fans in the league and having them at the Garden is the best thing.’’
The adage of “Be careful what you wish for” could apply. With no fans come no boos that would have surfaced as the Knicks lost their 16-point lead after three quarters.
Maybe the pandemic will have softened this fan base. After all these dreadful seasons, they finally can enjoy Thibodeau’s defensive-oriented team that has allowed the fewest points in the NBA.
The way they’ve played most nights here, it’s easier to imagine a chant of “De-fense” sooner than boos. In fact, in the final minute Sunday, the Garden heard its first fake “De-fense’’ chants.
“We know how important our fans are to our organization, the city,’’ Thibodeau said.
Though fans are absent, a limited amount of reporters have been permitted on the Chase Bridge. The media is stationed too high to hear the players’ chatter. And there’s plenty of it. In Washington, my lone road game, the Wizards put media in a 100-level suite.
With no fans and a modest amount of fake noise in D.C., the sounds of players groaning after a referee’s whistle is audible. It’s like witnessing a pickup game.
When there was a loose ball, the echoes of players barking “get it, get it, get it’’ ring out. When balls land out of bounds, it sounded like the 10 players in unison shouting “Our ball!’’
The Garden ticket holders in the 100-level should be able to hear all that banter. That is where owner James Dolan now sits. He moved his seat from baseline next to the Knicks bench to the 100-level at midcourt.
Knicks executives Leon Rose, William Wesley, Scott Perry and Allan Houston sit closer to the action than Dolan — along the court sidelines where celebrity row used to reside. Sunday, with Perry on a G-League scouting mission, director of strategy Brock Aller took Perry’s spot.
While Thibodeau loves the fake noise, the atmosphere can often feel depressing. I even miss the boos.
Fourteen fan-less Garden games are in the books — a scene hopefully never to be duplicated.