MSG Knicks announcers Mike Breen and Walt “Clyde” Frazier take a shot at some Q&A before the tipoff of the first-round series vs. the Hawks on Sunday. MSG Networks will have exclusive pre- and postgame coverage throughout the series and the Hall of Fame duo of Breen and Frazier will call both Games 1 and 2.
Q: What do you remember Red Holzman telling you before your first playoff game?
Clyde: Just to be myself, and, “Clyde, just relax.” He wanted me to get the guys involved, move the ball. Every playoff game, I would be the last guy to come on the court ’cause Red would pull me aside. Like if we were playing [Earl] Monroe, he’d go, “Clyde, forget about offense tonight, I just want you to focus on defense on Earl.” Like in Game 7 when Willis [Reed] came out, he told me, “Clyde, hit the open man, get everybody involved, make sure the ball moved.”
Q: How nervous were you?
Clyde: Your knees are shaking (laugh). But once you get on the court and they toss it up, it goes away. See, that’s what the Knicks are gonna feel, man. [Julius] Randle, seven years in the league, he’s never been in the playoffs. From the get-go, their whole focus is gonna be to deny him, so he’s gonna see double- and triple-teaming all the time. The playoffs is about adjustments. You have four, five games to focus on whatever your weakness is.
Breen: He’s seen double-teams all season. His playmaking and his decision-making has been unbelievable. So that kind of unselfish play from your leading scorer has got everybody willing to share the ball.
Q: What advice would you give to Randle?
Clyde: Let the game come to him. Don’t have any preconceived notion that you’re gonna get 40 against these guys. Thibs [head coach Tom Thibodeau] has said it, “Hey man, that was the regular season. We’ve gotta play 48 minutes and try to beat these guys now.”
Breen: His experience, and the way he’s dealt with them, is gonna be crucial. They’ve all flourished under him, and even though a lot of guys don’t have the playoff experience, he’s the type of coach that’s gonna be able to prepare them the right way for it.
Q: What makes Thibodeau, Thibodeau?
Breen: Most players want to be coached hard, most players want to get better, most players want to play for a winner, and he gives them that opportunity. He pushes them hard, but he also shows them and tells them that he trusts them.
Q: What do you remember about him when he was a Knicks assistant?
Breen: His love of the game. He just wanted to talk about the game all the time. So passionate about the game and so willing to share his knowledge of it.
Clyde: He’s like Holzman, he’s hard but fair. You work hard in practice, you get in the game. When a coach is hard on you … You never see Thibs embarrass a player. But in the locker room, Holzman would call you “F—–g Frazier, you’re supposed to be this, you’re f——g guy’s killing you (laugh). All-defensive team my ass!” But when we come on the court, you’ll never see that and you’ll never see it in the paper.
Q: What was the angriest he ever got at you?
Clyde: Letting Earl [Monroe] go off, Celtic games, Jo Jo [White] and those guys, [Bill] Russell. He hated [Red] Auerbach, they hated each other (laugh). … Remember the Jerry West [60-foot] shot in L.A. to tie [Game 3 of 1970 Finals]? [Dave] DeBusschere fell down [under the basket]. And now we come back to the bench, this is Holzman: “All right guys, gotta do it the hard way now, we gotta play five more minutes. All right, this is how we’re gonna do it …” He calmed everybody down. That was the beauty of Red, man, I see a lot of that in Thibs as well.
Q: Is Thibs worth a few points in a playoff game?
Breen: Absolutely. Just because his preparation, his attention to detail. … They go out on the floor defensively, and they know what the opponent’s running. He knows which matchups work well. His preparation before the games is as good as anybody in the game. He learned that from Jeff [Van Gundy], and Jeff learned that from [Pat] Riley. Thibs is a competitive coach. Watch him during the course of a game, it’s like he’s playing. I think the players like and respect that as well.
Q: Give me a general scouting report on the Hawks.
Clyde: They’re just like the Knicks, but not as good a defensive team.
Breen: They’ve got great offensive weapons, and [coach] Nate McMillan has them playing better defense. [Trae] Young’s not scoring as much, but he’s been a better point guard. We talk so much about his long range and his ability to score, but his playmaking has really gotten better and McMillan’s been a big impact on him.
Clyde: And I like this kid [DeAndre] Hunter. … They shoot the 3-ball, man, that’s gonna be a big factor in this game, the 3-ball shooting.
Q: What are the keys against the Hawks?
Breen: Randle and [Elfrid] Payton and RJ Barrett, three guys who will start, they’ve never been in a playoff game. It’s so different than anything you’ve experienced. From a broadcasting standpoint, I hyperventilate at the end of a close game. … My first playoff game, I’m hyperventilating on the first bucket. It’s hard to control your emotions.
Clyde: When I played, I had 20 points, the regular season, six rebounds, six assists. I made the All-Star team. I was All-NBA, All-Defense. And you know what they wanted to know when we were playing the Bullets? “Clyde, how are you gonna stop Earl The Pearl right now?” And that’s the essence of the playoffs. You couldn’t go down the street because everybody’s, “Hey, what are the Knicks gonna do? Hey, how’s Willis doing?” You cannot get away from it when you play in New York.
Q: What do they do about Trae Young?
Clyde: Keep him out of the paint, man. The X factor to me is Payton, and [Frank] Ntilikina. One of those guys will have to rise to the occasion and deny the guy’s forays in the paint.
Q: What problems might Nerlens Noel have against Clint Capela?
Clyde: Weight-wise [20 pounds lighter].
Breen: Most nights he takes the court he’s been outweighed, but he’s such a fighter and battler, he uses his instincts and smarts. He’s one of the unsung heroes on this team.
Q: Where has Barrett made the biggest Year 2 strides?
Breen: His decision-making. When to shoot, when to pass. Where to pass, seeing the court. And he’s shooting the ball so much better, so now defenses have to guard him on the perimeter, and he’s been able to use his strength to get to the basket.
Clyde: He’s that second guy that can get 17-20 points per game. But he has to be more consistent from the get-go in the playoffs. The other thing is Barrett’s gotta guard [Bogdan] Bogdonavic, this guy is tough, so a lot of times that distracts from your offense. That’s an adjustment that Barrett will have to make, because Nate McMillan is old-school — if something is working, they’re gonna go to it. So like, if the Knicks are not defending the pick-and-roll, that’s what they’re gonna run now.
Q: How big of a factor will Derrick Rose’s experience be?
Clyde: That’s a tremendous factor. Just like [Danilo] Galinari has for them. And “Sweet” Lou [Williams] — three-time Sixth Man of the Year. So he’s a bench by himself!
Q: Who could be a sleeper surprise for the Knicks?
Breen: I think Reggie Bullock has been the guy that has been so instrumental in their success but doesn’t get the right amount of credit because he does it at both ends. He’s only played in four playoff games total, but he’s one of those guys that Thibodeau knows he can count on every single night. Plus he’s got a great chemistry with Randle, the two work so well together. I think he’s gonna be critical, ’cause they’re gonna need him defensively because Atlanta’s got so many different weapons on offense.
Q: What do you remember about your first Knicks playoff game as a broadcaster?
Clyde: The noise, the anticipation, the hoopla, the pageantry. … It’s like college.
Breen: The fans get there much earlier. There’s no such thing as a late-arriving crowd ’cause they want to get there early and feel the buzz, it’s incredible. The players and coaches want no communication, they don’t want you to bother them. Normally guys who are friendly and smiling, they’re just like looking straight ahead. It was a real awakening because I found out quickly it’s like two different sports, regular-season basketball and playoff basketball.
Q: What are the most memorable Knicks playoff games at the Garden?
Clyde: [John] Starks’ dunk. LJ [Larry Johnson’s] shot. When they’re singing the anthem, the singer can only get halfway through (laugh). Right now I have goose bumps, man. In the playoffs, my palms are sweating, and when I hear the anthem I get goose bumps like I’m playing the game. I have all these memories cascading through my head — Earl The Pearl, Big O [Oscar Robertson], Holzman telling me what I gotta do, who’s coming out on the court.
Q: Was there any moment other than Willis limping out Game 7 versus Lakers, May 8, 1970, as loud as those two?
Clyde: No, not really. I couldn’t even hardly hear Mike, I couldn’t hear anything.
Breen: The four-point play by Larry Johnson, that was the year that I was doing TV. That was the loudest I’ve ever heard the building.
Q: What are some other loud Garden playoff moments?
Breen: The last time they were in the playoffs going in there were some expectations, that was the Carmelo Anthony year, there was a chance they could get to the Eastern Conference finals or maybe the Finals. It was exciting because they were back in the postseason. And that’s what’s gonna make this year so crazy is that it’s been so long since the fans felt that electricity, since they felt that playoff fever. It’s gonna be off the charts because it’s been eight years.
Clyde: And now with 15,000 allowed to be in the building, come on, it’s gonna be like 35,000. When we had 2,000 there it was getting louder and louder.
Q: How much of a home-court advantage will the Knicks have?
Breen: These rookies are gonna be shocked at how loud that building can be ’cause they haven’t experienced it yet.
Q: Why does New York City have such a love affair with the Knicks?
Clyde: It’s the City Game. It’s the mecca of basketball. Guys are 70 years old still trying to play basketball. You got an unorthodox shot, as long as it goes in the basket, that’s the camaraderie that you have with basketball when you’re with your friends.
Breen: Growing up, and when you watch on TV, after the game you could go down to the park [Coyne Park] and you could play. It took me about three minutes to get to the park from my house. If you didn’t get down there early enough, you wouldn’t be playing till the third game.
Clyde: Mike figured it out, he took his own ball so he knew he’d get selected (laugh).
Breen: There’s a certain magical team in every city that for some reason gets into the soul of the city’s sports fans. And I think Clyde’s team of ’69-70 … the way they won it and the way they played, and the type of basketball they played, that’s a central part of the soul of the sports fan in New York, and I think that fostered so many great sports fans that were passed down in generations.
Clyde: And it’s similar to what’s happening now, tumultuous times … Vietnam, people in disarray, the country in disarray … so for 2 ¹/₂ hours you could go to the World’s Most Famous Arena and watch these guys play basketball — black guys, white guys, team, cohesion, defense, unselfish play. So you could forget about what was happening in the world for 2 ¹/₂ hours and root for these guys … Reed and Frazier, [Bill] Bradley, DeBusschere, man, they just captivated the city. And now you have another group of guys that have captivated a city because of the same thing — the defense, the teamwork, reminiscent to the team that I played on.
Q: Do the Knicks have to win this series for the season to be a success?
Clyde: No. Nobody expected this. I thought they would win 25 games, maybe. So they’ve really overachieved. And what they have is real, this is not a fly-by-night thing. They’ve got something to fall back on, they’ve got defense, teamwork, looks like they might have their leader, if they can acquire another good player. Their problem is gonna be trying to sign these other guys.
Breen: The front office made all the right signings. They didn’t get the stars, but boy did they get the perfect role players to come in, not only with the roster that they have, but to play for a coach like Tom Thibodeau. To me, number one on the agenda was to change the perception of where the franchise was, and they have done that. And now it’s like all around the league, every game we play, the other coaches talk about how hard the Knicks play, how well they play together. It’s now become an attractive place.
Clyde: And it’s amazing how people are happy. There’s no hatred for the Knicks and their success, because people understand when the Knicks are good, the NBA is good.
Q: Your picks?
Clyde: For me, the home-court is the panacea. It should be enough for the Knicks to prevail.
Breen: I think it’s gonna be a tough, long, hard series, because the teams are fairly evenly matched, both well-coached. But with Thibodeau, and the way Randle is playing, I give the edge to the Knicks.
Q: Do you have a special playoff outfit for Game 1?
Clyde: Oh yeah. … It’s relatively new, so I’ll be stylin’ and profilin’.
Breen: I could wear a potato sack and nobody would notice what I’m wearing.
Clyde: He can’t do that now, he’s a Hall of Famer, he’s gotta bring it now (laugh).
Breen: You know what the best thing about the Hall of Fame is? Clyde says I no longer have to carry his bags on the road.