(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

A little closure music if you please, maestro.

Although the deal actually went down last Spring, last night offered a sense of closure for the Mike D’Antoni era. At least, one certainly hopes so. Enough already of the “he said…he said…he said,” and comparisons between styles and philosophies and personalities. Not to mention the angst-ville chorus of who’s is happy and who isn’t.

So maestro, maybe a few bars of Auld Lang Syne and a riff of “It Was Great Fun, But It Was Just One of Those Things.”

Coach Mike came, saw, and was conquered, but he wasn’t embarrassed. Indeed, he received a warm welcome from the sellout crowd during the pre-game introductions, and his team did not go quietly into this night. In fact, it didn’t go at all until the last two minutes. And he was surrounded by friendly tape recorders, notebooks and TV cameras before and after the game. And let that be that.

He’s not due to pass this way again in his official capacity until more than a year from now, and it’s more than time to start judging the Coach Terry/Steve Kerr era/experiment

strictly on its own merits.

Except for one more thing from moi, of course – namely that the divorce was good for both sides, and would have been very bad for both sides had it not taken place.

Statistically, the game was a bit of an oddity in that the Knicks missed 32 of their 37 threes (which, by the way, was 10 more than the Suns TOOK), and still were down only four inside the two-minute mark and had a three rim out that would have cut the gap to one.

In a sense this was your classic David-Goliath remake (except that the crowd was clearly rooting for Goliath).

The Suns’ two big men, Shaquille O’Neal and Amare Stoudemire, combined for 44 points and 26 rebounds, while 5-9 Nate Robinson countered with 27 points. Shaq, in particular, was unstoppable down low, and added some nifty assists and 11 successful free throws (okay, so it was out of 18, so?). Trust me; they don’t win this one without the Big Methuselah.

Amare had 21 points and 14 rebounds, and his put back of number 14 with 1:55 turned gasping room into six-point breathing room.

The thing to keep uppermost in mind in evaluating the Suns to this point is that basically they are starting over for the third time, what with having to adjust to the coaching culture shock, then readjusting to an unfamiliar and not all that popular offense, and finally readjusting to the readjustment with a blockbuster trade.

In other words, the season to this point has been all about not only learning but re-learning. And in that perspective pedaling along at 15-10 with the training wheels still on isn’t too shabby at all.

Like almost anybody else who is paying even a little bit of attention, I liked the Big Trade a lot. Giving up a player who didn’t want to be here plus one who no longer fit for Jason Richardson not only pumped fresh life into the Suns, but also put some instant energy back into a fan base whose attention was clearly starting to drift.

If nothing else, Richardson clearly has the capacity to electrify, and can not only hit threes but create his own shots when necessary. And there are those who insist that while he hasn’t always done so he can play very good defense, although I can’t personally bear witness to this.

And speaking of defense, this was one phase that has to be driving Coach Terry to distraction because, as fervently as he preached it when he hit town, the Suns haven’t really practiced it.

But the good news is he’s not terminally stubborn, as witness to the fact he seems to be gradually giving Steve Nash a little more license to run the offense. This has been as much a learning experience for him as the players, and willingness to make concessions to the realities of the personnel is one thing all successful coaches have in common.

The bottom line: Day-by-day and deal-by-deal, the Suns are getting better.

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