NEW YORK (AP) - They came. They taunted. But they didn't get the boot.
A smattering of disillusioned New York Knicks fans raised signs in dissent Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, calling on management to fire coach Isiah Thomas as they watched the beleaguered home team battle the Cleveland Cavaliers.
``I'm sick of watching this garbage every night,'' said Mike Emen, 21, of Livingston, N.J., who infiltrated a section close to the Knicks with his brother, Jared Emen, 19. The two were holding sheets of orange paper that read ``Fire Isiah'' on one side and ``more suffering guaranteed'' on the other.
While the Emen brothers and other season-ticket holders fumed, the night was generally tame as Thomas was booed loudly during introductions but the Knicks played hard and routed the Cavaliers - perhaps, for the moment, bottling the fans' palpable discontent with the coach.
MSG officials were apparently being cautious Wednesday night, too. Toward the end of Monday's 119-92 loss to the Indiana Pacers, a disgruntled fan raised a ``Fire Isiah'' sign and was ordered to leave his seat by a security guard.
After the images were captured by news photographers and published in Tuesday's papers, the fan, Jason Silverstein, came forward to identify himself.
``The guy is killing our team,'' the 23-year-old Manhattan real estate agent said. ``How many 25-point beatings can we take?''
MSG clearly didn't want a repeat incident. One woman received two warnings about her ``Fire Isiah'' sign but wasn't forced to leave. She was sitting close to the Knicks' bench, not far from where Silverstein sat.
Earlier in the day outside Madison Square Garden, Knicks loyalists made themselves heard. They held aloft a giant pink slip and called on Garden management to fire Thomas.
Chanting ``Fire Isiah! He's got to go! Goodbye!'' two dozen irate fans signed the 8-by-4-foot pink placard urging Garden chief executive James Dolan to dump the coach.
Among the protesters was noted civil rights lawyer and longtime Knicks fan Norman Siegel, who criticized management for removing the fan Monday.
``The Knicks are trampling on what New York is all about. We're outspoken, and we're zany at times,'' Siegel said. ``But principles and values of free speech should be adopted. The Garden should rethink its policy.''
Thomas, whose team is 8-17, has been hounded by bad publicity and calls from fans to quit since October, when fired team executive Anucha Browne Sanders won a sexual harassment lawsuit against him and the Garden. Just before the case was to return to court to decide compensatory damages, the lawsuit was settled for $11.5 million.
Before Wednesday's game, Thomas told reporters: ``My job is to make sure that I keep our team focused, keep a steady hand and ride us through this storm. ... Some people like you and some people don't. Some people support you, some people don't. But that won't stop or deter me from doing what I came here to do.''
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