Confession: I stayed up veeery late last night (6:30am, which is 00:30am EST) and while checking on my phone while waiting for the queue to the bathroom to thin itself effing Google sneaked up on me and showed me the final score of the game. I was really bummed at that, and not only because of the loss. I was bummed because it spoiled at least half of the fun I have watching these games: not knowing how they’re gonna develop and having to come up with ideas on the fly to write the recap.
This time, I had to approach the game already knowing how it was gonna end. I thought that would totally suck. Spoiler (is this some sort of an Inception-like spoiler into another spoiler?): it didn’t.
A few years ago I read an article about how watching a movie already knowing its plot can enhance the visual experience. That was kinda true for this game also: knowing that we were gonna lose, and badly at that, completely changed the complexion of the watching experience. Instead of “what’s gonna happen?” I was getting involved into a “whodunit” type of watch.
Please don’t let it be RJ. I hope nobody got injured. What if Bobby Portis and DSJ were the main culprits and they’re gonna go into the dungeon? Let it be Fiz’s fault so that the whole Garden asks for his firing. Oh god it was Mitch, wasn’t it? He and his stupid fouls. Nah, I’m sure it was RJ getting the jitters for his MSG debut and shooting 3-18 while letting his man repeatedly torch him. I hope someone bought a jumbo pack of Kragle and glued the ball to Randle’s handle.
Well, I have to say that pretty much everything went the way I wished it went.
The game started uncharacteristically well for the 19-20 Knicks, who went up by a lot (16-4) in the early first quarter thanks to RJ’s strong play and the Celts’ futility. Player by player the second unit started making his appearance on the court and the lead slowly, surely started melting away. The first quarter ended 24-22 for the Knicks, and if I hadn’t known the final score I would have predicted a close game until the end.
The second quarter was more of the same: a few Knicks playing well, zero point guard play apart from some signs of life from Payton, a number of turnovers but a close lead for the Knicks (51-46). Nothing seemed to work for the second unit, but Barrett, Randle and Morris kept the Knicks comfortably ahead.
The third quarter was a slight diversion from the first half, in that the Celtics started hitting their shots a bit more and the lead exchanged hands while the Knicks couldn’t hit anything from three. The stanza ended 82-76 and I started wondering if Google had been wrong (or if I had one beer too much – which should not be possible, I drink like a Serbian).
In the fourth quarter the game went completely astray and with 5 minutes to go we were down 20. Google wasn’t wrong, and the culprits were (mainly) the bench players and the third occasion in a row of acute turnoverosis (26 for the night against the Celtics’ 13). Not a good game to watch, but a few good things to take away from it.
– Look, I feel like what RJ Barrett (26 pts, 7 rebs, 3 ast, -9 +/-) gave us in this game was a bit of fools’ gold. His total points were buoyed by an unsustainable 4-for-6 night from beyond the arc and he needed anyway 20 shots to get there. If he had missed a couple more of his threes, hitting 33% (a much more reasonable projection about his results from three) we would be looking at a 20 points on 20 shots, 5 turnovers performance. With that out of the way, one can’t just deny the sheer readiness of the kid for the big stage. This was his home court debut and he went at it like it was nothing. His drives were less efficient than what we saw in the last two games, but this was the first time he had to measure up a defender like Marcus Smart. That he came away pretty much unscathed from the battle is already a great success (I guess you remember what Smart’s defense did to KP, huh?). He also didn’t get the benefit of the doubt on a couple calls where I think he was clearly fouled, probably because of the rookie treatment. Anyway, we’re talking about a guy who’s averaging – extremely small sample size – 21/5/2.7 on 57% TS. Even if he can’t keep this up (and he won’t) if he ends up at 16/4/2 on 53% TS that’s very good promise for a rookie. Advanced stats don’t like him, but that’s because of his very high TOs number (4.3 per game) and I’m pretty confident it will come down. Especially after Mike Miller is installed as interim head coach around late December.
– The fact that Mitchell Robinson (17 pts, 6 rebs, 3 blk, -9 +/-) had a night that can be described as “frustrating” and still came away with those numbers speaks volumes about his talent and his ceiling. Since I would give him a C+ for the game, thanks to his usual foul troubles and offensive wanderlust (I mean, he seems to get the ball out of serendipity 70% of the time and played 20 minutes just because he simply can’t hold himself and committed at least two stupid and avoidable fouls), just take a guess at what would constitute an A game for him. Advanced stats means nothing after 37 minutes of play, but B-R signals that he’s again projected to post amazing numbers and I strongly believe it.
– Dennis Smith Jr (1 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl, -15 +/-) looks primed to take the scepter of “worst Knick of the season” and never relinquish it. If you want to know something about Fizdale’s basketball credo, you have to look no further than the fact that in the first three games DSJ played 26 minutes, shot 1-for-11 from the field and dished just one assist per game (hard to do worse than that, I think we all can convene) and Frank still doesn’t get another look. I know, I know, you make do with what you have, but playing DSJ right now is something that shouldn’t be encouraged at all. You don’t want to play Frank? Ok, play Kadeem.
– Allonzo Trier (2 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -25 +/-) is as make-or-miss as they come. After posting very solid numbers on Friday, this time he came away empty on the offensive side (0-for-4, all threes) and found a way to register the second-worst plus/minus of the game (the worst is courtesy of Knox, who at least rebounded well). I won’t blame Fiz for playing Zo this much, though. Trier is prone to slumps and he could always be on the verge of breaking through over the course of a game. I will blame Perry though because this roster is incredibly ill-fitted on the defensive side and Zo doesn’t anything there if not exacerbate the problem.
Half-pints (should be illegal):
– Elfrid Payton played 30 minutes and was a cool 0 in plus/minus in a game we lost by 23. You may not like his game (even if he had another 4 steals tonight), but there’s no doubt he should (and hopefully will) be our primary ball handler in close games.
– Julius Randle posted a minimum requirements double double (10 and 10) but turned the ball over another 5 times and is averaging 4 TPG. This has to be resolved as soon as possible and might require a few coaching adjustments. Your mileage may vary on actual hopes of that happening.
– Frank Ntilikina was inserted into the game with 18 seconds to play in the second quarter, I guess for defensive purposes. The thing is, though, that he was tasked with defending Marcus Smart (?) off the ball (???) while keeping Payton on Walker. The ball was never closer to Frank than six feet. The quarter ended and Frank never saw the court again, even while Walker went bananas on us during the third and fourth quarter and DSJ was trying to perform a Marina Abramovic routine. The crowd actually erupted in a few “We want Frank!” chants, but I can’t give them too much credit, it’s the same public that wanted Enes last year.
– Mitch committed “only” 4 fouls tonight. So why play him just 20 minutes (to Portis 27)?
– I guess everyone has already come to the conclusion that this team is coached by someone who probably saw Space Jam once and thought “oh cool, so that’s how you play basketball!”.
– But then again, all these losses are good because if the record is really too bad (like a 3-15 start) the chances of Fiz getting the boot dramatically increase. The sooner, the better.
Have a good day everyone! And see you on Tuesday after the game against the Bulls (I think it will be a win).