Well, who woulda thunk. We witnessed The Bobby Portis game.
Now, hear me out. A win is a win and that’s good, especially because you don’t want to send RJ into the depths of despair so soon in his young and very promising career. But you know how it is when you’re trying to eat healthy to get yourself into shape and you have a cheat meal on your weekly schedule? Ok, now think of this season as that: eating healthy is the equivalent of losing competitively to get another top-5 pick and the cheat meals are the game where we win because, let’s face it, you can’t lose all the time.
Here’s the thing: not all cheat meals are equal. If you eat pizza (good pizza, not Papa John’s or those weirdly appealing abominations) as your cheat meal, you’re doing it right, same if you eat pasta – even lasagna – or a gourmet burger. There’s still a lot of good nutrients in there, and provided you go to the right joints (or do it yourself at home) the ingredients will still be high quality, which means vitamins and a lot of other things that don’t mess with your body and health. In this scenario, pizza is a win on the heels of RJ, Mitch, Knox and one between Frank, Trier and DSJ (and marginally Randle – maybe with a sprinkle or two of Dot and Iggy). If it happens, everything will still be good and maybe you’ll even get into shape faster!
Winning because Bobby Portis (on a 15mln, 1+1 contract) goes off for 28 points and 11 boards playing 30 (well earned this time, mind you) minutes while Mitch plays only 18, on the other hand is like wasting your cheat meal on three bags of Doritos and a six pack of Miller lite. It’s not good for you, it messes up with your diet plan and your health for no discernible reason. This creates a precedent that Fizdale would be tempted to go back to when things will be dire, possibly stunting Mitch’s development.
Look: this game went out of reach very early (our half court offense is simply terrible and if outside shots don’t fall or the other team doesn’t allow us to run in transition we’re doomed to slow start all season long) and if now for Bobby we wouldn’t have been able to score even 10 points in the first quarter. I’m being literal, you know. The Knicks scored 15 points (to the Bulls’ 33) in the first and Portis had 7. The Bulls’ defense looked particularly frisky and asphyxiating and Morris and Randle looked particularly dumb and out of their depths.
In the second quarter things went a bit better, thanks to improved play by Barrett and his already traditional good forays to the rim and some tough buckets inside by Randle. Our defense was definitely steadier too, and the period ended 27-19 for us (we were still down 10, 52-42).
The third quarter saw the starters being thoroughly outplayed and the Bulls go up by eighteen again led by a very strong Wendell Carter Jr. performance. Barrett wouldn’t let the game slip away that much though, and with a few focused drives and the help of Portis and goodish team defense the Knicks went into the final stanza down just eight, 80-72.
In the fourth, everything went right for us: triples started falling, the defense got tighter and the Bulls’ margin started to evaporate, with the Knicks tying the game 88-88 (on a Portis three, that’s gonna be a leit motiv). Right there the game seemed to be ripe for the taking, but alas no, a few more pages had to be written: a 10-2 run by the Bulls put the Knicks in a bad spot, down eight with just 3:33 to go. Portis and Ellington came back into game (Bobby was substituted just 55 seconds before) and the Knicks went on to score 15 unanswered points. Six were scored by Portis just in time for the Knicks to take the lead: down 98-97, those two triples catapulted the Bockers ahead 103-98, and that was the game.
I guess it’s nice that the Knicks got me a win for my birthday, but when I asked for a Ninja Turtle action figure I wanted Leonardo or Raphael, not Casey Jones.
– Well, of course we have to start from Bobby Portis (28 pts, 11 rebs, 2 ast, +31 +/-) had the game of his lifetime. 28 points on 14 shots, a double double, two blocks, no turnovers, a perfect 4-for-4 from three and a humongous, game-high +31 in plus/minus. You can’t get any better than that. And still, you can’t help but come away from the game thinking that you didn’t feel the weight of Portis’ impact until the last two triples. By that point, he had already scored 22 points, grabbed 11 boards and blocked 2 shots. Numbers aren’t debatable, but to me it was one of the lightest 28/11 games ever. I’m happy we won, I’m kinda happy for Bobby – who, when interviewed at center court by Rebecca Haarlow after game, looked like a nice person with cognitive dissonance between the words he were uttering and the intention in his eyes. I’m terrified by the conclusions Fizdale will get to after this game. But more than anything, I’m in fear of the validation feeling Pills will be experiencing today after reading the newspapers wax poetic on the fifth-year big man from Arkansas. Sometimes a season dovetails thanks to a few good moments. It’s usually when not-so-great basketball minds confuse correlation and causation.
– Here’s your systematic appearance in this section: there are a lot of things RJ Barrett (19 pts, 15 rebs, 5 ast, +5 +/-) has to improve and yet he might already be the most crucial Knick this season. Yeah, four games in. You see it when he’s on the court: when it counts, the ball seems to gravitate to him. It’s very weird, I know, to discuss such eye test things on one of the smartest basketball community in the world, and yet: the RJ Barrett experience is starting to feel like falling in love. Stats will tell you she’s got a pimple on her cheek, but your eyes will tell you that you’ve never seen such a beautiful imperfection on anyone else’s face. Stats will tell you she’s got cellulite in her thighs, but then again who doesn’t (that’s true, by the way. Screw anyone who’s into body shaming)? Stats will tell you she’s a pretty blonde girl, but you will feel, deep down, that she’s the making of the most beautiful blonde girl ever. And you know what? There’s a good chance she will be. That’s what being around for RJ’s first steps in the NBA feels like: he’s a pretty good player (with nice but not eye-popping averages), but you feel he’s much more than that. You can’t point to the exact stat, but you can look into your heart and oh goddamn I have butterflies in my tummy just typing this. As a bonus, here’s the list of other rookie wings and point guards who ever posted a 19/15/5 stat line: Luka Doncic, Magic Johnson, OJ Mayo (what), Ben Simmons, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Steve Francis, the absurdly underrated Tom Gola and your own Clyde Frazier. Among them, RJ is the youngest by a full 250 days.
– Marcus Morris (10 pts, 5 rebs, 1 stl, -2 +/-) is the one who’s suffering the most playing for Fizdale. He’s never been a ball mover, but while his best role is to be a release valve for goodish teams, here he’s asked (?) to be a consistent shot creator while having the vision of a bull with a Chinese flag hung right in front of his eyes. His contributions to the team routinely verge on terrible, and even when he scores it’s hard to bring yourself to root for him. In the third quarter he scored while being fouled on a bad-looking turnaround fade away jumper from the left corner: as soon as the ball went in he gestured to the crowd as if he just sinked a game winning series shot. It’s official: I can’t stand him already. Also, is this “dawg” thing related to getting whistled for a technical every game? He looks such the part of a Fizdale special. We will never be flipping him to a contender. Book it.
– Elfrid Payton (3 pts, 2 rebs, 1 stl, -4 +/-) just had nothing going for him – and also went out with a sore hamstring. Sore hamstring or not, though, in a game like this one Elfrid is kinda useless. He’s no shooter and there’s nothing in place to help him penetrate deep into the defense, not even a Payton-Mitch PnR (I can’t understand for the life of me why that’s the case, but whatever). It’s hard to tally many assists playing in this “system”, but no assists in 21 minutes? Let’s just hope this was the worst he’ll ever look during this season and move on.
Fun-sized pieces of birthday cake:
– Is there a reason why Mitch and Portis can’t play together? I mean, I get wanting to keep Portis in the game. But why has there to be a Portis-Robinson dichotomy? Their skills don’t overlap at all, and we need all the rim protection we can get.
– Mitch played again only 18 minutes even if he committed “only” 4 fouls. Is he on a minutes restriction? I mean, he had the tremendous bad luck of being on the court during the worst stretched of the game, but his -24 plus/minus is not really that indicative of his impact on the game. Ten points, nine boards and two blocks are becoming a standard Mitch game. He also missed five shots tonight and is still sitting at 0.700 from the field.
– Somebody has to do something for Randle. He looks like he’s sulking and he’s turning the ball like crazy. I fear Fizdale is slowly eroding his confidence by forcing him to play in a way he’s not suited at all. Another 8 turnovers and only 5-for-13 from the field. He got better in the last two-three minutes when playing the PnR with Barrett enabled him to make passes out of the short roll. Is that hard to come up with such uninventive but effective ideas?
– Two words about Frank. His on ball defense is a real thing of beauty, but he does nothing else. Really nothing. 0-for-6 from the field, 2 boards and 2 assists in 22 minutes. I get he can be valuable in short stretches, but I fear his offensive game has a name, and that’s Godot.
– Knox keeps on playing semi-adequate basketball, which was the absolute best scenario during the offseason. As a shooter he’s a nice weapon. When he has to create something off the dribble, welp. Still, in four games he’s posting 12.5/4/1 with a .160 WS/48. That’s guaranteed to come down by a lot, but I surely didn’t foresee it. There’s a non-zero chance he really develops into a reliable 8th-9th man for a playoff team. It would count as a very unlikely win in my book.
And this, kids, is how Bobby Portis won a game for the Knicks on my birthday (edit: and DRed’s too! Happy birthday, future Knicks GM). See you on Thursday after a drubbing at the hands of a better than us Magic team!