I guess at least some of you have heard of Cyberpunk 2077, the ultra-hyped videogame developed by the same team that gifted us the ageless classic Witcher 3 (seriously: it debuted in 2013 and it’s still probably the best open world RPG out there even if you buy it in 2020) that was supposed to have the whole videoludic world go head over heels gaga juuuust before Christmas arrived. Well, things didn’t exactly go as planned (even if some already suspected it wouldn’t have been good since the beginning of the next-gen consoles announcement) and for example PlayStation Network opted to remove the game from its digital stores and to offer a refund to the people who bought a digital copy for the PS4. I mean, that quite unprecedented.
Guess what? I was one of the guys who a) pre-ordered the game for PS4 and b) opted for the refund.
When those money were back on my PayPal account, I went and splurged the cash on The Last of Us 2, a game who I totally forgot came out in 2020 too and the sequel to probably the most critically acclaimed game ever – at least on such a large sales number scale, gun to my head I’d say Disco Elysium probably stole that crown in 2019 but on much smaller numbers. Paradoxically, given the multitude of measures adopted by local governments to ensure we stay home, these days I don’t have much time to play a game on console, but I bought the game on December, 23rd and I’m already at 15+ hours in. The Last of Us 2 is just perfect. It doesn’t try to overachieve. It sticks to its superb guns and, well, delivers the goods every single moment. If I had to find a flaw, it would probably be the fact that the narrative doesn’t contain many (if any, at least halfway into the game; I would wager against there being many anyway, since the original was pretty bereft of) plot twists, but in the end it is so good that even a slight amount of predictability becomes a plus and not a crutch. It hits a very specific high of keeping you thrilled and on your feet – infected people, paramilitary guys and whistling fanatics shooting at you tend to sort that kind of effect – while cuddling you in the comfort of a flawless gaming experience.
Well. Wasn’t this Knicks-Bucks game similar.
I mean, if you told me before the game that we would have won by 20 against one of the presumed best teams in the league I would have concluded that the Bucks would have a depleted roster or that Giannis and one of Jrue and Middleton would have been ejected from the court in the first half. Nope, sir. We just thrashed Milwaukee with their full squad available, Giannis playing 33 minutes and hanging 27/13/5 on us and Middleton adding 22/4/5 for good measure. Funny thing is, during the whole game, I felt the uneasiness of the lead possibly vanishing in the next few minutes, but I never stopped enjoying the experience and I was… confident?… that we would pull away to the end. It was weird, but it made perfect sense.
You have probably already heard about the crazy disparity between our three point shooting (16-for-27) and the atrocious chucking of the Bucks (7-for-38). Now, that’s absolutely true and there are many, many parallel universes where tonight has been a Knicks loss because we shot a very honest 12-for-27 and they went an equally honest 14-for-38 (that’s a 33 point swing, for you counting at home, so in those universes we would have lost 131-118). But the thing is, we weren’t even supposed to be competitive, so this one is more of a legit win than a cosmic fluke. Granted, next time the Bucks will probably roll over us without even looking back, but never forget that we’re a young (?) and rebuilding (???) team, so every single marquee win counts as double XP in getting to the next level. Another thing: there weren’t many instances of hero ball, as pretty much everyone was passing the rock and moving without it, so the game would have been much more aesthetically pleasing even if we had lost. I’m slowly thawing to the thought of a multi-year Thibs tenure.
The really good:
– Julius Randle (29 pts, 14 rebs, 7 ast, +12 +/-) showed us what it means to shed some weight and play under a decent coach. Believe it or not, this is the same Julius we had under contract last year. We knew he had this kind of performance in him, but somehow he was enabled (and a bit forced, ok, without a single capable PG out there with him) to devolve into a whirling dervish entity made of tazmanian devilish spin moves and basketball regrets. This year it looks like he gets the ball in better spots, and most of all his teammates move around him so it’s actually easier for him to hit them in stride with a quick read. Now, again, on a less torrid Knicks night we’re looking at inferior numbers, but they’d hardly be less than 20/14/4, which is still very good. I still think Julius isn’t what we need in terms of roster fit going forward, but if he plays like this he could command a hefty price on the trade block, and that’s probably great. I added probably because we’re still a Dolan-owned team and so we’re definitely unable to build a coherent long-term strategy, so we’ll end up committing to Randle for multiple years if he plays like this.
– Elfrid Payton (27 pts, 3 rebs, 7 ast, +15 +/-) clearly got out of the bed on the right foot this time. He was aggressive since the start and while it’s true that this will probably be his most efficient game of the whole season – seriously, 12-16 from the field and 3-3 from three? – it’s also true that having him be a credible threat to the other team’s defense opens up so many paths to team success that it is imperative that when he plays he’s never tentative and always assertive. I would also point to the fact that Milwaukee’s backcourt isn’t made of sieves on defense, so it’s not like Elfrid has done his damage against weak competition. But the real thing of beauty is the fact that he actually got Mitch involved in a few PnR’s and, guess what, it worked! I suspect, though, that if (when) his shot will abandon him again defenses will collapse and he’ll be way less sharp in directing the team. Then again, here too the endgame should be to send him packing somewhere else while getting some draft compensation along the way, so games like these are pure gravy.
– Mitch Robinson (9 pts, 6 rebs, 1 blk, + 16 +/-) had a kinda meh stats line, but was as impactful as he’s ever been on a basketball court. He played 36 minutes tonight , he committed only 2 fouls, and while he blocked only one shots he altered or deterred a huge number of them. To me, the second most important highlight of the game was when in the third quarter he didn’t bite at three fakes from the Greek Freek, stayed put and anyway altered Giannis’ layup so much that he bricked it from point blank. You do that to the twice-MVP in a contested game, you’re really learning defense. I don’t care if Mitch never gets to 15/12/3. I do care if Mitch makes winning plays, and right now he’s learning to do that. Of course his path to that is easier when he doesn’t have to bang with hunks down low, so we’ll see what happens against the unbeaten Drummond in a few days.
– Honestly I would have preferred to see the starters getting pulled out of the game a few minutes earlier, but this is Thibs’ world and then again they didn’t have many reps with the shortened preseason, so eh. Everything else in this game was good. Not even mediocre: good.
The fun-sized good:
– For the trifecta of “let’s hope we’re getting picks”, Alec Burks keeps on being a deadly offensive player. 18 points on seven shots and 5 assists all in 20 minutes are elite production, and honesly nothing about him looks like it’s destined to regress swiftly and painfully to the mean. Yeah of course he won’t hit 4 of 5 from three every night, but he’s effortless in his offensive forays. On a macro level I hate the Burks as a PG experiment because it clearly doesn’t make sense for the future but I understand that in a pinch he could play that role a few times during this season if the injury bug strikes again, so even that gets a pass from me.
– Frank is still Frank, even when he hits 4 threes. This is where the Burks as a PG experiment might come to fruition, because Frank is totally unequipped to be a lead guard (now in his fourth year, can we please stop arguing about his position in the NBA? Playing FIBA, he can be a PG. But here? Z-Man was right all along, he’s a guard-wing who will provide zero statistical results but can be tactically deployed to achieve a strategic advantage in selected matches. It’s still a cool end-of-inventory weapon to use, like the bricks or bottles in The Last of Us 2). There was a moment in the fourth quarter when he was completely open from the stripe and he still opted to pass it out. It made no sense, and there’s no amount of made threes that will compensate for his offensive inaptitude. Also he was trying to showcase his (admittedly) improved handle, but he chose to do so in the most hilarious way: first of all he used it to advance past halfcourt just for Thibs to call timeout, and the second time he did in front of the extra long limbed Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo, who annoyedly swiped the ball just like horrible people take away the pickles from burgers.
– I still don’t know what we have in Knox (and I still know that we could have had much more picking someone else two years ago), but here’s my highlight for the game: Knox diving on the floor to angrily, grittily steal the ball from a befuddled Buck in the second half. Knox was very good tonight on a few occasions: on defense he kept Middleton in tow, he rebounded with effort, and he moved twice toward the basket with purpose. His shot, while beautiful to look at, is still totally hit and miss, but if this is the level of energy Knox will bring to the games from now on we can be really satisfied with the early results of the Thibs’ regime.
– And this brings me to the last point: I was never a Thibs’ fan, long before he came here. I actively dislike people who are too serious, too callous, too intense. It’s ok to be that in the right spots, but you’ll wear out your welcome very quickly if you can’t switch gears. Thibs always struck me as a guy who’s legitimately good at understanding things in his field, but who’s not that good at keeping the pace and communicating to everyone. Here, it doesn’t look like that. Maybe he’s perfect for this city. Maybe the circumstances made him a more nuanced guy. Maybe he’s really having the time of his life at his dream job. Now, it’s still too early to know if Thibs is the right one or he’s just the one who looked good enough to bring home to your parents only to have them ask the next Christmas “hey, what’s happened with (insert name)?”, but you can already see a few distinct improvements from the Fizdale tenure. It looks like people know they can be held accountable and they behave accordingly. We’ll see what happens, but you can be sure of one thing: Thibs will always call timeout exactly at the right time. Up by 20, down by 30, he doesn’t care: if the team looks like it’s giving in, Thibs will call it. That’s for sure.
See you next time! Let’s see if I can make it to two recaps in a row :)