Ok, first of all: what an amazing game. I needed that. I think we all needed that. And I’m not talking about the win: I’m talking about 53 thrilling minutes of basketball, with lots of great NBA action this time. We already had a game that went to overtime (two overtime periods indeed), but it was such a slog that gave birth to the sushi recap. This one was different. It was highly enjoyable, tremendously involving, ecstatically adrenalinic. From time to time, it’s good to see a game like this as a Knicks fan first and a Knicks critic second.
Second of all: this is not sustainable at all. It was amazing to win but it won’t happen again like this: every Knick save for three (THJ, Knox and Trier) shot .500+ from the field. The team as a whole shot .531 from the field and (gasp!) .588 from three on 34 attempts. So let’s enjoy this one, because it was the game that made us regress to the mean after three horrendous slump-shooting games.
Third of all: aren’t you a bit dazed by Fizdale’s blabbering about Frank? He got his first DNP of the season and Fiz said something about “Nobody gets in my doghouse, they know they can get back into the rotation”. Oh really? In the fourth, we deployed a lineup without any nominal PG (even if we include Trier in the mix): THJ, Dotson, Knox, Vonleh and Kanter. And you couldn’t find a minute for Frank? It I didn’t know better (but do I?) this DNP would reek unmistakably of “Frank is traded by Wednesday”. If you’re not gonna play him, send him to the D-League. He really sucks as an offensive player right now, but I don’t think he deserves such gratuitous DNPs, especially on a night where Burke injured himself in less than two minute of gameplay and Hezonja found a way to play 12 minutes. I’m sick of this bulls*t from Perry (I’m assuming it’s his fault and there’s little it can be done to change my mind – for now – sorry if I’m explicitly calling bulls*t on this one).
But on to much sweeter notes, after this sour rant!
– Noah Vonleh (15 pts, 5 rebs, 1 ast, -4 +/-) keeps on being the catalyst for great Knicks games. He didn’t miss a single shot, going 6-for-6 from the field and 3-for-3 from three. He also played great defense on Giannis. Of course the Greek Freak got his (In my mind he’s the most dominant player in the world right now, just a smidge above LeBron and two above a healthy Curry), but Vonleh played him in the best possible way. Do you remember how everyone lauded over and over again Lance Thomas for his good defense on Antetokounmpo? Well, Vonleh did the same while playing actually productive basketball. He fouled out in overtime because of course you’re going to foul out guarding Giannis for 35 minutes. It has to be said that Giannis got a few star calls from the refs tonight, especially on a bogus uncalled traveling violation with just 2:05 to go in the fourth. His night began in the most auspicious way, with a thundering dunk on his first possession, who got the Garden riled up from the start. All in all, another great performance from Vonleh.
– Damyean Dotson (21 pts, 5 rebs, 1 ast, +15 +/-) is the living proof that whatever Fiz’s doghouse is, any sane person wouldn’t have put him in there. While you could theoretically give to his last three strong performance the old “sitting did him good” spin, the truth is that Dotson was performing really fine ever before that. Luckily his strong play in the first game where they needed him was enough to silence whatever order was made in favor of Hezonja. But, well, let’s speak of tonight: 21 points on 9 shots, good defense – a couple times even on Giannis after a switch, most importantly in the last possession of the fourth quarter – and the bucket that put the Knicks in front for good, maybe one of the best (if not the best, since you can count them on the fingers of a Homer Simpson’s hand) ATO we saw this season. He also is one of the few Knicks who run correctly the curl-around-the-screen-motion, and tickled the twine twice after one of those curls tonight. Dotson is for real and on an astonishing good value contract, raise your hand if you want to see him playing more!
– Emmanuel Mudiay (28 pts, 3 rebs, 7 ast, -3 +/-) had the performance of his life in the late fourth and in overtime. He almost singlehandedly carried the Knicks offense in that final stretch and was good at doing so. His efficiency was good but not great (28 pts on 20 shots), but he delivered in the clutch, hitting the three-point game tying shot with 24 seconds to go in the fourth and another two in the overtime. His shooting form from the perimeter is all over the place (think Russell Westbrook mixed with the worst Cobra Kai alum while intoxicated from cough syrup), but when they fall, they fall. I won’t expect him to hit 4 of 5 again anytime soon, but he picked the right night to do so. Those 7 assists were a welcome sight, also. I maintain that Mudiay is not a real PG, more of a combo guard. Nothing wrong with that, just saying that even if he develops more I wouldn’t be comfortable in handing him the reins of a team, and that we have a possibly superior one with the same build in Trier (I looked it up and amazingly B-R lists Trier as 2 lbs heavier than Emmanuel. Are we sure Zo didn’t pass some money to whomever is in charge of official measurements?). Still, a good game for Mud and a fun one to watch too.
– I guess that Kevin Knox (26 pts, 4 rebs, 4 ast, +5 +/-) will be the talk of the town in today’s newspapers. And, honestly, he deserves that, even if for one night. While watching the game during the fourth quarter, I thought it was gonna be an incredible outlier, because it looked like he was hitting every shot. During his last voyage to the stripe, at some point the MSG graphic showed he was 9/18 and 5/11 from three, far from what you would call “catching lightining in a bottle”. I would have liked to see him grab more boards, but his effort level was significantly higher tonight, even diving into the floor to try and get a jump ball in the third. His positioning in the offense was much better. His quick release and good sense of space on the perimeter reminded me (for one night) a bit of Steve Novak. Kevin played 37 minutes, was a plus-5 and however his career will be (not jinxing him this time; you already know what I think about him, but come on, even I can cut the kid some slack) we’ll always have the Knox game against the Bucks. By the way, here’s the list of Knicks rookies who hit 26+ points before Christmas (sorry, games in late season tend to count less for this purpose, as the competitiveness is not assured – remember Dot’s 30/10 from last April?) in the last 30 years: Knox, Trier, KP (twice), the immortal Chris Copeland and Channing Frye. It means nothing but it’s no small feat in itself, and Knox is the youngest.
The just above-average:
– Chuck Hardaway Jr. (21 pts, 4 rebs, 8 ast, +10 +/-) keeps on shooting badly, as for his last 6 games his TS% is a terrible 43.6, bringing the full season one to under 54, which is bad Melo territory. Luckily, he found other ways to contribute, as evidenced by his 8 assists and his plus-minus. Timmy played 47 minutes tonight, which means that, while we know that plus/minus is terribly inconclusive and noisy, the team was minus-8 without him on the court. He took another charge, which keeps him in second place in the whole league. Brief aside, again about Ntilikina: I guess Frank has done something awful to Fiz and his family not to see a single minute of action in a game where Tim Hardaway Jr. gets squeezed for 47 minutes, third most in the league for the season (to this date). Sorry, I really don’t get it.
– Mario Hezonja (2 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -6 +/-) found a way into this column even after his earth-shattering dunk/staredown/walkover in the first minutes. It’s not that he’s bad per se (well, he is, but that’s not the point): it’s that his presence on the court is simply not functional to anything. He kinda spaces the court, but what good is it if he can’t hit shots? If anyone deserves to be in the “not doghouse”, it’s him. Give Dotson the nod in the starting five for hell’s sake!
– Mitch didn’t foul out (Edit: yes he did with 1.2 to go. I erased that memory from my mind)! And had the game-sealing block on Eric Bledsoe in overtime. He got the task of defending on Giannis for the final stretch, after getting the same assignment in sparse minutes in the third and fourth, and guess what? He was pretty good at it. He put more attention in not going for the block, not leaving his feet early, not flailing around helplessly. He committed a very dumb foul on a Brogdon three point make in the fourth that was a bit reminiscent of KP’s closeouts, but he’s learning. I love his touch around the basket, but his hands need to get stronger and more confident in catching the ball. It’s good to know Fiz trusts the kid in crunch minutes. Well, at least until he puts him into the “not doghouse” for abstruse reasons.
– I’m sorry, that “not doghouse” thing just doesn’t sit well. I’m one of the most quiet, calm, soft-spoken people you’ll find around, but I can’t stand intellectual dishonesty.
– Enes Kanter was pretty inconsequential. Not good, not bad, just a bit mediocre.
– Allonzo wasn’t particularly good but contributed anyway: 9 points on 3-for-8, 6 boards, 5 assists for the rookie in 17 minutes of action.
– I can’t wrap my head around the fact that Malcolm Brogdon was -26 in plus/minus while scoring 22 points on 12 shots, getting 6 boards and dishing 4 assists. I guess he was the lucky talisman for our three comebacks during the game!
– Yeah, three real comebacks in a single game. The Bucks were up by 13 in the second quarter (Knicks get the lead 71-70 in the third with 8:48 remaining), up by 16 in the third with 5:30 to go (Knicks down just by three with 10:22 in the fourth), up by 14 in the fourth quarter with 6:54 remaining (Knicks tie with less than 25 seconds to go). Or are they two fake comebacks and a real one? I can’t decide.
See you on Monday against the Wizards and that insufferable jerk named John Wall!