Ah, the typical ebbs and flows of an entertaining horror flick. This one had it all: the despair of being left behind by every sane person, the exhilarating sensation to drive an improbable knife through the heart of your enemy, the stoic acceptance of your demise as said enemy looks to be still alive and coming at you with an unshakable aura of doom.
I, for one, am a fan of horror movies. And I’m a fan of basketball. That must be why I’m strangely at ease with how this game unfolded.
Fizdale made the sensible choice to pick Payton as the starting PG and gave a 85% healthy Mitch the starting nod alongside Morris, Randle and our collective new adult son, RJ. Things didn’t go very well at first (and neither after a while), as our Knicks seem to be plagued by a total inability to hit shots at the beginning of a game while being a bit clueless on defense. Nevertheless, and thanks to a brief offensive spurt by Knox (two trifectas in the span of 50 seconds), we were right there with the Nets with just 1:15 to go in the first. From there the Nets went on a 7-0 run to end the first stanza 32-23 while DSJ was trying to one up Frank’s terrible outing against San Antonio. Every other Knick was very tentative or just plainly ineffective at basketball.
The second quarter, while not an harbinger of success (I mean, we never got closer than down seven), showed us what a focused Allonzo Trier can bring to the team. As the offensive output of the whole team was very questionable, having someone who can be a believable scoring threat in isolation opens the game a bit. Zo may not be your cup of tea (and he surely isn’t mine) but if anything we can’t afford to waste his talents on a shooting, spacing-challenged team like the 19-20 Knicks. Anyway, the first half ended with the Knicks down 13 and the Nets, having dropped another casual 32 on us in the second period, looking fully in control of the game. I also think Knox may have played a few seconds at shooting guard during the period.
The second half opened in a frankly discouraging way. 29 seconds in, Taurean Prince drilled a three and Fizdale promptly called a timeout (spoiler: it wouldn’t be the fastest of the night). After the timeout, all the Knicks were able to do was to try and fail to deploy a simple pick and roll at the top of the key, with Mitch picking up his fourth foul for the night. The Knicks went down by 17 before ending the quarter down 11 on the heels of a kinda good period from Trier and Barrett on the offensive end.
In the fourth quarter, madness ensued. Kevin Knox hit from three 13 seconds in and Kenny Atkinson called for timeout. After a Spencer Dinwiddie bucket, Knox shot a stupid contested three that went in. After that, a Morris pullup three from the top of the key went in too. Down eight, Barrett came back in for Trier and never relinquished the point guard role (with mixed results, but we’ll delve deep into that later). After a couple buckets got traded between the two teams (score: 104-96 for the Nets) Trier got called for his fifth foul and Ellington came back into the game. From there Wayne proceeded to hit three triples in 150 seconds and the Knicks were suddenly up 109-106. Sadly, that’s where the Knicks stopped scoring, and where the absence of a capable floor general made its obvious appearance, like a basketball Michael Myers down the hall. Suddenly, everything didn’t work anymore and the Knicks were left looking at an encouraging 113-109 defeat while the game rolled away like a basketball in Julius Randle’s care.
– Allonzo Trier (22 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, -3 +/-) was a much needed breath of fresh air for a team that was desperately gasping for points. Iso Zo took the opportunity and made the most of it, having some kind of a true shooting wet dream: 22 points on 7 field goals look like what Daryl Morey sees when he’s high and not tweeting controversial statements about Hong Kong*. I will never understand why Trier doesn’t shoot a lot more from three, but I guess coaching has its footprints there too. Still, I liked very much what he brought to the table in this game and wished he was out there in the last two minutes. His defense is very suspect and every time he’s the only ball handler on the floor his sharp offense takes a nosedive (rendering him completely unfit to be an emergency PG), but we’re so devoid of actual talent in the backcourt that Trier has to play, at least until one between DSJ and Frank pulls his head out of his ass – the over/under for that is March 2023. His 4 turnovers were bad, but both teams were as turnover prone as they can be.
*Hey Daryl, for what is worth you have my effing axe on that matter.
– RJ Barrett (16 pts, 3 rebs, 3 ast, 0 +/-) followed his strong debut with a good and poised, if a bit efficiency-deficient encore. There’s no doubt the kid can play, and he definitely belongs. I guess you all remember our last two lottery picks, and both of them had the classic “deer in the headlight” look around them now and then (yeah ok, Frank still has it). Mitch is a golden god, but you still come away with the impression that he’s not really grasping what he’s doing half the time. Trier was a nice surprise last year, but was a 23 year old rookie and honestly didn’t look the part of a future cornerstone for a team. Even KP looked very acerbic during his hype-train led rookie season. Well, RJ’s demeanor makes for a sharp contrast with that. He already looks like he’s been playing in the league for the last 10 years. He can’t shoot for his life (don’t get fooled by his 2 for 4 line from three – the proof in the proverbial pudding lies in his 0-for-3 from the charity stripe) and won’t ever run faster than the 99% of NBA players, but he’s a tremendously practical player, he can finish around the rim and, most importantly, holds his own on the defensive end. He defended multiple possessions against Kyrie, and while Irving hit the game winner right in his grill, RJ didn’t really make his life easy. Oh, and he also ended up with six steals, the first Knicks rookie since Mark Jackson on December, 15th 1987**. Not bad.
I’m not a big fan of RJ’s play at point guard, but I don’t think it’s his fault. He’s not a pristine ball handler and while he can pass he needs fully formed plays to run to be effective. He’ll never be an improvisational, feel-for-the-game playmaker. But, again, he’s 19. He’s a good prospect. There’s nothing we can complain about here.
**Hah, so you forgot about our last two lottery picks! The last Knick rookie to collect six steals wasn’t really Mark Jackson, but your own forsaken Frank Ntilikina, who did it on November, 13th 2017, almost thirty years after the current terrible color guy for ESPN. Frank’s still the second youngest player ever to do so (19 years and 108 days), and Barrett just became the third youngest (19 years and 133 days). We’re talking “in the whole league history”, guys. Wanna know who’s the youngest? LeBron, at 18 years and 358 days.
– Dennis Smith Jr (1 pt, 1 ast, 1 blk, -8 +/-) is right now a horribly wretched open mic attempt at a Markelle Fultz impression. He has no feel for the game, he has no shot (whoever worked with him in the summer to “fix” his shot should be fired immediately) and he has no business being on the floor. I would send him to the G-League ASAP, because while I don’t think that playing there would be beneficial for Frank’s “skill set” I also believe DSJ’s future can be salvaged making him drop 25 and 8 per night on vastly inferior talent. For now, he’s a sorry excuse for a backup PG. I’m willing to bet 500$ that Kadeem Allen would be a better option at this point.
– Marcus Morris (11 pts, 2 ast, 1 blk, -1 +/-) is the typical wing that’s detrimental to the team as soon as he’s not having an efficient offensive game. He’s not a bad player, we all know that, but on a team like this his ball-stopping aptitude, coupled with the fact that he almost never passes the ball, will spell doom most nights. He should be here for veteran leadership, but doesn’t seem to mesh with the other players. After just two games you get the feeling that his ways irk a few of his teammates. I’m hereby predicting a Trier vs. Portis vs. Morris fight before Christmas.
– I was thrilled when I saw that Mitch would be playing, and starting the game at that. But then I’m a bit dumbfounded seeing as he’s made little to no progress from last year. It was widely believed he would have plateau’d a bit, but this is essentially the same old Mitch, grown wiser not a single day. That said, I still can’t get enough of him. in just under 17 minutes, 6 points, 7 boards, a dime, 4 (!) steals, a block and 75% FG. And yes, five fouls and three turnovers. Still good for a .163 WS/48 game. When he’s out of the game, the whole team has no business protecting the rim.
– It’s fucking criminal that nobody’s able to run a damn pick and roll with Mitch (and to a lesser extent with Randle). RJ tried it once and, surprise!, Mitch slammed down the ball with no effort required. *insert here mandatory retort against Fizdale’s lack of firing*
– Kevin Knox looking more and more like a giraffing (yeah, Merriam-Webster, that’s a new word for you) Steve Novak. The kid is shooting 87.5% from three, and while it obviously won’t last his stroke is pure. It’s a terrible idea playing him at the 3, since his defense is not on par, but he showed at least a bit of effort there.
– On one hand, it’s good to see that Bobby Portis played only 10 minutes. On the other, nice job Perry.
– Who could have ever predicted that we would have needed more rim protectors? Bring the Wooten kid up as soon as possible, like, I don’t know, yesterday.
– I’m very disappointed in Randle’s handle (get your game up, Clyde. I’m coming for you). It’s like Fiz told him “don’t worry, you can do as you please with the ball” and he jumped at the chance without figuring out how to do that. Dude, you’re not LeBron. Or Lamar Odom. Or Blake Griffin. Stick to your guns and dribble the ball only in the open court. 14 and 11 for him, but his shot is not falling and he’s turning the ball over waaaay too much. He already cost us one game, plus a couple ones in the preseason (they don’t count, but a trend is a trend).
– Taj and Wayne are who we thought they were. That’s a nice thing, mind you. Headstrong vets who play 10-15 mpg and don’t complain. I just don’t understand Fiz’s fascination about Ellington dribbling the ball here and there.
– I don’t know how to feel about Payton’s performance. He wasn’t exactly bad, but he was, like, Shane Larkin good? Not what you’d like to see from your starting point guard night in and night out.
– When I look at Kenny Atkinson I think he’s a distant relative of Cumberbatch-edition Sherlock’s Moriarty. I always expect him to burst into a cackling “miss me?”.
– We lost two entertaining games and that gives us a glimmer of hope. Don’t get too excited though, as both were outliers. In the first we scored like gangbusters in transition (not gonna happen very often with our defense). In the second we shot 17-for-25 from three.
And that’s it. The Nets won the battle, but they’re definitely not cooler than us. I see them going to the playoffs, losing in the first round, and then watch Kyrie ask for a trade in the midst of his second season. Enjoy your 2020s, Brooklyn.