Sometimes, a loss is a loss is a loss. Sometimes, a loss is a great loss.
While the eternal child that resides in me always (always) hopes for a fat W when the Knicks play, there’s something to be said about my adult, cynical, bashed-by-life-where-shit-happens self not wanting the Knicks to win this one even when the game was close in the last moments. You see, winning is never inherently good. You have to factor in a lot of parameters in the equation, like: what’s there to gain with a win here? What are the chances we get to the playoffs if we beat the Clippers on their home turf? (0.00000002%). What are the chances that Morris never gets traded if he goes off for 40 and we defeat a possible/likely NBA finalist? (12%). Wait, did you consider that Pills are still our FO? (Oh, that’s right. Bump it up to 75%). And Dolan being the owner? (Oh shit. This is looking like the Stonks! meme. Turn this up to eleven and let’s say 101%). And what if BoPo chimes in from the bench with another double figures game? (Oh god. We’re gonna keep all those mercs around, aren’t we?).
I think you get my point, mostly because my point is also your point. Team realist has spread like a benign virus in the last three years of Knickerblogging, and while we’re not the happier for this, we’re certainly the saner. Or are we? After all we still follow closely the fate of an intrinsically doomed franchise, submitting ourselves to Wally’s homer droning in the process at least a half-dozen times a year.
The game was fun, mind you. Fun and kinda pointless, if you think that defense should be half of the endeavor. These days a lot of pundit fall head over heels after a first glance at the box scores. Hey, teams now routinely score 120+ points in regulation time! Call this a big win for Adam Silver’s NBA!
Let’s pump the brakes a bit, K? I don’t know if I really like this product. I mean, it’s not rocket science to acknowledge that more points = a better chance to bake that highlight reel cake in a way that looks really good. But you know what also looks really good? Every single fast food burger out there, in the ads. Marvelous, bursting at the buns, colorful and making you strive for odorama. Than you go to McDonald’s, order your Big Mac, and you find it’s soggy, lukewarm and sometimes even gloomy, as if your tax return has suddenly come to life in hamburger form (going by this metaphor, the All-Star Game is the actual bun they use for the photoshoot: fake, inedible, unhealthy and misleading).
Games like this give me exactly that feeling, and not because of the loss – I think I felt the same way after the 143 points outburst against the Hawks. Do a Mitch thunderous alley oop make any noise in the forest of double digit leads in the fourth?
I want to see defense. I want to see players put up 30+ points against hard competition. I want to see meaningful basketball juice, not this sort of homeopathic ball where they dilute and dilute and dilute the meaning of competent defensive possession hoping that your basketball hunger will be satiated by the water memory of an Anthony Mason defensive stance in December 1993.
Anyway, on to the game.
Early on, and I mean in the whole first quarter, it looked like the Clippers were in a sort of Groundhog Day routine. After conceding 40 points in the first quarter of their recent Memphis game, they went on and let the Knicks amass 45 points in the first stanza (to their 29). Everything was falling for the Bockers. RJ was scoring at will, Portis was raining threes, Morris was kinda hot, even Frank (who got the nod because Elfrid’s with his newborn baby and DSJ has a strained oblique – funny how these new generations come up with rebranding even for pouting and sucking) made his voice felt with a confident three from the dribble. Meanwhile Paul George at the 2 spot was fumbling the ball, Patrick Patterson was disappearing from the court, and Ivica Zubac was busy scoring high at Scrabble with his name.
Well, it was too good to be true (and it was easy to see it was a fluke. You usually can’t win a game against a top-3 team when they score 29 on you at their worst). In the second quarter, the wheels fell off and the Clips reciprocated with a 47-24 quarter of their own. It’s a good sign that the Knicks didn’t just roll over and die there; after all, the game was still close. It’s not a good sign that the gate were kicked open by the most likely suspects from the bench: Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Harrell in particular made a point of straightly abusing Mitch down low. It got so bad that I actively hoped that Mike Miller would put Taj Gibson back in the game because Mitch was looking like Bambi’s mother out there. It wasn’t pretty (Taj did zilch to stop Montrezl, but he’s expendable. I don’t want Mitch to look this bad out there, even if he deserved the humiliation, it’s probably needed to make him evolve. He has so much room to grow before becoming a cornerstone – but he’s hands down my favorite Knick ever since I got to watch NBA basketball in 1994, with honorable mentions for David Lee, Gallo, half a season of Landry Fields and two months of Jeremy Lin. I feel about him just as I felt gazing upon Manu Ginobili dressing up for my beloved Virtus Bologna. Don’t mess with my Mitch).
In the third it got worse. The offense looked like it stopped working (not true, they still put up 31 points, but in this context it looked like that) and the Clippers kept on piling point after point on us. The quarter ended up 38-31 for them, but it felt like 50-15. We looked hopeless out there while George, Williams and Harrell were cooking.
The fourth quarter saw an unlikely but inspired comeback on the heels of a monstre offensive performance from Mook; ultimately, we lost because they’re better than us at basketball and because even with their top two guns out of the game (Leonard due to load management – LeBron triggered – PG due to having fouled out) they still had the two best players on the floor in Williams and Harrell. The quarter ended 32-21 for us, but it wasn’t enough. And I felt happy that we lost.
– Imagine if Marcus Morris (38 pts, 5 rebs, 1 ast, +2 +/-) was playing this sort of basketball in a meaningful year. He’d be inducted into the Knicks hall of fame midseason. Frankly, I never expected that he could have this sort of impact on a game on the offensive end. Scoring 38 points on 19 shots isn’t an easy feat even for the top players out there. It’s a shame that Mook’s timeline doesn’t match with the Knicks one, or I could have easily fallen in love with his production (this is your daily reminder that we signed him only because Bullock failed his medical. Don’t give Pills too much credit for Morris, ever). Right now, I feel like a farmer in the sixteenth century that had a beautiful daughter and was smart enough to know that the best scenario for him was to have her marry a noble suitor. Sometimes love has to take a step back and yield to the cruel reality. That said, was there a better opponent for Mook to showcase his talent against? I’m sure Jerry West doesn’t get easily swayed by a single game, but just imagine what happens if all the Clippers have to do to bolster their production is to send us Harkless and their 2020 first. They suddenly can field this lineup in the playoffs: Beverley-Shamet/Robinson-George-Leonard-Token buyout center with Williams-Robinson/Shamet-Morris-Green/Patterson-Harrell. Crunch time lineup: Williams/Beverley-George-Leonard-Morris-Harrell. How can you stop them? Trade. Mook. Now.
– RJ Barrett (24 pts, 6 rebs, 1 stl, +4 +/-) delivered a great, great performance last night. It was needed, honesly. 24 points on 11 shots is manna from heaven for him, especially considering that he found the time (and the way) to go to the line eleven times and sank nine freebies. A statistical aberration if I have ever seen one for this season, but at the same time it could be good foreboding. I still find his assist numbers (or lack thereof) very worrisome, but I can’t pin it on him. Miller’s no-nonsense attitude made it so that Barrett’s playmaking just can’t get exploited with him in the starting five. I’d like to see him and Mitch command the bench mob, but I don’t know if that’s ever gonna happen. For now let’s revel in his few efficient performances, and circle the dates when the Knicks play against teams that don’t have interior protection. That’s the only flaw in the Clippers’ roster construction, and it’s the only flaw that RJ knows how to exploit for now. It’s still not bad for a 19-year old, you know? For what it’s worth (nothing) RJ’s the third youngest player ever to put a 24/6 on 11 shots or less in NBA history, the other two before him being Dwight Howard and JJJ. Rounding up the top-10 of youngest players to post such a feat are the late Eddie Griffin, Chris Bosh, Andre Drummond, Marquese Chriss (what), Tyler Herro, DeAndre Ayton and Tyrus Thomas. A bit hit-or-miss, but again, let’s just take the good omens out of this.
– I don’t have a single Knick having played significant minutes here (Kevin Knox would be the choice, but he played only 6 minutes – while posting a DSJ-like -11 +/-), so I’ll give this spot to the Knicks defense and free throw shooting *ahem* prowess. We lost a game by three and missed 13 free throws. Oh, and we found a way to lose a game where we scored 132 points on a blistering 57% from the field and 52% from three. I’m glad we lost for the aforementioned reasons, but we should still be ashamed we couldn’t snatch a win out of those numbers. Miller didn’t do a great job here, even if he was two PGs short and made the best of what he had.
– Or did he? For a couple minutes out there we witnessed the return of the 4 power forwards hydra. Frank-Knox-Morris-Randle-Gibson. Stop this madness. Paul George can play the two. Kevin Knox has trouble playing the three. Shame on you, Mike Miller.
– Mitch got his ass handed to him by Harrell (who scored a career high 34 points on 21 shots) but in the end he wasn’t that horrible. His plus/minus (-3) compared to Taj’s (-10) would suggest we would have been better playing him more minutes and giving the Harrell assignment to someone else. Maybe Randle would have been good, since Harrell just exploited Mitch’s pogo stick tendencies and Randle just doesn’t jump on defense at all. That said, two boards in 22 minutes are a disgrace. Mitch, you have to do better. Also: I get that the Clippers have good, switchable defenders on the perimeter, but how come we’re not running at least 15 PnRs with Mitch per game? He doesn’t even have to be the finisher. His sheer threat opens up the lane. Kadeem Allen had the easiest layup in “traffic” of his life just running a simple two-man game with Robinson. Miller, this is your wake up call. I like the job you’re doing, now it’s time to pump it up though.
– I don’t know if it’s a fluke – it probably is – but Frank’s penetrating a bit more. On a scale from 1 to 10 I’d peg him at 3, so wildly insufficient, but he’s made progress. Again, good omens?
– In the first quarter the Clips were whistled for a three seconds violation on defense. We had Frank and Morris on the court but nope, Randle decided he had to shoot the free throw to get himself going (Frank tried to dissuade him but to no avail). Sheed’s right: ball don’t lie. The free throw was deservedly weak and short. Blame’s on the coach, but Julius, being a primadonna’s not your style. Cut that crap and go back at punishing mismatches.
– Wally is really the worst. He has a worse reaction delay than Knox on defense and still finds a way to say the most uninspired, self-evident things about the action that just unfolded, often making things up on the go (“I like Frank’s aggressiveness” after Frank drained a long two in the third – by that time Frank hadn’t even tried a single drive in the game and had already played 15+ minutes). He seems a good guy, but I’d prefer anyone, anything else as our color analyst. Even Dolan himself.
And so, as predicted, we’re 0-2 on the road trip with another two hard games to come. It’s ok to lose them all, anyway. We need a bad record to convince Pills to listen to trade offers. It’s the nearest goal we have. Let’s fulfill it.