I won’t toy around even a tiny bit: this game was pure ass. The final score doesn’t even begin to tell how mismatched were the two teams, with the worldbeating Rockets straight up abusing the Knicks from the start, and without needing too much from the reigning MVP to complete that feat (because let’s face it, in 2019 a 26 point game from Harden – on 21 shots! – is kinda subpar) or elite efficiency from the whole team; the Rockets shot 42.6% from the field, but connected on 22 threes on 59 attempts while our guys were just able to muster 6 trifectas on 27 tries. The starters did a lot of damage, as three of our starters ended with -30 or less plus/minus while Chris Paul and Harden posted a tidy +34 and +29, respectively.
Honestly, the game looked like a lot of the games I played semi-competitively in my youth. I always played in outmatched teams, and most of the time opposing teams would just run us out of gym in less than 20 minutes. To this day, I remember a game I played in 1995 where the final score was something like 92-19 (I kid you not) and I was the leading scorer for my team with… 4 points.
Seriously, there’s no point in telling you how this game was, so I’ll just focus on the main course: point Mario.
Mudiay was out thanks to a sore shoulder, so with the team completely out of serviceable point guards (sorry, Billy Garrett, I have a hard time seeing you stick in this league) Fiz elected to give the lion’s share of playmaking duties to the Croatian Kobe. Simply put, it was a blast. I don’t mean this in the sense that Mario might have a future at the 1, but watching him play the part made evident a concept we should all be aware of: our point guards simply suck at distributing (the jury is out on DSJ, who showed some promise before injuring himself and letting the position open for Emmenthaler Mudiay), and as soon as there someone actually capable of making a strong entry pass assists tend to pile up.
What do you know, point Mario recorded his first NBA triple-double last night, with a fat line of 16/16/11 on 11 shots. The 4 turnovers are a bit too much, but it was a glorious individual performance. Mario is like a talented painter who mostly “paints” slinging his own feces at the canvas, but sometimes remembers to put actual paint on the palette and then proceeds to give you glimpse of pure art. Last night, in his most complete performance ever in this League, he gave us his “Girl with a pearl earring”, a well-balanced masterpiece where everything falls into place. Last Wednesday, he raged against the Magic with fiery strokes, delivering his “Saturn devouring his own son”, a gory, scary, pulpy and a bit pointless creepy act of artistic revenge. The Lakers game with the iconic block on LeBron was his “Composition VIII”, a mixture of things that had no business being there but in the end look good and meant to be. The Giannis stepover was like a Lucio Fontana work of art: a single cut on the canvas that makes you wonder “Is that all?” but ultimately resonates through a lot of arts’ cognoscenti (Every other game is similar to a chicken holding the brush in her beak and running around smearing paint on the floor).
Still, a marvelous triple double for him. Since there’s nothing else to say about this game (other than Mitch keeping alive his 2+ blocks streak and eating alive Faried on one occasion), I’d like to treat you to “The history of the triple double”.
I learned about the existence of a thing called triple double unpacking Upper Deck cards in 1994 (it was also my first exposure to NBA, thanks to the intuition of my uncle and to the fact that the newspaper stand had no change, so the vendor “gifted” us with three packs of cards – I still remember the first ever card I pulled out, it was of the Denver Nuggets’ shooting guard Bryant Stith). That edition had a special section about triple doubles, god knows why. Well, the first time I incurred into the notion of a triple double it was thanks to Rumeal Robinson, who recorded two triple doubles in 1993 for the Nets while substituting for the injured Kenny Anderson, and was thus granted a special card by Upper Deck. At that time there was no Internet (nor Basketball Reference), so I guessed this Rumeal guy was a big shot in the NBA having accomplished such a great feat twice. Little did I know that a triple double was not that big of a feat, and little could I know that in the late 2010s the triple double movement would have seen such a spike that even Mario Hezonja and Jarrett Jack could record one manning the point for the Knicks.
It’s 1996, late February/early March. The team I play for is approaching his last game of the season, having already been eliminated from the playoffs (but not without putting up a fair fight; that year we won 7 of the 16 games we played). A few of our guys are sick with colds or fever. I have to play all 40 minutes (the only instance of me playing the whole game; I was a starter – at center, since my polished 5’8″, 145 lbs frame accounted for second tallest guy on the team, welp – for the whole season but usually played 30mpg banging with guys 6’3″ or taller and weighing at least 190 lbs). I finish the game with the only triple double ever recored by that team, with 10 points (on 16 shots, urgh), 16 boards, and 10 steals (at the time it was impossible to record triple doubles in Italy. Assists were awarded only if you passed the ball to a guy in the paint and the guy didn’t have to dribble even once for it to be considered a valid one). Of course we lost. If your center shoots 5-for-16 for the night, what do you think will happen? By the way, I also have the only 4-point play ever made by a player of that team. Incidentally, that team folded in 2001.
Throughout Knicks history, there have been only 79 triple doubles. It’s not hard to guess who has the most (it’s Clyde, of course, with 23). I’ll let you guess who’s second and third*. Anyway, in the last 30 years there have been only 13 triple doubles by a Knick player. Mark Jackson is the only one having more than one – he had four. Notable names on the list: Raymond Felton. Chris Childs. Jarrett Jack. Mario Hezonja.
Yes, Mario and Jarrett Jack have as many triple doubles in a Knick jersey as Patrick Ewing.
For context purposes, the NBA has seen 120 triple doubles (and counting) just in the 2018-2019 season. Ten years ago, the grand total was 30. We’re living in a golden era, in terms of league-wide talent. It’s a shame that our team is so devoid of such talent. For now?
A few notes:
– We clinched the worst record in the NBA! It was the worst year since the lottery exists to do it (Dolan’s razor anyone?), but it’s still a nice feat, especially because we avoided malcontent festering inside a pathetic losing team. I have to give credit to Fiz for that. Just for that.
– Henry Ellenson is a weird dude. Once in a while he looks slick as hell (even if very slow and plodding). 16 and 7 for him. I wouldn’t mind guaranteeing him for next year to be a homeless man Kelly Olynyk for us.
– You know who’s improved mightily as the season went by? Nah, not a player. Rebecca Haarlow, that’s who. More confident, more relaxed, more professional-sounding, dare I say even better looking (love the casual mini-ponytail she was sporting last night)?
– Speaking of Haarlow: I don’t know if you saw it, but the interview with Mitch’s high school coach was nice. The guy looks like a good-hearted, no-nonsense man. Thank you Butch for everything you taught our wonder tall baby.
Only three to go! We’re almost done, guys. We stayed strong. We won the tanking battle. It’s a tale for the ages. When we’ll be old and cranky, we’ll remember nights like these and we’ll remember they led to a ring, sooner or later. Especially if Jeff Bezos buys the Knicks, you know?
*second in that list is Richie Guerin, with 16. Third is Michael Ray Richardson, with 12.