Brooklyn Nets 112 – New York Knicks 104 – Game Recap

Why does it have to be so hard?

One of my favourite definition of insanity is the (misattributed to Einstein) following quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. For the umpteenth time this season, and more specifically the fourth in a row, the Knicks looked lost both on and off the court well into the second half of the game. On the court, well, for 30+ minutes this game was borderline unwatchable, full of defensive mistakes, stupid turnovers, and even an iffy own-basket by Kanter and Vonleh. Off the court, there was a minutes distribution so puzzling it made me question my sanity, because if you’re losing by a lot and not playing well at all, why in the hell do you keep the youngsters glued to the bench?

Then, with 3:43 to go in the third quarter, Frank came into the game for Mudiay and Robinson was brought in for Kanter. Forty seconds later, Knox was subbed in for Hezonja. From there to the finish line (15 full minutes of play), the Knicks trotted out the following lineup: Frank-Trier-Dotson-Knox-Robinson. Did we win the game? No, but with that lineup who cares. Did we make the game competitive and spirited? Hell yes. Did it make the game watchable and, most importantly, meaningful? HELL YES. This is our future. Our (cue the eyeroll of who just wants to hear and read about day-to-day basketball) cost controlled future. Our all-upside, no-downside future. That lineup, made of two genuinely good prospects, a solid wing in the making, and two mostly sucky first round picks, was +9 and suddenly made the Garden remember what it’s like to play defense with passion – and length.

Do you want more of that? Because I do. The fact that we lost, and in a competitive way nonetheless, while Atlanta and Cleveland won made it easy to find the sweet core of this sour, bitter candy. But setting aside the final result or the tankathon projection, playing the young guys gives you hope. Let’s see if those five will see the court through the next few games. We need Fiz to stop sending young guys to that infamous dungeon of his.

The good:

– Honestly, it’s hard to dub anyone really good for this game. The aforementioned uber-young unit was good as a whole, but none of the guys played well per se. So, counter-intuitively, I’ll hand the first good mention to Enes Kanter (23 pts, 14 rebs, 3 ast, -9 +/-), because without him the first 30 minutes of play would have been a sh*tshow of epic proportion. His presence, and his flawless touch around the rim, kept the game a sliver from rock bottom in terms of watchability, and even if he’s not a good team player he still is a good player, and I have to give credit where it’s due. That’s even more true tonight, when Vonleh straight up stank and the third best rebound tally of the team (after Enes and Mitch) went to Mario. Enes was his usual unrelenting machine on the glass and was efficient, hitting 10 of his 13 field goal attempts. I still don’t want him around here anymore after April 2019, but I have to commend his good performances. He even dusted off a nifty eurostep in the first quarter. If the game was only predicated on offense, Kanter would probably be in the top 5 of all NBA centers. Again, he’s just playing a different game from a different time. If you kept the same finishing lineup with Enes instead of Mitch, I think we wouldn’t have been that exciting overall and goodish on defense.

The above-average

– Sorry but I have to say it: Frank Ntilikina (7 pts, 1 reb, 3 ast, +7 +/-) was quite good tonight. The numbers are mediocre, even if he shot 3/6 from the field, and one attempt was a end of period heave (Trier should teach him to stop doing that to preserve his efficiency – lol). His impact on the game, on the other hand, was not. I know, defensive numbers don’t paint him like the total pest he is on primary offensive threats on opponent teams, but they’re so noisy that it’s all a bit inconclusive. He smothered D’Angelo Russell from the first possession. He got smoked just once by Dinwiddie (and then nobody came in to help). I’ll put it simply: guys were scoring effortlessly on us in the first 35 minutes. In the last 13 minutes, they committed three 24-second violations. Also, handing the reins to someone who wasn’t Trier was big for Zo. He’s not at his best when he’s asked to create first. If there is someone else capable of doing that, even if not at the rate we’d like to, and also to defend, Zo can untap his potential. Frank still tends to suck, but we need him a lot more than we need Mario or 5 extra minutes of THJ and Mudiay. Great finishing in the paint for him, too.

– Damyean Dotson (12 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast, -1 +/-) was the most evident beneficiary of Frank comeback. Dot in his first 15 minutes without him: 0 points, 0-3 from the field. Enter Frank: 12 points (8 in a row in a span of 63 seconds) on 5-for-7. As I said: this guy need someone to set him up to get in a rhythm. Defending better helps getting into transition which in turn helps finding guys open. That’s why defense is so important: a good defensive possession is the best start for a great offensive possession. This is his 16th game (on 22 played) that he goes off for 10+ points. I’ll say it again: Dotson is a keeper.

– Allonzo Trier (15 pts, 2 rebs, 46% FG, +5 +/-) didn’t play his best game and made mistakes on the last two plays (he should have passed the ball to a very open Mitch under the rim in his last foray), but was a force to be reckoned when driving to the rim. He was a bit less listless than Dotson before the late game spurt, but he too benefited from Frank’s insertion. Dinwiddie ate him alive, but I have a hunch that Zo will recover his at least average defensive presence in the next few games. By the way: the deadline to sign him to a real contract is approaching very fast. Does anyone have an idea about what’s going to be the offer? Nobody seems to be talking about it.

The bad:

– Tim Hardaway Jr. (7 pts, 1 reb, 1 ast, -9 +/-) threw out a real stinkbomb. He was nowhere to be found on offense tonight, trying to empirically prove that the cold hand fallacy is not a fallacy at all. I love his method to get out of a slump: just shoot it more with even less preparation, like it’s ever gonna work. His FG% for season has plummeted to 39.1, and his free throw rate is going down as well. He’s hovering around his career advanced stats, and that’s definitely not promising, as it wasn’t his body language for the whole game. He went 0-for-5 from three and every three pointer was a bad one. Someone should try to explain to him he’s not Steph Curry, or even Reggie Miller. I hope some fringe contender needs a sixth man sooner or later. Yeah, a 17 million dollars sixth man, but I hear that in Houston and in New Orleans they’re getting a bit desperate.

– Noah Vonleh (4 pts, 3 rebs, 4 ast, -7 +/-) played one of his worst games, maybe the worst when he wasn’t plagued by foul trouble. I don’t know why, but he just wasn’t there with his head tonight. I won’t blame him too much, but you really can feel when he’s not doing his best job out there. The whole team suffers and it’s pretty evident. His defense was lackadaisical too, as he even failed to rotate more than a couple times. The 4 assists are cool to see; the traveling violations in the first quarter 30 feet from the cup aren’t. I think he’ll be better against Charlotte.

Fun-sized bits:

– Mario Hezonja shot well for the first time in ages (4-8, 3-4 from downtown) but still was a game-worst -14 +/- and got a few of his teammates demonstrably angry at him for how he was misusing possessions. He’s unconceivably unaware of how bad he is at this game, but I don’t think it’s his fault, like at all. He’s not appointing himself a starter, there are other guys doing that for him.

– Mudiay is so bad on defense it’s incredible. They put him in the pick and roll, he dies on the first screen over and over again and then doesn’t know where to rotate. The Nets killed us with that simple action all night (again, defensive stats don’t tell all: watch film of Mudiay defending and of Frank doing the same, and tell me you don’t see differences).

– Mitch in full octopus mode on defense in the fourth quarter (three steals on passing lanes, a swallowing block) and with a pair of circus tricks on offense. If he only could avoid committing stupid fouls (and technicals) and could work on his hands – free throws included – he’d be a solid contributor right now. Just imagine where he’ll be in two years from now.

– Knox had a meh game. Not bad, not good (50% from the field though! And two confident drives to the rack). It was still nice to see him on the court not making too many mistakes during that fun fourth quarter.

– Four minutes for Courtney Lee. Thanks, Phil!

– The MSG crowd gave a heartwarming cheer for Frank as soon as he touched the ball. I’ll admit it: I’m a Frank fan. That melted juuuust a bit my cinical soul.

– During an intermission MSG gave a community award to Dr. Strange. No, not the comic book one. A certain Dr. Theodore Strange who saved the life of a fellow marathon runner. I mean, not all superheroes wear costumes, but some of them have their destiny in their name. Waiting for the first Bob Stark to save a kitten in a flying suit.

– Alan Shearer at MSG tonight. One of the most prolific scorer ever in soccer. It was funny to hear the contrast between Rebecca’s and Alan’s accents. OT: I have a much harder time understanding British people than American one. I wonder if it’s the same for you native speakers.

Are you ready for the French Heritage Night? I hope Frank is. A back-to-back against Kemba on a France-themed night should grant at least 15 minutes of gameplay to our offensively-challenged defensive savant.

See you tomorrow!

Washington Wizards 110 – New York Knicks 107 – Game Recap

Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio, sed fieri sentio, et excrucior. 

Ah, the immortal words of the Latin poet Catullus. “I hate and love [you]. Why I do that, perhaps you might ask. I don’t know, but I feel it has to be, and I suffer”.

Setting aside the fact that it’s one of my favorite piece of poetry of all time (so concise, so full of meaning and deep layers – if you didn’t know Catullus by now I strongly advise you to read something by him, the man did write a lot of all-time love poems, and a few of the most lecherous lyrics ever carved into stone before pulp literature was really a thing), has anything ever been written that can be best applied to our Knicks?

I mean, we keep watching and hoping, sometimes hoping for losses, sometimes for wins. Sometimes we find ourselves deeply entrenched in the meanders of dubious present and future contracts, sometimes we’d like to burn it all to the ground.

Other times we end up losing a game and feel ourselves a bit empty, not knowing if we would have liked to lose or win. This game was one of them. Would I have been happier winning this game? I honestly don’t know. I guess that’s what happens when you’re not exactly sure about the direction of the franchise, and when shots don’t fall like they did against Milwaukee.

The good:

– One can only hope that when Frank will emerge from the dungeon, he will play with the same confidence and consistency that has characterized Damyean Dotson (17 pts, 9 rebs, 1 ast, – 3+/-). Dot’s numbers after stepping again on the court are really noteworthy: 17.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 1.5 spg on 62.5% from the field and 65% from three, all in just 26 mpg. Of course the shooting numbers are bound to go down, but let’s say he shoots just 45 from the field and 38 from three. That would still be good for around 12 ppg. If other numbers stay the same (and maybe he improves his passing a bit, 0.5 apg is a really meager tally) you have a picture perfect 3-and-D wing on your hand. I already suggested that, but I guess the best course of action for this season is to engage in a little play pretend where we selected Dotson with the 8th pick last season while drafting a promising French kid in the second round with the 44th pick. Dot’s activity on the boards is really good, and it’s hard to ever see him in the wrong place on the court. Still one of the great mystery of the season why Mario is starting in his place (not that Dot’s game suffers from playing with the second unit).

– As written in the game thread, this was one of the rare games I got to catch live thanks to a bout of insomnia. I finally got to fall asleep at halftime, with all of these blunders by Emmanuel Mudiay (16 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, +4 +/-). I can distinctly remember at least 5 shots of his that were blocked and a pair of ugly turnovers. Mudiay’s fourth quarter, though, was a sight to behold. Suddenly he was penetrating with purpose and shielding the ball from those vicious Wizards defenders. He hit one of his patented legs-on-the-elliptical-machine threes. He pushed the pace, a thing he has become above average this season, roughly in the 60th percentile among players who made an appearance in at least half the game for at least 10mpg, and second among Knicks with the same parameters (take a wild guess about who’s first – the answer will be in the continuation of the recap). I didn’t like particularly his overall game, as he was too distracted and unattentive on defense, allowing cuts after cuts after cuts, but without him there wouldn’t have been the final effort that made this game so much more palatable. If we’re honest, in the good column I’d have to put just Mudiay’s fourth quarter.

The bad:

– Allonzo Trier (2 pts, 1 ast, 50% FT, -12 +/-) is doing everything he can to help our front office in contract negotiations. After exploding for a monster performance against Detroit, he’s posting 6.3 ppg on 26.1 FG%, 3 rpg, 2.3 apg and an average plus/minus of -12. Sign him now! Seriously, it’s normal he’s gonna have some nights off. He’s a rookie, and he’s not a point guard by any means. As soon as defenses start doubling him he’s lost and muffled, like putting a pillow in front of a megaphone. He’s not ready to be the designated primary ballhandler of a unit on a regular basis, and that’s ok. He shouldn’t be unless the situation is favorable and demands it, just like it is and was for Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford. Tonight he just didn’t have any solution for the second half extra-tight Wizards defense. He even missed two free throws. Who knows what happens to the rotation when Trey Burke comes back now that Courtney Lee is healthy. If there was a time to sign Zo to a team-friendly deal, it is now.

– Mario Hezonja (9 pts, 2 rebs, 1 ast, +1 +/-) is a real aficionado of this column. I still don’t understand why we’re supposed to have at least a bad starter in all of our iterations. With Lance down, Mario’s stepped up big time for that role. What’s borderline unbelievable is that he has played much worse as a starter than he did when he came from the bench. Bear with me. Mario as a starter: 5.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.0 apg on 33% from the field an 22% from three in 18 mpg. Mario as a bench player: 9.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.2 apg on 40% from the field and 28% from three in 20 mpg. And this numbers don’t even paint the whole picture, as it’s defense where he’s really been otherworldly terrible. We’ve played 25 games and I think there’s no question about who’s the Knicks worst player this year. So, sure, make him the starter and put Frank in the dungeon (I hope at least Ntilikina is not in the Butcher’s room from the original Diablo). As for tonight: Mario came out a bit aggressive, then chucked his way out of the game. To me, the most notable sequence of his game was in the first quarter with 5:25 to go. He was tasked with guarding Satoransky, and after a simple action by the Wizards, Wall threw the ball to Sato in the left corner, wide open (Mario got sucked a bit into the paint by a strange defensive rotation). Hez was still the closest guy to Satoransky, but no! He yelled and pointed at Mudiay, who was much closer to his man (Beal), to go and contest the Czech’s shot, while he was running towards the center court, and maybe Beal. It was something else, really. It was the basketball equivalent of faking an incoming phone call so you don’t have to speak with the guy you spotted 30 feet away, only for him to greet you anyway because your phone isn’t lit up and it’s pretty evident you’re looking for an excuse.

Fun-sized bits:

– Enes Kanter with a double-double, again (13 and 16 in 25 minutes of action). His effort was critical in the first half in keeping the Wiz down. I won’t talk about his defense again, but Fiz threw a very sneak-tank move in the fourth, putting Enes as the lone big in a lineup with Knox, Dotson, THJ/Trier and Mudiay. He entered the game as the score was 93-84. When Vonleh was subbed in for him just four minutes later, the score was 105-89. He never saw the floor again and the game ended 110-107. I think you get the idea.

– Vonleh had a good game (11 pts, 8 boards, +9 +/-) but I can’t put him in the good section if he misses that many bunnies and loses the ball four times due to sheer carelessness.

– Mitch with 3 blocks and a monster alley-oop (Knox had the nice idea to throw him a lob in the first, but missed the spot by about 2 feet. Mitch was able to capture the ball and stuff it anyway), and some good defense in space. It stands to no reason that he only played 14 minutes (at least he’s leading the league – the whole league! – in BLK%).

– Chuck Hardaway Jr.’s new recipe to get over the hump: if you’re shooting badly, take your first shot from 30+ feet! An uninspired 20 points outing for Timmy, who’s regressing to his former habits: bad shot selection, not going to the line that much, not doing a lot on the court (2 assists and nothing else).

– Kevin Knox is putting a lot more effort in his game lately. He shot badly (again), hitting just 3 of his 11 attempts, but got 9 boards, some of them contested, and handed out 4 assists. I liked what I saw from him tonight. Nothing to write home about, but his heart was in the right place.

– Kevin is the answer to the former question! He’s the Knicks with the highest pace on the team (good of the 77th percentile in the whole league). He’s attempting wretched layups, but he’s wasting no time in doing that!

– I like Courtney Lee. He stabilizes whatever lineup he’s in. I’m happy he’s playing again. I hope he’s somewhere else by January.

– The botched uncontested layup by Lee with two minutes to go was hilarious: Lee went for the layup with swag and landed ready to treat those two points like it was nothing (in a very convincing fake way). The layup bounced off the rim. Lee’s face transformed in a second in an expression that suits the awkward kid from high school who has the talent to always say the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was the layup version of the Nick Young missed three GIF.

– David Fizdale said, an hour before the game, he wasn’t sure if Burke’s minutes would go to Trier of Frank. Hahahahahah. Of course. Why not.

I’ll wait for you at the dungeon’s entrance on Thursday against a Celtics team that’s playing much better than it did the last time we faced it. Let’s see who comes out!

Milwaukee Bucks 134 – New York Knicks 136 (OT) – Game Recap

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!

The great:

– 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.

The good:

– 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.

The bad:

– 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!

Fun-sized bits:

– 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!

New York Knicks 108 – Detroit Pistons 115 – Game Recap

Hello losing my old friend, I’ve come to talk about you again.

After the three-win streak that we just endured, finally a consolatory loss, and with a kinda better minute distribution from Fiz. The game was ugly (our Bockers ended up shooting 39.6% from the field, but entering the second half their percentage was under 30, welp) and much less closer than the final scores indicates; there were times tonight when watching those two teams playing that I caught myself wondering if I was witnessing some sort of impromptu post-modern art performance. Guys fouled like crazy (usual and unusual suspects) and in the end Blake Griffin was just too much for any of our defenders. In the closing minutes, out of frustration (and necessity) Fizdale dusted off a previously horrendous Frank to defend on Blake, and while he did a decent job at defending Blake (but kept on sucking extremely hard at the game of basketball) the score was well out of reach, so it didn’t count. Every other guy was bullied and torched by a curly, burly Motown discount version of LeBron James. But a loss is a loss, so rejoice!

The good:

– Allonzo Trier (24 pts, 10 rebs, 7 ast, -6 +/-) makes you wonder why in the hell the Knicks haven’t already cut someone to sign him, and not out of astonishment at Iso Zo’s feats; there is an opportunity cost lurking around the corner, and it says “The later you sign him to a real contract, the more it is gonna you cost”. I mean, our man got close to a triple double and was the driving force behind a very fake and weak comeback in the fourth. It’s pretty clear that Fizdale trusts him to be our closer, especially on nights where THJ doesn’t have it – and that might mean a lot of nights by the end of the season. The last sentence, while serving its duty as our daily reminder that our roster stinks (your closer is an undrafted guy on a two-way contract!), could make Trier think twice before accepting whatever lowball offer the Knicks will throw at him. What could have cost you 2 million a year might now cost 3 or more. Every game where Zo puts up those numbers and does so on 11 shots is gonna raise the price. An undrafted rookie rocking a .612 TS% (third among all rookies) on 20.4 USG% is the stuff of your dreams, even if he’s an older rookie. There have been 8 games this year where a rookie has put a GameScore of 23+: Zo has two of them (the others: Ayton twice, Doncic, Jackson Jr, Young, Carter Jr). It has to be said that while his offense was pretty much pristine, his defense was uncharacteristically lackadaisical. Ok, Ish Smith is a longtime Knicks killer, but he got where he wanted all night and Zo never did anything to stop him. I hope that Zo is not one of those guys that after having made it just gives up on defense.

– Someone has any effing idea why Damyean Dotson (17 pts, 1 reb, 1 stl, +5 +/-) could not find any playing time in the last 4 games and had to be taken off the shelf only because of urgent foul trouble? He’s by far – by far – better that any other 3/4 wing we have. I can’t shake this feeling that Perry is constantly in Fiz’s ear telling him to play his precious Mario. More importantly, Dot doesn’t give up. Like an utmost professional, he stepped into the game and proceeded to score 17 on 8 shots in 23 minutes. He could have been a little better on defense and on the boards, but you can’t have it all. I just hope that Fizdale never buries him again, it’s the only very baffling things he did in the recent winning streak. I don’t know about those trade rumors, too. Do we have to trust our front office with getting a good return from an unheralded second round pick on a uber team friendly contract? I don’t. Let’s hope Dot sticks around.

The bad:

– Frank Ntilikina (0 everything, -5 +/-) played one of the worst transparent games I’ve ever seen. The only thing preventing him from earning a cool 16 trillions was bricking 3 shots, fouling 3 guys and turning the ball over once. I’m a fan of Frank for evidently irrational reasons, but it gets harder and harder each day to think we didn’t make a serious mistake picking him at 8th last year. His game was so ugly that I can’t even remember anything about him on defense, save for the couple possessions when he was assigned to Griffin. Hey, what do you say if we pretend (paraphrasing what someone suggested in one of the last threads) that Dotson was our 2017 first round pick and Frank was our second round pick? Maybe we could shift expectations and apologetic contortions.

– Trey Burke (6 pts, 1 reb, 12.5% FG, -18 +/-) has turned into a pumpkin again. It’s unbelievable how much variance affects his games. Or not! Actually, his success is predicated on being a marksman on the least efficient type of shots in the game: the long two-pointer. If it doesn’t fall, you have a 6’1″ mountain of bricks staring at you, and that shot usually comes and goes. His game-low plus/minus tells the same story. It’s no coincidence that our defacto PG in the last quarter was Trier.

– I guess Mitchell Robinson’s (2 pts, 5 rebs, 1 blk, -13 +/-) scout report is officially out. His second consecutive mention here it’s not exactly his fault, it’s more about experience and tendencies that can and will be corrected. That said, it’s become obvious that he has no way of stopping crafty, huge big men near the rim without fouling them; the same can be said about speedy driving guards who are not afraid of contact. Another night prematurely ended by six quick fouls. It has to be said that giving him the Griffin assignment was like dropping a hurt, bloodied puppy on a sea full of hungry sharks, and Griffin caused the fouling out of Vonleh and Hezonja too. Growing pains, guys!

– Kevin Knox (4 pts, 3 rebs, 14.3& FG, -4 +/-) is, right now, a terrible basketball player. You had to hear the deflated, defeated somber tone used by Mike Breen late in the fourth quarter in referring to Knox: “Knox really looks lost, Clyde”. It was a torrent of sadness, as if a million neurons were facepalming in unison like tiny synchronized swimmers. And Breen has been with this team through a lot of bad times. He was there when the East was big. When Beno passed the ball. When Mardy Collins was playing for us. And I’ve never heard anything so dreary come out of his mouth. But Knox is the perfect recipe for piling losses, so yay! I can be happy again! …or not.

Fun-sized bits:

– Enes with another double double. Guy is a machine. A slow, overpayed, self-inflated one, but a machine nonetheless. I wish we were in the 90s to trade him for a king’s ransom. We’ll end up buying him out instead. But his terrible defense is pivotal to our tank effort, so until March maybe it’s cool (if Mitch really can’t stay on the court).

– Mudiay with a vintage Mudiay performance. Do I have to act surprised?

– Chuck Hardaway’s numbers in his last 4 games (3 W, 1L): 17.3 ppg on 32.3 FG% (47.3 TS%). At least he reduced his usage to just 23%.

– Frank’s TS% is 43.5. His 2017-18 was 43.7. I think we would be excused if we started thinking about him as a non-shooter.

– If Vonleh has foul trouble issues, the whole team suffers. Tonight it was really apparent. His game is pure substance, even when posting mediocre numbers (6 pts, 7 rebs, 1 ast, 3 blks). He keeps on shooting the three at a .400+ clip, though.

– This would have been the perfect game to unleash a sprinkle of Ron Baker; I’m a bit sad that didn’t happen.

– Mario is playing a bit better, but nothing that grants him any of Dotson minutes.

– Stanley Johnson killed our guys tonight with 21 points, and his defense on the perimeter was very good. Is this again my heart saying “Be patient with Frank” in the background?

Another back-to-back for us tomorrow against the 76ers. Don’t know why but I have a feeling that we’re gonna win. Let’s see if I’m wrong (I hope to be)!

New York Knicks 103 – Memphis Grizzlies 98 – Game Recap

Picture this: you’ve been ousted by your former employer because of friction in the workplace, which were probably caused not only by you, by you alone paid the price. You go to work for an upstart, if disjointed, new young company. Fate intervenes and pits you up against your former employer in a nation wide competition for best businesses; you probably know you shouldn’t stand a chance to win and you would benefit more for your company developmente by just letting your youngest team members learn on the way, while getting the most experienced ones to just provide support and a sort of backbone. But no, you have to win. It’s personal.

Well, I completely understand that. Sometimes it’s really personal. So this time I’ll set aside my usual rants about veterans and rotations and whatever. It feels good for Fiz. You could see it in his eyes, and especially in the post-game hug with Mike Conley. His clash with Marc Gasol last season could have been an unwashable stain in his NBA career. Now it looks like it’s just another bump in the rearviewmirror.

Getting to the game: it was great! You see, I’m used to low-scoring games, what with my European upbringing, and rooting for the Knicks makes it so that we’re usually fond of players who give their all on the court to prevent the other team from scoring easily, but I have a soft spot for well-played games that are not shoot-outs. Now, don’t think that I don’t like those crazy scoring nights around the league that tend to happen daily this season, but well, they look like blockbuster cinema. It’s fun and everyone likes it, but sometimes a real fan wants to appreciate something closer to the nature of the game. Or maybe it’s just me longing for the past days where I banged and raised elbows and profusely sweated and fouled hard guys trying to score easy baskets, and I had my freeflowing locks a-la Christian Laettner blocking my view on the court, while nowadays I never play anymore and I’m scratching my bald head at the last 350 words.

Let’s try it again.

Getting to the game: it was great! A hard fought, gritty win on the road against the team with the best record in the Western Conference, with a few heartening performances along the way and a thrilling finale where our guys showed up in the clutch. Let’s delve into details!

The good:

– Enes Kanter (21 pts, 26 rebs, 3 ast, +9 +/-) threw in a performance for the ages, netting 14 points and 11 rebounds in a single quarter, the third. It’s his second 20-20 game for the season, and his 26 rebounds are a career high and a season high for the whole league. He played a Thibs-approved 42 minutes, but didn’t seem gassed at all in the waning minutes (insert joke here about how not playing defense make the feat easier, as you rest on the court for half the time). There were times, especially in the third quarter, where he utterly dominated the mountain-like Marc Gasol under both rims. I am always thankful for Enes, since he got us out from the Melo contract with the added benefit of the MitchRob pick, but I’m routinely harsh with him. Not tonight. I was happy to root for his monster performance. Amazingly, his game score for tonight amounts just to third-best for the season. I wish it was easy to root wholeheartedly for him this season, sadly it’s not recommendable, as it wouldn’t be recommendable to fall in love with a crazy-hot partner who you know won’t be around in a few months and will ruin some of your most promising friendships.

– Emmanuel Mudiay (17 pts, 2 rebs, 4 ast, +5 +/-) was again pretty good on offense, shooting a perfect 5-for-5 from the line to offset his subpar shooting night (5-for-12) and being the protagonist of the highlight of the game, a late-game breakaway and-one dunk after a Burke steal with less than 100 seconds to go. Mudiay has been legitimately good at attacking the rim this season. He falls to the ground like he did in past seasons, but this year he usually converts the shot. It’s funny that I refer to a 5-for-12 night as “subpar”: if he ended the season shooting 41.7% from the field it would still be his most accurate average by far. For the current season, instead, he’s shooting 49.2% from the field and is on the verge of breaking the .100 WS/48 threshold that basically would posit that he has become an average NBA player. It’s genuinely astonishing and at the same time it functions as a glimmer of hope for the development of a certain other offensively challenged kid with African roots. Mudiay found a way to be a contributor even against the top defense in the League, and that’s really something. If this is the real Mudiay, I’d count it as the highlight of Fiz’s career.

– Noah Vonleh (7 pts, 6 rebs, 2 ast, +17 +/-) took more than a backseat to Kanter’s amazing night, but make no mistake: he’s the glue that keeps everything together. Simply put, when he’s on the court it’s almost impossible for the Knicks to be outmatched in physicality and effort, and as a tertiary ball-handler he shows a lot of confidence, and his teammates rely on him to create from time to time. Memphis would have certainly escaped with the win if he wasn’t there grabbing some hard boards in the fourth (you know, the ones where you have to jump high, something that Enes doesn’t exactly excel in). Great signing from the scrap heap, wish we could have him for a few more years.

The bad (or more on point, the meh):

– Kevin Knox (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 blk, -4 +/-) is not ready for this type of games. He shot the ball three times and he never did so in rhythm. It’s hard to find your spots against a team as defensively prepared as Memphis, so that’s not entirely his fault, but his contributions nowadays seem to came only by his points scored, and when he doesn’t hit shots he’s worse than useless, he’s actively detrimental. His road to be a competent NBA rotation player will be bumpy and we have to be ready and patient. As of now I’d say there’s a 30% chance that Kevin will be an NBA player in 5 years, but there’s no way to know for sure. I didn’t have a lot of expectations from him this season, I’d say we’re par for the course.

– Mitchell Robinson (0 pts, 2 rebs, 1 stl, -5 +/-) was the primary suspect on everyone’s list of “player less suited to play against Memphis”, and that list was correct. The rail-thin Mitch could do nothing against the Gasol behemoth, nor against the rangy Jaren Jackson Jr. He was completely out of sorts in all of his 13 minutes of play, particularly on defense. Nights like this act like a much needed reminder that Mitch has still a lot to get to NBA-starter level, but well… he’s a 20 year second-round pick rookie who’s exceeding expectations by a lot, so he’s more than forgiven. He’s still leading the league in BLK% even after this empty performance, go figure.

Fun-sized bits:

– Trey Burke was more than instrumental in securing the win, with his great interception for the Mudiay’s dunk and his 8-for-8 from the line, but man… he clunked a lot of shots. He was 3-for-15 from the field, playing a big part in the awful 37.4 FG% posted by the Knicks team. Being a six-foot guard has to be scary on a night where Memphis set its franchise record for blocks in a game.

– Tim Hardaway Jr had his second bad shooting night in a row, but made up for it with some charity stripe forays (22 points on 16 shots, 7-for-7 from the line). All in all a very transparent game from him, but in the end we needed a few of his buckets to take home the W. Sitting comfortably at 23.3 ppg on 55.5 TS%, he’s playing the quintessential high volume-average efficiency scorer role risen to prominence in many Melo years.

– Speaking of Melo: do you realize this would have been the last year of the contract Phil gave to him? And he’s apparently out of the league? How’s it goink?

– For the second straight game, Frank played 13 minutes. They weren’t bad, but Fiz looks to have shifted into “Frank is a wing who will play minutes accordingly to the game flow” mode. I’m not sure if I like this, but Frank’s not complaining. 7 points and 6 boards for him. A little more substance in his game for once.

– Exhibit A about Frank’s shot being irreparably broken: a hideous airball from three (with his feet set) in the first quarter just after a clean make from the corner 90 seconds before. Exhibit A about Frank’s shot needing only some confidence: the kid is shooting 15/16 from the line for the season and his stroke looks pure. I think Frank has to make a mental leap to become a good player; the downside of that is that mental leaps are the hardest to successfully complete.

– Zo with another double figures scoring night, but this time he wasn’t efficient (5-for-12). Credit Memphis for making his efforts at the rim much harder than they were in his first 20 games.

– Mario started again. Didn’t do a lot again. But he was a bit better and didn’t get in the way (and looked a bit more focused). Can we please see more Dotson and less Mario? Thank you.

– For all the people who think that winning useless games is better because it helps building a winning culture: if the byproduct of said “winning culture” is a Knox instead of a JJJ, I don’t want to win anymore. To me, JJJ is going to be the second best player in this rookie class.

– Lastly, for all my rants about winning useless games, we’re at 7-14, which means we won a third of the games we played, which means if we keep this W/L ratio we’ll end up at 27-55, right around where I predicted at the beginning. It’s easy to get carried away by the tanking passion.

Let’s see what our guys are made of on Tuesday against Detroit! For now it’s all. See you!

New Orleans Pelicans 109 – New York Knicks 114 – Game Recap

Hey! Hey you! Yeah, I’m talking to you, Mr. Fizdale. Don’t you know that we’re supposed to lose a lot of games? What are these shenanigans of winning two games in a row against good teams? I have two words for you: Zion Williamson. Get back on track!

Now, seriously. The last two games have been a breath of fresh air, a nutritious sip of broth for a fanbase starving for feel-good moments from this season… except, our feel-good moments aren’t really measured in wins or losses. They’re measured in development. And on a night like this, while we should be happy that we won, I can’t avoid the sting of seeing that, apart from Allonzo (more, a lot more on him later), the quartet of other rookie-scale contracts going into 2019-20 has played just 33 minutes combined. I’ll delve into the possible explanations to this further down the recap, but I had to put it off my chest: I feel uneasy winning and seeing so little out of our projects.

The good:

– Allonzo Trier (25 pts, 8 rebs, 4 ast, +13 +/-) is the clear-cut MVP of this one. Apart from his gaudy numbers – on 12 shots! – due to an extremely salivation-inducing ferociousness in attacking relentlessly the rim, he was the only reason I don’t deem a failure this game. You might think my vision is too bleak, but again I ask of you: what good comes from seeing a game won by guys who probably won’t be here next year ruin your chances at a top 4 pick next June? That said, I don’t blame Fiz for this one: he has to follow through on his meritocracy propaganda, so it’s only fair giving minutes to who’s playing well. Now, gloomy tangent aside, Trier was awesome tonight. He didn’t only score effectively: he was there everytime we needed a timely bucket, and there are nights when he’s just so good at protecting the ball driving to the rim (I was baffled when I went to look at his FG% on drives for the season: it’s just 48.3. For context: the best Knicks at drives FG% is Emmanuel frigging Mudiay, at 58.6, good for seventh in the whole league among players with 3+ drives per game; Allonzo is 61st, nothing to scoff at from an undrafted two-way player anyway). Iso Zo tonight was everything we needed THJ to be, and he carried us to the victory. Again: 25 points on 12 shots, 4 assists, 0 turnovers. On the Merriam-Webster, tonight, his picture was the definition of efficiency.

– Emmanuel Mudiay (27 pts, 7 rebs, 2 ast, +5 +/-) was Trier’s partner in crime and is a pleasant surprise, to be honest. He’s not a good (or even average) NBA player even now, but his improvement from past seasons is palpable. This is the first year where he’s putting up a WS/48 > .050 (at .083 now), a TS% better than league average, and positive BPM and VORP. Don’t get me wrong, the numbers suggest that he’s just an 8th-9th man at best, but at the beginning we all thought he was downright terrible, and had our good reasons to think so. It’s possible that Fiz has fixed him a little bit. For sure, he’s a completely different guy when driving to the rack (see above). Not only that, though: he’s better at defense, and he’s making a better use of his big body in space. Don’t let the 4 steals fool you: there was some hustle there, yeah, but also a lot of gambling. If any of his gambles was just a bit mistimed, you’re looking at easy, easy points for the Pels. The highlight of his night is his wonderful reverse drive with 34 seconds to go: that showed that his new found efficiency at the rim should be sustainable. It looks like he’s in control of his body for the first time in 4 years. It’s just a shame that his cap hold will be too big: to really invest in him for the next five months would be a pedestrian mistake. Also, for such a prolific driver, his 2 assists tally is a bit meager.

– Noah Vonleh (14 pts, 11 rebs, 5 ast, +18 +/-) is making me fall in love with his game night after night after night. Third straight double double for him, 4 for 7 from three point range, team-high plus/minus and assists. Add 2 steals and 2 blocks and he made certainly drool many a fantasy owner tonight. Vonleh is, again, the lone exception to the merry band of expiring contracts winning us useless games. I hope we keep him after this year. He looks so much better than he did in his last NBA stops. I won’t bother you with his advanced numbers again; I’ll just leave here his 3PT%: .412 on 1.7 attempts per night. I think it’s gonna fall down to around .350 (the arc is flat and two of his misses were ugly airballs), but as a surrogate stretch four he brings so many other things to the table, like a strong ability to pull down defensive boards, something that we sorely need. Our other frontcourt players are great at getting offensive rebounds, but on the defensive glass we are a little overwhelmed. We need him to jump under our basket. His defense is nothing to write home about, Davis (until perfectly healthy) dominated him, but then again who can defend well on Davis?

The bad:

– Mario Hezonja (2 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast, -3 +/-) might be the worst use of cap space for a year since we signed Derrick Williams. Someday we’ll know why he’s starting instead of Dot or even – gasp – Knox. He was terrible again, apart form a very brief stint where he made a cutting layup and later dished a chocolate assist to Kanter for an easy two. His advanced numbers for the season scream “huge bust”: -0.057 WS/48, .435 TS%, -6.7 BPM. I think we have seen enough of him. It’s not even like he stabilizes the starting five! They need defense and shooting. He doesn’t bring either, which makes even more puzzling the fact that Dotson is not seeing playing time and Mario is averaging 17+ MPG as a starter.

– Kevin Knox (5 pts, 1 reb, 1 blx, -9 +/-) is having a lot of rough nights by himself; tonight foul trouble exacerbated the problem. He wasn’t able to contain anyone on defense and on offense shot 2 for 6, where one of those two connected attempts was one of the ugliest floaters/toss up I’ve ever seen. His advanced numbers are worse than Mario’s; in his defense, he’s a rookie, but that’s the only thing that goes in his favor. Anyway, I’m all for giving him all of Mario’s minutes, if Dotson can’t/won’t play.

Fun-sized bits:

– Not so fun, but Mitchell Robinson shouldn’t get so enamored with his blocking ability, or he’ll become an Hassan Whiteside-type defender, which means great blocks numbers but little impact on the game. I’m sure that won’t be the case with Mitch, and tonight he was defending possibly the best big in the whole league, but he elected to defend only with his hands and never with a jockeying motion. That he was able to put in a mildly productive night (5 points, 2 blocks, 1 rebound, 1 assist) in 9 minutes of play speaks volumes about his ability to impact games, but he has to be very careful about defensive mistakes – and where he steps when he tries to block guys on the perimeter. Twice he went under a Pelican shooting from three and once he was whistled for a flagrant 1. That call was excessive but by the rules. Second time in a row that a Mitch blunder costs us five point in a single possession. And to foul out in 9 minutes is simply… rookie dumb.

– Mitch is posting a league-high 9.8 BLK%. Over the course of a season, only three players in NBA history have posted a higher number: Manute Bol (six times), Alonzo Mourning and pre-huge contract (for the time) Jim McIlvaine.

– Frank Ntilikina played only 14 minutes tonight and was his usual good on the defensive end, plus two blocks, and quite meh on offense. There was no reason to play him so little, unless Fiz has seen that Frank can only play with certain guys (see: Burke) and not with others (see: Mudiay). That would be disconcerting, but I find no other reason to bench him so much, and that’s the only remark I have to make about Fizdale tonight. The sequence of the night belonged to Frank, though: block on the defensive end, another block by Mitch, the ball switches to the Knicks and Frank drains a three in semi-transition. This is what we want to see, dammit!

– Timmy was horrible. Too much turkey? Seven points, a lone rebound, four assists and a ghastly 2-for-15 night from the field. Improvement much, huh? It’s not fair to look now, but his WS/48 dipped under .100; how do you spell “17 million dollars” in trade language? We’ll forgive him this time, though.

– Trey came back to normal, but was still useful. 20 minutes of steadying the ship and letting others do their job. I’ll take it.

– Enes Kanter played his first Enes game since becoming a starter again. 17 and 12, plus 3 blocks and some mobility on defense. It’s just a shame that he couldn’t win a jump ball against a chair.

Our record goes to a suboptimal 6-14, good (bad?) for fifth-worst in the league. Let’s see what happens on sunday against the Grizzlies. I expect a terrible game to watch, where THJ will chuck 20 shots from the dribble and we’ll end up losing 92-75… but losing is good, isn’t it?

See you!

New York Knicks 117 – Boston Celtics 109 – Game Recap

I told you I wanted the guys to win this game. I’m really happy they followed through on my wish, and did it in such a convincing fashion. In a season dedicated to losing, sucking and (hopefully) developing players, it’s a great thing to pick your spots with regard to beating good teams. If we have to beat a good team, let it always be Boston. It feels great to wash away their smugness with the same forcefulness used by Mitch to swat those poor suckers at the rim.

The game became a much closer matter than it should have been (our largest lead was +26, but it got cut to just 3 with 34 seconds to play), but that was to be expected, given that Fiz left two rookies on the court for the majority of the fourth quarter. I have to say that this game went a long way in giving me back confidence in Fizdale’s ability to understand the game. Whatever was going to happen to this game (and it’s much better that we won, but it would have been good even if we lost), let the unproven guys get the reps they earned. Mitch and Knox were on the court for pretty much the entire fourth quarter. Frank played the full last 12 minutes. This is how you do it.

The good:

– Ok, when did Trey Burke (29 pts, 6 rebs, 11 ast, +10 +/-) become the undersized version of Kyrie Irving? Seriously, this guy is having such a good streak of games that you might mistake him for an All-Star candidate in the last four: 25.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.3 rpg and 1.3 spg on a super efficient 67.8 TS% and an astounding 31.7 USG% in just 28 minutes per game. This game is all his: he played great (yeah, great) for all of his 33 minutes, and came through with timely buckets in the last two minutes and a half, including the crucial three-pointer to put us ahead for good with just 12 seconds to go. In fact, he scored 7 of our last 9 points, where the lone two points he didn’t score were free throws that the Celtics gifted to Mudiay after we were up six with 5.5 seconds remaining. Trey was everywhere, oozing confidence and showing he was in total control of the game. I know it won’t last, but this Trey is an amazing player. Well, I guess most players are amazing when they apparently can’t miss, but this one, hitting guys in stride and snatching more than a few contested boards in traffic, was the real deal. Probably his best overall game in a Knicks uniform.

– Noah Vonleh (16 pts, 10 rebs, 3 ast, +5 +/-) began the game with fire in his eyes and ice in his veins, hitting both of this three-pointers and going after caroms with undeterred savagery. The fact that he played so well and still didn’t see significant playing time down the wire speaks volumes about both the quality of the play of the guys on the floor during the bulk of the fourth quarter and the sound decision making of coach Fizdale. Noah keeps on being the best frontcourt player of the team, if not the best player entirely, and even when he commits a few mistakes you can’t deny the contribution he brings to the team. This time he was very good even at rim protection, blocking 3 shots, two of them reminiscent of particularly nasty spikes in volleyball. I think we all remember fondly KOQ; I also think we found a guy that’s a nice, consistent replacement for the zany beardo (save for those delicious passes hitting backdoor cutting guys). His stats are not at the level of peak KOQ, but are good nonetheless: .123 WS/48, 18.4 TRB%, 9.1 AST%, 1.2 BPM look like the typical portrait of a nice third-fourth big to have on a contender. If we are not able to keep him next season, I wish him the best of luck and to find a place on one of the 4-5 best team in the League.

– Mitchell Robinson’s (8 pts, 4 rebs, 6 blks, +7 +/-) inclusion here is a bit of a stretch, since he alternated resounding plays and dumb mistakes – most egregiously fouling Irving with a clear path to the basket in the fourth, effectively handing the Celtics the opportunity to cut the deficit to ten with more than seven minutes to play – but I mean… have you seen this guy roam the paint on defense? There was a stretch in the fourth quarter where the 15 foot radius in front of the rim looked positively like a no-fly zone for green jerseys. Do you know who’s on top of the block% in the whole NBA? …your guy, Mitch. I guess we probably would have won the game even with Vonleh on the court in place of Robinson, but it was such a stupendous view to see our rookie center wreak havoc and terrorize all sorts of Celtics for a few minutes. This kid really belongs in the League.

The bad:

– Mario Hezonja (3 pts, 2 rebs, 1 stl, -2 +/-) is trying a little too hard to get acting recognition, starring tonight as Lance Thomas in “Desperately seeking useless starter: a Knicks bio-pic”. Second start in a row for Mario, second stink-bomb. He shot 14.3% from the field, did nothing in any other facet of the game and was his usual listless self on defense. It’s unbelievable to think that, for all his talent, he could just very well be the worst player on our roster. His effort level is unexcusable. I pegged him for some 20+ points game from the bench inside MSG, but I don’t think he has any fire in his soul. He looks like he can’t wait to be home, wherever that home might be. Sure as hell ain’t gonna be New York after April 15th, 2019.

– Emmanuel Mudiay (5 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -6 +/-) wasn’t all that bad, but the good Mudiay we’ve seen in some of the last games was nowhere to be seen. A timid performance, buoyed just a little by his block on Irving’s last shot and his subsequent 2 free throws. Never was the disparity between him and Burke more evident than tonight. There can be a lot of games where Trey is not playing well, but that’s on his physical limitations or his mental disconnect, never on his instincts. Mudiay, on the other hand, needs to be always 100% focused on the game, as his insticts are severely lacking and have to be continuatively kept in check. Tonight was a typical directionless Mudiay game; the fact that I don’t feel it was that bad maybe speaks more about my very low expectations for him than about his real level of contribution.

Fun-sized bits:

– Enes Kanter is strangely posting meh numbers since getting inserted back into the starting five (8.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 41.2 FG%); his body language looks a lot better, though. Does he really care that much about starting on a team that’s going to lose at least 55 games? I mean, I know the NBA market is skewed in favor of starting, huge numbers posting guys… but in 2018 that’s for guards, wings and stretch bigs. I hope his agent is smart and in his ear, otherwise Enes is going to be in for an unpleasant surprise this summer. Not a bad game for Enes tonight, anyway. Sometimes he kinda overcomes his defensive liabilities and find a way to be sorta useful on both ends of the court. Not hating on happy, 25-minutes playing Enes.

– Frank Ntilikina played a huge game on the defensive end. I’m sorry, I don’t have stats for you, and I’m not keen on trusting that much my eye-test (what with being shortsighted and all), but if you saw even some snippets of the game you saw his on point defense on Jayson Tatum and other sorts of Celtics. He was again good at getting to the rim, even unleashing a contorting baby Greek Freak layup in the fourth. I like me some aggressive Frank! Maybe Fiz has found his right role? Could Frank play best as a wing, acting as the egg in our Knicks cheesecake recipe: you think it has no purpose, but it makes everything stay together while enabling the different, more present flavors to emerge with their distincts features? Oh, and there were a few possessions where he was matched with Marcus Smart and I was like this.

– Tim Hardaway had another 20+ points game, but this time his performance wasn’t noteworthy in a good way: 21 points on 19 shots, a missed technical free throw late in the game, lots of bad turnovers (seven total). He seems a little more engaged on defense, but nights like this one won’t cut it when we’ll need him to win games in two years. He’s always unafraid, but he’s careless with the rock in the half-court. For all the talk about his improvement, a lot of his advanced stats are the same as they were in his last year with Atlanta.

– Allonzo Trier continues on his campaign to be a proficient offensive cog while trying not to detract anything on the defensive end. Through almost a quarter of the season, he’s still averaging double figures in points while shooting a little south than 60% true shooting percentage. Not bad for an undrafted rookie, huh?

– Kevin Knox had a nice outing (11 points, 9 boards, one block). I don’t care that much about him scoring 10+ points: I care about how he gets there. He was able to go to the line four times and employed a good shot selection. Also, his work on the boards was similar to what we saw in Summer League. I still don’t see much in him, but tonight he looked at the very least competent enough.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Celebrate this pretty win with as much cranberry sauce you like and, if your stomach is full of air and feel about to burp, send a thought to Boy Wonder Brad Stevens who just got manhandled by a merry band of misfits in his hometurf.

See you on Friday against the Pelicans!