This early April games are seldom relevant, even during non-tanking seasons. There are only a handful of games bearing any sort of importance, what with most of the seeding and qualfication threshold being already handed out. Well, this wasn’t one of them. Orlando needs every win it can get to sneak into the playoffs (the Magic began the night being 9th, down 0.5 games from the 8th spot held by Miami), and the Knicks need every loss they can get to ensure their place amongst the top tanking teams ever. That said, the game wasn’t as bad as you could have guessed from the premises.
The Knicks actually started guns a-blazing, hitting 7 of their first 13 shots and with Mudiay doing his best impression of an average passing PG, dishing in traffic and (mostly) on the perimeter. Watching Mudiay play in the first quarter you had the feeling he stayed up late to watch tape of the latest Westbrook heroic: Mud had 5 assist in the first 6 minutes, while shooting terribly and notching only 2 points from the line in the whole period. Meanwhile, Mitch was beasting on well-timed cuts and well-executed finishes at the rim, with a couple soft layups in stride. Kevin Knox was also pretty good attacking the rim (!), never settling for that ugly floater of his but going strong to the rack with the ball up high. Intensity level wasn’t high by any measure, but it was a competitive game nonetheless. After the Knicks went up 8 (22-14) the quarter actually ended with the teams perfectly tied at 26.
The second quarter was a debacle, as shots weren’t falling at the same rate for the Knicks but mostly the offense was inconclusive while the defense was porous at best. After returning from the bench, Mitch was looking winded with more than 3 minutes to go in the second: banging bodies with Vucevic without some sort of help from anywhere else (since we started Hezonja as our power forward, making good of a promise Fizdale made to him) would do that to a rail-thin rookie with an up-and-down stamina. The quarter ended 58-45 and we knew the game was over. From there, it started the Mitch-block-streak watch, since by halftime Mitch had none, a very rare occurrence.
The third quarter saw the Knicks come very close behind lots of drives from Mario, who played a nice all-around game (save for defense, but we could expect that): the Knicks were down 2 with just 1:23 to go in the third, before three straight trifectas from Terrence Ross sent us at the last break down 11.
The fourth quarter saw the Knicks putting up a fair fight, but never coming closer than 7 points, despite the efforts from Mario (again) and Knox. We went on to lose and that was ok. I was just sad because during the telecast (and the NBA League Pass extension confirmed that) it looked like Mitch’s streak of 2+ blocks did come to an end. Alas, it was not to be. Sooner or later it had to happen, and it was more than acceptable for it to happen against Vucevic, who’s more than a handful to contain on defense and would tire a lot of guys around the league. Well, I thought, it was good until it last (and by the way Mitch would have been second all-time among rookies anyway, only tied with the Admiral).
Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to open the boxscore to write this recap. Two blocks? I remembered a clear one on a Terrence Ross jumpshot early in the fourth quarter, but where was the second? I went on to check and there it was: it was credited, with 7:02 to go in the fourth (so less than two minutes after the first) against an Aaron Gordon tip-in. And you know what? They were right! It was a block, only it happened in a split-second and in real time it looked like Gordon’s attempt just clanged onto the rim.
The streak goes on! 26 games with at least 2 blocks for Robinson, putting him in sole possession of the second place all-time among rookies. If the Knicks were a 35-win team (god forbid), I think Mitch would have a clear shot to be nominated for the second All-Defensive team. Being the Knicks a 15-win team, I don’t think his effort will be rewarded (this year). But then again, maybe it’s best not to be put in the spotlight too soon, especially with the summer of AD ’round the corner. Don’t take away my Mitch please, I want him here forever.
A few notes:
– Mitch’s streak is also the 12th longest ever in the history of the League (non only rookies). Doncic and Young might be better (they are, as of now), but Mitch’s season has been nothing short of historical. It’s the best rookie season for a Knick since Ewing, bar none. Last night (and mind you, he really was gassed in a few stretches) he posted a 12/9/3/2 line (3 steals, 2 blocks) and it looked like he wasn’t even trying that much. If his offseason is just average, he’ll come back ready to plaster opposing players all over the court. He’s just too good.
– Mario went nuts tonight in his return to Orlando (byt the way: I don’t understand why you have to make a promise to start a guy against his former team, which selected him 5th overall and repeatedly saw him fail to live to expectations, but still. I’m ready for the Ntilikina night in 2020, when Frank will start against the Knicks and put up 7/3/3): 29 points on 20 shots, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. It would be so easy to root for him if he only cared to play real basketball more than once every two weeks. The 29 points are his new career-high. If he has a few more games like this one, maybe he’ll ditch his negative WS/48 for the season, who knows?
– Mario’s season reminds me of those friends who talk always like they’re such big shots in every area, and most of the times (rightfully) nobody believes them. Then one night you go to a restaurant and you see that there’s, say, Bruce Springsteen seated two tables from you. At the end of the dinner Bruce comes to your table and greets your friend, telling him “hey, we have to check back on each other! Remember that night I backed you on vocals in front of 3,000 people?” and your jaw drops to the ground. Next day, your friend will claim he had a burger with Elon Musk on Wednesday and you’ll go back not believing anything he says. Last night, the stepover dunk, the LeBron block: the Bruce meeting. Everything else: utter crap.
– Do I need to say anything about Mudiay? Yes, I do. If Mudiay learned to play every night like his first quarter, I’d be more than ok with keeping him on board. I don’t care that much that he misses his shots if he keeps the offense humming. Sadly, he was able to do that only for 10 minutes. Still, a well rounded box score: 13/7/10/2/1. He just was inefficient (13 points on 13 shots, 3 turnovers) and the usual minus on defense. He also can’t play the PnR, but in the open (or semi-open) floor he found Mitch three times, which has to be a season high for him.
– Did Knox turn the corner in terms of offensive efficiency? In March, he was able to shoot a respectable (for a rookie) 53% TS. In April he’s at 62% (ultra small sample size, I know). I mean, he still sucks, but there’s some improvement here and there. 21 points on 13 shots, 4 boards and 2 steals aren’t that bad.
– Billy Garrett Jr had his NBA debut thanks to the fact that we’re out of bodies in the backcourt. He was nothing special, but he can run the PnR much better than Mudiay. I know, that’s like saying that 3 is higher than 2. Mudiay has to be one of the worst 5 pg in the league (10-day contracts included) in running the pick and roll.
– Kornet was thoroughly abused by Vucevic. It’s not exactly fresh news, but normally he’s at his worst when asked to man the 5 without some enforcement (be it Vonleh or Mitch). He collected a game-low -21 plus/minus (Mitch was +7 for what it’s worth).
We’re getting closer and closer to the last spot (we need two losses, two Phoenix wins, or any combination of those). I guess next game will be a blowout, so we’re due!
See you against the Rockets!