This game had all the makings of a hang-around game in which the Knicks would eventually lose. All the symptoms were there. The lethargic rotations, the 4th-quarter regression; it all conspired to knock the Knicks one notch further out of the 8th playoff spot in the East. And so it did, as the Celtics stormed out of MSG tied for the 3 seed and the Knicks retired to their apartments to regroup and maybe do a Netflix binge or brush up on their 2K skills. No starter for the Knicks played particularly well, and without the much-maligned Jose Calderon, the spacing was an issue against the disciplined Celtics’ defense.
The Knicks’ starters shot 21-59 (36%) from the field against the Celtics, and looking at that stat, it’s amazing to see that the Knicks remained in the game at all. When your starters shoot sub-40%, it’s almost always a recipe for a loss. I’m not sure what the exact numbers are because it’s a tough statistic to find precise information on, but I know that teams that shoot under the 40% mark lose something in the range of 90% of the time, so there’s a sliver of a moral victory here in the way the team competed and kept the score within striking range despite the shooting woes that plagued the Knicks throughout the game. I had to go and look at a bunch of game results to figure this out, and it was late and I had had a couple of drinks and I’m sure there’s another good excuse for why this information could be wrong but I can’t think of what it is, but teams are now 18-30 in games played directly after playing the Warriors. It’s a meaningful stat, because while looking through the day-by-day schedule results, I noticed so many teams played against middle-of-the-pack or worse competition following their scheduled lesson in basketball brutality against the Dubs, and even more interesting, over half of the time teams had two days off or more following a game against the Warriors. It’s a curious scheduling quirk (if you read any of my stuff you’ll know I’m kind of obsessed with how the schedule affects the rise and fall of teams in the NBA standings) and it certainly raised my eyebrows as I cycled through counting up wins and losses.
It was a disappointing result in a big game against a division rival which could have propelled the Knicks into the next stretch with a bit of confidence. Before the All-Star break next weekend, the Knicks play at Detroit, and then have a 3-game homestand with Memphis, Denver and Washington coming to NY before the break. All of these games are winnable, and the Knicks are going to need to win 3 of those 4 to go into the week off feeling confident about where their season is headed. I think the next game at Detroit carries a lot of weight as to how the homestand will go, because the Knicks need a boost to their collective gusto after the (not very close) losses against some of the league’s best. It’s easy to grow disheartened when you get your ass beat by OKC, the Clips, the Raptors and the Warriors over the course of 10 days, because you see what kind of talent is on the playoff caliber teams and maybe you realize you aren’t in that class as you play against them. But beating those teams shouldn’t be a goal for the Knicks this season anyways; beating the teams they are capable of beating and finding a way to get into the 6-8 spot in the East is their attainable goal, and even if they slide into the 8 seed and get swept faster than the parlor post-tea-time at Downton Abbey by the Cavs, it will be a successful run with the current roster before the Knicks can build around what they have and improve it for a more realistic run next year.
It’s the time of year where every game starts to become magnified. There are only 30-ish games left for most teams in the league, and the competition level tends to crank up after the All-Star break as teams begins to jockey for playoff positioning. The NBA season is a long grind, and individual games don’t carry as much weight early in the season because teams play 82 of them, but as the amount of games left begins shrinking every team can look at the standings and their schedule and do the math. The Knicks are in a precarious spot right now, as they’ve been several times this year. They’ve faced down a tough stretch of losses with a streak of wins to rebound and put themselves right back into the playoff conversation several times this year, and they will need to do so again. It must be tiring to dig yourself out of the same pit over and over and then watch the dirt fall back in around you as soon as you’ve made some observable progress, but as the theme of the game thread suggested, Groundhog Day really is kind of the perfect metaphor for this Knicks season.
No matter what, we’ve got Porzingis, everyone. So in the iconic words of Aaron Rodgers, everyone R-E-L-A-X. We’re gonna be fine.