Man, does it feel weird.
A seven-game winning streak? Weird.
Being ahead of the Heat and the Celtics? Weird.
Fielding a very likely All-NBA player? Weird.
But most of all: being down six at the half and feeling ultra-confident about getting the win? Super duper weird.
Lo and behold, that’s the world we live in. A team that was penciled to win around 24 games total (and not just by me: by Vegas, who actually had the Knicks o/u at 22.5, never forget) is now strolling down every victory lane like it’s not that big of a thing at all. A guy who I was totally partial to give away for a second rounder and a bag of chips is putting up historical numbers and has a very high chance to run away with the MIP and an All-NBA berth (if I had to bet now, I’d say Julius could even sneak into the second team. Injuries to many other stars play a factor here, but other than Giannis and Kawhi, who else you got at forward that played better than Randle for the whole season, considering the win/loss column and everything? Ok I’m probably drunk on recency bias). A guy who we were all (well, most of all) worried about becoming another bust because he couldn’t shoot is actually capable of hitting six threes in the same game and is shooting 39% from three for the season, all the while getting closer and closer to .100 WS/48 in his age 20, second season. Would be mercs are playing with heart and desire and are executing defensive schemes like they really enjoy playing defense.
(Now seriously. I think parents should call Thibs and ask what’s his secret to getting – almost – every player active and participative on defense with gusto, and then put that to work in order to get their 5-year old brat to eat broccoli. If I had to guess, the secret is just shouting repeatedly in their ear, facemask half-down your nose, BROCCOLI and then send them out of the house for an hour if they so much as look at candy)
Getting back to us again: this is such a weird year that our third string center (?), 437-year old, grizzled minimum vet Taj Gibson has become an integral part of the team so much that we’not feeling at all the loss of defensive beast Mitchell Robinson – of course, that’s also because Nerlens Noel is shining under the spotlight, at least on the defensive end. Fun fact: now I totally savour the vision of guys rolling down the lane to try and dunk on us when Nerlens is in the vicinity of the rim. Those blocked dunks suck the air out of opponent lungs (and, by the way, watching Nerlens play reminds me a lot of the late Dion Mays, the best ever SlamBall defender – only Nerlens does things without trampolines and padded suits). Such a weird year that Derrick Rose looks the part of the evangelical prodigal son and our trade with Detroit has become a home-run, something that would have never been thought possible in regard to the words “Knicks” and “trade”. Such a weird year that we care very little about Obi being a fish out of water and IQ being on a month-long slump (yeah, good game last night, but the guy is yes and is no, is in and is out, is up and is down – I mean, forgive my inner Katy Perry, he’s hot and cold)
What happened in this game, you might ask? Well let’s see.
The Knicks started out super hot from three, going up 17-8 early and making it look like it would have been a quiet, in-control night. But suddenly Charlotte began to catch fire, especially PJ Washington, who by the end of the first quarter would go on to score 17 points coming off the bench and hitting three after three from the top of the key. The second quarter would be just much of the same, a juked up shooting contest between these two teams with a few guys joining the party (IQ and Rozier come to mind). A notoriously stingy Knicks defense ended up conceding 66 points in the half, with Charlotte hitting 12 of 18 from three because of their own marksmanship but also our lackluster effort on defense.
Cue the second half (and a lot ot probable BROCCOLI shouts from Thibs at the intermission) and the music changed. RJ Barrett, who ended the first half with 3 points on a very meager 1-for-8 shooting tally, scored 18 in the third riding a wave of trifectas like he was ready to dust off Novak’s double discount check. Meanwhile, the entire Charlotte team went on to score 16 points in the stanza, and got behind by nine before the start of the fourth. From there it was easy peasy game management for the Knicks, with Rose looking particularly spry and focused not only on getting his but also finding the open man. Defense did its part – maybe the invisible sixth man came back – and kept Charlotte at 15 points for the quarter, cutting the Hornets’ offensive output in half as we were running a special Black Friday offer.
Game was over, Bullock got the interview nod, and everyone was happy.
– Well, I mean, pretty much everyone? If I had to single out just a couple Knicks, it would be Barrett (24 pts, 1 reb, nothing else, +9 +/-) playing the role of the vicious hope killer while doing absolutely zilch in every other statistical area and Derrick Rose (17 pts, 1 reb, 5 ast, +2 +/-) putting the sigil on this flower-flavored beauty of an ugly win, always being where he needed to be in the fourth. But every significant contributor was good last night: good Julius on an off-night (5-for-16 from the field but 10 boards, 7 assists, 2 steals, and a whole lot of good-to-great positional defense – oh by the way: Julius’s posting a positive DBPM for the first time in his career), stout Nerlens hitting double figures in boards again, Reggie shooting only threes but making out with a 5/12 total for 16 points, IQ giving an adrenaline shot right to the second unit heart in the second quarter (5/9 from the field, 4/7 from three, 17 points for the night), Taj being his usual dependable self (6 points, 8 boards – 6 of which on offense! – , a steal and two blocks), Elf not being a wretch. There’s too much good to really pick anyone out.
The really good:
– The feeling we wouldn’t have lost. That’s a budding contender sign. Don’t get me wrong, we won’t be contenders in 2021-22, but if our management doesn’t get crazy (which of course it might, we’re the Knicks) and we stay in the lane there’s a high chance we’re a lock for a top-4 seed in 2022-23 (Brooklyn will have self-destroyed itself by then, Giannis may not be long for Milwaukee if they flame out again in the playoffs like I fear they will, Miami will be goodish but Butler will be worn out. We’ll be young and ready). Nights like these are just a teaser trailer for that.
– We have come to expect that by now, but Obi and Knox combined for 2 points and 2 boards in 12 minutes of playing time. Obi’s gameplan is a rare wart on Thibs’ coaching season face: you see it, you don’t know how it came to be that way, and it’s ugly as hell. Knox just mostly sucks, but Obi’s got the motor, there’s got to be something to tap there. Asking him to stay on the perimeter and randomly crash boards is a strange way to use him (not that his 10.6 REB% does him any favor). Given that Randle looks like a minor cornerstone for us, maybe an extended look at the trade market for him could really be the right way to maximize that asset.
– You know what gives me the biggest joy of this seven-game winning streak? Having Clyde call these games. I kid you not, I was afraid he never got to see again a winning Knicks team from the booth. Well, there you go. The man deserves it. And Breen too. But Clyde mostly.
– What happened to seven seconds of Frank or less? And why was it ever a thing? Anyway, I think we should savor every single Frank second that will come in the next 13 games, because it could be the last in a Knicks jersey. It’s amazing to think that for all the fuss that came with Frank’s playing time and role management it will probably end with a whimper and everyone involved will probably think it just… had to go that way. Frank’s Knicks tenure will then forever be the gold standard for my future failed, but maturely handled, Ted Mosby-like relationships.
– Fizdale : Trump = Miller : Biden = Thibs : ????
– Tonight we shot 45 threes. We started the year shooting consistenly 25-30 threes per game. This won’t be a trend, but it’s a welcomed sight.
– I forgot J.R. Smith was Eastern Conference Player of the Week once.
– I read a nice piece on the Athletic about reassessing Isiah Thomas time at the Knicks helm, and I don’t know if it is recency bias again or just nostalgia, but I encourage you to read it and not coming away with the thought that Phil Jackson was by far worse than him in terms of basketball-related things during his presidency. I felt aghast when this thought dawned on me, but it feels so true now that I had a day to cement that notion.
Until next time!