For the fourth time in five games, the Knicks’ future played a more pivotal role in its present than its present played, portending that its present may belong in the past. Know what I’m saying? I made it sound complicated and confusing because I guess that’s how it ends up after it’s filtered through Derek Fisher’s earholes and formulated into thoughts in his brain. How else do you explain trotting out Sasha Vujacic, Lance Thomas, Calderon, and yeah, Carmelo Anthony when he’s having an off night and mentally checks out towards the end?
You fear for your job, Derek? You fear for the judgment that comes when you make changes and they don’t pan out? Or maybe you just remember being the washed up guy, so there’s some pent up frustration that you’re expressing by playing this assortment of wash-ups and never-weres.
I don’t think benching Calderon, Thomas and Vujacic is going to be some panacea. But like Clyde put it as the game clock wound down: “If you’re losing, you might as well lose with rookies.” When you’re raising kids, you don’t assume they’ll fail and so limit their responsibilities. You give them a chance to fail, and when they do, you give them the support they need to look at their mistakes as learning experiences rather than failures. Fisher is doing the opposite.
As far as this specific game goes, it was a close one. When the aforementioned Lance Thomas, who played fine last night and does look like a better player than last year, put in that long two to tie the game in the early 4th, it felt like the game was the Knicks’ to win. But then John Henson went bananas, and Fisher benched Grant, and the game slipped away.
One subplot of the game was Carmelo, who played a competent first half that felt like a continuation of the Cleveland game. He registered four assists (all to Robin Lopez, who seemed extra motivated after Monroe started hot against him) in that half. He wasn’t scoring well, so he tried to do other things. Then, the fourth quarter came along, and he seemed to lose interest. Carmelo didn’t check in until there was 6:39 left in the game and immediately missed a midrange jumper, then got blocked by the rampaging Henson (11 4th quarter points). He added two turnovers, a couple rebounds, and a couple more misses before the night was through.
Melo’s behavior made me think of the Herring article about how Melo always takes techs, even when Calderon is in. I understand and largely agree with the people who say, “The difference is negligible.” But I also see the other side. A player who demands that he take all techs because, as Derek Fisher explained, “Some guys, points are very important to them,” is revealing a character trait that potentially could hurt the team in other much more dramatic ways. If you see a connection between Melo shooting techs instead of Calderon and Melo demanding the ball in isolation every other fourth quarter play, then I can understand why you’d be upset.
The main point of interest for the Knicks once again was Porzingis, who continued to display superstar potential. The play where he recovered to the perimeter to block Copeland was yet another illustration of the crazy things his combination length and quickness allow for. Similar to Antetokounpo’s block on Derrick Williams earlier in the night, Porzingis made an open shot into a block in the time it took Copeland to complete his release. Then there were two more put back dunks, each accompanied by a Russell Westbrook style scream towards the baseline. There was a three. There were tons of huge offensive rebounds. And yes, there was a turnover in traffic and a couple misses late in the 4th. Altogether though, it was another night’s evidence that he has the chance to make James Dolan a lot of money for a long time. Quick, Jamie boy, trade him for Dwyane Wade.
Beyond Giannis, the Bucks didn’t look like anything special, at least not yet. All the fears about their poor three point shooting and Monroe’s need for space looked real last night. If Antetokounmpo doesn’t continue to play at an All-Star level, I could see them slipping out of the playoff race. Monroe is an interesting player because of his ability to pass, but his inability to defend anyone (even Robin Lopez!) and his lack of range and ability to do anything interesting while facing the basket make it tough for him to be impactful as a role guy. He has to be central to your offense or he’ll give up more points than he adds, and it’s tough these days with all the swarming defenses to run your offense through the post.
Whelp. Sunday it’s the Lakers, our first chance to see if this team can sustain its effort against a bad team. If you’re thinking of building a house, you might stop by MSG to collect the bricks that Kobe leaves behind. Will it be Bryant’s last game at The Garden?