You know how often are the little things that go and make a difference? Like, I don’t know, adding just a pinch of pepper to a sauce and make it go from meh to amazing? Or like diving just the fish side of a nigiri into the soy sauce and not the effing rice? Or putting a few drops of water into your Lagavulin as to enhance the flavor and the zest?
Yeah, I think you get me.
And you know what? That’s exactly what happened to the Knicks getting Immanuel Quickley back into the rotation. Now, it’s not that he’s been great (he hasn’t been). It’s not that he shot the lights out (he didn’t, mainly because he didn’t shoot much so we don’t know if he could – I highly doubt it for now but we have no proof). It’s just that between him and Austin Rivers (!) the Knicks suddenly had a few more chess pieces to deploy a functional backcourt rotation for 48 minutes, minus a few clock ticks from Bullock who sometimes becomes nearly unplayable for unknown reasons. Maybe the weird patch of hair in the back of his head is a microchip that makes him glitch from time to time. The Knicks were fine throughout the whole game, even with Bad Julius coming to play in the first half (1-7 from the field, 4 turnovers in the first two quarters), but when you added that bit of extra spacing given by Rivers and Quickley, the mechanism looked very much smoother.
The story of the game is basically this: the Pacers had a hard time getting Sabonis going (kudos to Randle for his adequate defense, but also kudos to Oladipo for wasting so many possessions), and so even with Brogdon balling out of his mind and hitting everything in sight the Knicks stayed close or got ahead for the whole game. Turner was impalpable on defense, while on offense he did hit a few open corner threes (I guess the invisible 6th man didn’t come to play this time). The Knicks rebounded like crazy, which is becoming a constant: nobody in the starting five corralled less than five rebounds, and the starting five as a whole outrebounded the entire Indiana team 40-33. Barrett hit his shots, Payton drove into the heart of the defense and got what he wanted, Mitch was a beast on the offensive glass, blocked two shots (more on that later) and altered many more, Randle stayed with his head in the game and got near a triple double again even on an off-night, while getting away with a breakaway dunk after a steal that was pretty much the defining moment before the real defining moment. In short: a very enjoyable game with a few great highlights.
The fun-sized good:
– Look. It’s still early, but how can you not be impressed by what Thibs is doing to this team? This was the classic game that, during a season like this and with a roster like ours, you didn’t mind losing at the end. Because all we want, as always, is competitiveness, and hell if we got it. We’re getting it in spades, be it on a night when everything clicks or on a night when everything doesn’t (the Toronto game). I don’t want to jinx anything, but I’m totally enthralled by the early results with these mostly forsaken players. Thibodeau is the MVP of these first six games, way more than whatever Randle is doing on the court. I’m finding hard even to hold against him the fact that we don’t shoot as many threes as the other teams, because it looks like we’re shooting quality threes. And when the right personnel is on the court, the spacing is enough to get quite easy buckets at the rim.
– Remember when we were asking for a 30mpg Mitch? Yeah. Looks like we were right. And looks like Mitch is doing his best at staying in his lane. I also have this feeling that after Mitch will have proven that he can stay on the court without fouling too much and therefore he can properly anchor the defense we will see a bit more on offense from him. I feel like he’s terrified of doing anything that might cost him the ire of Thibs, and rightly so. But I won’t be surprised if by March Mitch will start shooting the occasional jumper because he’s earned it. Anyway just having a guy who’s a superb finisher around the rim and on putbacks is not a weapon to be overlooked. That’s probably the main difference between Mitch and Noel.
Also: that block on Malcolm Brogdon’s three with 40 seconds to go and the Pacers down by five. Tremendous athletic prowess, amazing reflexes in recovering the ball and passing it to a teammate in stride. That play was the equivalent of Robocop shooting a rapist in the nuts: impressive, intensely satisfying and morally right.
– Barrett icing the game from the line. Do I have to remind you how he struggled last year from the stripe? That’s what development looks like. I wonder what Keith Smart is doing these days, maybe he’s teaching kids to hit rims in some Pop-a-shot.
– Quickley and his moxie. Dude is fearless and crafty. It makes you realize how some players will never get it, just because they weren’t born with it. He did. Will he ever be a good NBA player? Who knows. Anyone doubts he will ever be an NBA player? Don’t think so. I would bet a few hundred dollars he will have a lasting NBA career though, just based on these few games. Overreaction much? Maybe, but the kid is preternatural in a few things, and that’s what you search in young players. Not (just) potential.
The fun-sized bad:
– And that’s where we talk about Kevin. It’s good that he has a place in the rotation. It’s very bad that he’s not yet a capable contributor night in and night out, and looks useless on bad nights. Kid’s shooting 38/29/66 for the (early) season. And he’s supposed to be a shooter. This is like hiring Donald Duck to play the part of a lucky mouse. Hope. Hope is all we have left for Kevin.
A quick note:
Paul Westphal passed away yesterday. Yeah he was a Knick once, and he even won Comeback Player of the Year in 1982-83 playing for the Bockers. But his passing brings sadness to me not because of that; you see, before becoming a Knicks fan, I started following the NBA in the 93 offseason, right on the heels of the Bulls-Suns finals. I just loved those Suns and became a fan of them (I think I already wrote something about that in the past). Westphal was the coach of that team, and by transitivity he was my favorite NBA coach from day one. I don’t even know if he was good. I know he was at the helm of the first team that made me fall in love with the NBA, even if I kinda forgot about him later. Still, it’s sad to see your childhood heroes die, even when their memory grew distant in the meantime. I can’t imagine what will happen to me the fateful day when Wally will be called to become the titular color commentator for the Knicks. You know what I’m saying here. I can’t even bring myself to write it out loud. So cherish every single minute of your favorite guys, because sooner or later they will be gone and you will be miserable. Just enjoy the time we have.