I told you I wanted the guys to win this game. I’m really happy they followed through on my wish, and did it in such a convincing fashion. In a season dedicated to losing, sucking and (hopefully) developing players, it’s a great thing to pick your spots with regard to beating good teams. If we have to beat a good team, let it always be Boston. It feels great to wash away their smugness with the same forcefulness used by Mitch to swat those poor suckers at the rim.
The game became a much closer matter than it should have been (our largest lead was +26, but it got cut to just 3 with 34 seconds to play), but that was to be expected, given that Fiz left two rookies on the court for the majority of the fourth quarter. I have to say that this game went a long way in giving me back confidence in Fizdale’s ability to understand the game. Whatever was going to happen to this game (and it’s much better that we won, but it would have been good even if we lost), let the unproven guys get the reps they earned. Mitch and Knox were on the court for pretty much the entire fourth quarter. Frank played the full last 12 minutes. This is how you do it.
– Ok, when did Trey Burke (29 pts, 6 rebs, 11 ast, +10 +/-) become the undersized version of Kyrie Irving? Seriously, this guy is having such a good streak of games that you might mistake him for an All-Star candidate in the last four: 25.8 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.3 rpg and 1.3 spg on a super efficient 67.8 TS% and an astounding 31.7 USG% in just 28 minutes per game. This game is all his: he played great (yeah, great) for all of his 33 minutes, and came through with timely buckets in the last two minutes and a half, including the crucial three-pointer to put us ahead for good with just 12 seconds to go. In fact, he scored 7 of our last 9 points, where the lone two points he didn’t score were free throws that the Celtics gifted to Mudiay after we were up six with 5.5 seconds remaining. Trey was everywhere, oozing confidence and showing he was in total control of the game. I know it won’t last, but this Trey is an amazing player. Well, I guess most players are amazing when they apparently can’t miss, but this one, hitting guys in stride and snatching more than a few contested boards in traffic, was the real deal. Probably his best overall game in a Knicks uniform.
– Noah Vonleh (16 pts, 10 rebs, 3 ast, +5 +/-) began the game with fire in his eyes and ice in his veins, hitting both of this three-pointers and going after caroms with undeterred savagery. The fact that he played so well and still didn’t see significant playing time down the wire speaks volumes about both the quality of the play of the guys on the floor during the bulk of the fourth quarter and the sound decision making of coach Fizdale. Noah keeps on being the best frontcourt player of the team, if not the best player entirely, and even when he commits a few mistakes you can’t deny the contribution he brings to the team. This time he was very good even at rim protection, blocking 3 shots, two of them reminiscent of particularly nasty spikes in volleyball. I think we all remember fondly KOQ; I also think we found a guy that’s a nice, consistent replacement for the zany beardo (save for those delicious passes hitting backdoor cutting guys). His stats are not at the level of peak KOQ, but are good nonetheless: .123 WS/48, 18.4 TRB%, 9.1 AST%, 1.2 BPM look like the typical portrait of a nice third-fourth big to have on a contender. If we are not able to keep him next season, I wish him the best of luck and to find a place on one of the 4-5 best team in the League.
– Mitchell Robinson’s (8 pts, 4 rebs, 6 blks, +7 +/-) inclusion here is a bit of a stretch, since he alternated resounding plays and dumb mistakes – most egregiously fouling Irving with a clear path to the basket in the fourth, effectively handing the Celtics the opportunity to cut the deficit to ten with more than seven minutes to play – but I mean… have you seen this guy roam the paint on defense? There was a stretch in the fourth quarter where the 15 foot radius in front of the rim looked positively like a no-fly zone for green jerseys. Do you know who’s on top of the block% in the whole NBA? …your guy, Mitch. I guess we probably would have won the game even with Vonleh on the court in place of Robinson, but it was such a stupendous view to see our rookie center wreak havoc and terrorize all sorts of Celtics for a few minutes. This kid really belongs in the League.
– Mario Hezonja (3 pts, 2 rebs, 1 stl, -2 +/-) is trying a little too hard to get acting recognition, starring tonight as Lance Thomas in “Desperately seeking useless starter: a Knicks bio-pic”. Second start in a row for Mario, second stink-bomb. He shot 14.3% from the field, did nothing in any other facet of the game and was his usual listless self on defense. It’s unbelievable to think that, for all his talent, he could just very well be the worst player on our roster. His effort level is unexcusable. I pegged him for some 20+ points game from the bench inside MSG, but I don’t think he has any fire in his soul. He looks like he can’t wait to be home, wherever that home might be. Sure as hell ain’t gonna be New York after April 15th, 2019.
– Emmanuel Mudiay (5 pts, 2 rebs, 2 ast, -6 +/-) wasn’t all that bad, but the good Mudiay we’ve seen in some of the last games was nowhere to be seen. A timid performance, buoyed just a little by his block on Irving’s last shot and his subsequent 2 free throws. Never was the disparity between him and Burke more evident than tonight. There can be a lot of games where Trey is not playing well, but that’s on his physical limitations or his mental disconnect, never on his instincts. Mudiay, on the other hand, needs to be always 100% focused on the game, as his insticts are severely lacking and have to be continuatively kept in check. Tonight was a typical directionless Mudiay game; the fact that I don’t feel it was that bad maybe speaks more about my very low expectations for him than about his real level of contribution.
– Enes Kanter is strangely posting meh numbers since getting inserted back into the starting five (8.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 41.2 FG%); his body language looks a lot better, though. Does he really care that much about starting on a team that’s going to lose at least 55 games? I mean, I know the NBA market is skewed in favor of starting, huge numbers posting guys… but in 2018 that’s for guards, wings and stretch bigs. I hope his agent is smart and in his ear, otherwise Enes is going to be in for an unpleasant surprise this summer. Not a bad game for Enes tonight, anyway. Sometimes he kinda overcomes his defensive liabilities and find a way to be sorta useful on both ends of the court. Not hating on happy, 25-minutes playing Enes.
– Frank Ntilikina played a huge game on the defensive end. I’m sorry, I don’t have stats for you, and I’m not keen on trusting that much my eye-test (what with being shortsighted and all), but if you saw even some snippets of the game you saw his on point defense on Jayson Tatum and other sorts of Celtics. He was again good at getting to the rim, even unleashing a contorting baby Greek Freak layup in the fourth. I like me some aggressive Frank! Maybe Fiz has found his right role? Could Frank play best as a wing, acting as the egg in our Knicks cheesecake recipe: you think it has no purpose, but it makes everything stay together while enabling the different, more present flavors to emerge with their distincts features? Oh, and there were a few possessions where he was matched with Marcus Smart and I was like this.
– Tim Hardaway had another 20+ points game, but this time his performance wasn’t noteworthy in a good way: 21 points on 19 shots, a missed technical free throw late in the game, lots of bad turnovers (seven total). He seems a little more engaged on defense, but nights like this one won’t cut it when we’ll need him to win games in two years. He’s always unafraid, but he’s careless with the rock in the half-court. For all the talk about his improvement, a lot of his advanced stats are the same as they were in his last year with Atlanta.
– Allonzo Trier continues on his campaign to be a proficient offensive cog while trying not to detract anything on the defensive end. Through almost a quarter of the season, he’s still averaging double figures in points while shooting a little south than 60% true shooting percentage. Not bad for an undrafted rookie, huh?
– Kevin Knox had a nice outing (11 points, 9 boards, one block). I don’t care that much about him scoring 10+ points: I care about how he gets there. He was able to go to the line four times and employed a good shot selection. Also, his work on the boards was similar to what we saw in Summer League. I still don’t see much in him, but tonight he looked at the very least competent enough.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Celebrate this pretty win with as much cranberry sauce you like and, if your stomach is full of air and feel about to burp, send a thought to Boy Wonder Brad Stevens who just got manhandled by a merry band of misfits in his hometurf.
See you on Friday against the Pelicans!