Guess we're going to bed grumpy tonight, pals! What an absolute root canal of a finish to a game that could have been a breeze. The first half broke mostly in the Knicks' favor. Arron Afflalo gamely took over first-option duties. James Harden fired up pure farts. The Knicks granted Houston too many extra possessions with turnovers and poor defensive glasswork, but held a big lead anyway because tertiary weirdos like Lance Thomas, Kevin Seraphin, and Derrick Williams just kept finding the net.
New York weathered a run in the third, then hit the home stretch in full stride, pulling ahead by 14 with 8 minutes to go thanks to pretty open threes by Jerian Grant(!) and Williams. It really felt like the Knicks might finally take a comfortable win. I'm annoyed with myself for believing that.
Derek Fisher -- either trusting his bench or wishing to avoid another heavy minute-load for his starters -- reintroduced his finishing lineup via trickle. Amid that trickle, Houston chomped off the entire Knick lead. Kristaps Porzingis checked out with an 88-75 score and returned 3 minutes later to find the score 91-89. New York had given up several offensive rebounds, a bunch of free throws, and a critical open three, and also I punched myself directly in the forehead.
Late, the Knicks could not execute -- they failed to find Arron Afflalo posting up or Porzingis curling toward the ball. It was that sourly familiar montage of bigs setting weak screens and guards clutching the ball while clock burns. The Rockets, meanwhile, didn't need to execute. They scored in transition, or off offensive rebounds, or off a swinging-gate screen by Dwight Howard for Trevor Ariza's game-deciding three in overtime. No amount of Afflalo dump-trucking his way along the baseline could correct New York's touchy, tentative play elsewhere.
- Seraphin and his 40 or so surplus pounds defended Dwight Howard better than Robin Lopez did, and Seraphin got numerous buckets, self-involved as they may have been. All that said, I desperately wished to see Lopez back on the floor down the stretch, mostly for his use on offense. I believe any Seraphin offensive production is found money, and I believe Lopez's screen-setting and handing-off constitutes better execution than almost anything the Knicks' guards can create in crucial moments.
I can kinda understand Derek Fisher's delay in reinserting his starters during the fourth quarter. I shared hope that the reserves could tread water well enough to save a rookie and a couple old-legged veterans from playing maximum minutes, though clearly that hope was misplaced. I can't understand the Seraphin/Lopez stuff once the game was already slipping. I'll take the risk of Robin overhandling the ball for the reward of his willingness to *use* the ball and try to make something happen in the designed offense.
- And again, that's because these dudes just sit on the playbook down the stretch. Fish isn't drawing up mastermind stuff, but he's clearly trying to get the right guys open. Over and over and over, the Knicks fail to execute sound screens, timely entry passes, and everything else necessary to improve their chances of scoring as intended. There isn't a guard on the roster who can be relied upon to make an incisive entry pass.
- Important exception in the Making Shit Happen Late department, and really the light of my life in an otherwise dreadful evening: Arron Afflalo. I'm typing this as I watch Kobe Bryant drag his poobutt up and down the Staples Center floor, and I can say with certainty that Afflalo offered the best on-court Kobe facsimile on the night the legend announced his impending retirement. Afflalo attacks mismatches with a pick-up baller's zeal, and EVERYbody is a mismatch. There are so many mice in this man's house! Afflalo and his banana elbows hit several open jumpers off the catch, but more often, the dude just chiseled himself some space using his ass, then pirouetted into baseline fade-aways. He nearly snatched the game back for New York by doing that and that alone during overtime.
- Porzingis presented some of his worst, most rushed shots early in the game, but settled down, got his buckets off curls and second efforts, and ended up with a tidy line of 20 and 13 (pretty cool that that seems normal now). Even with those bad early shots and a couple horribly telegraphed passes, Porzingis was a mostly positive influence. He played 41 minutes, which is frighteningly many, especially since the last 10 or so were spent totally unable to get the ball.
- Langston Galloway made a couple really nice pocket passes. Langston Galloway keeeeeeps missing threes, maybe because I'm not screaming "BANG THAT, LANG. BANG THAT, LANG." loudly enough. I promise to do better.
- I swear Williams and Seraphin are random basketball skill generators. Sometimes they get buckets with such ease that you wonder why they're not stars. Sometimes they ignore everyone else on the floor to heave up garbage. Sometimes they make brilliant defensive stops by themselves. Sometimes they try to dribble. I can never predict any of it. I just know I'll feel neither wholly comfortable nor wholly skeptical every minute those guys are on the floor.
- Let the record show that for about 85 seconds, Jose Calderon absolutely handcuffed James Harden with patience, perfect footwork, and quick hands on defense.
- Mike Breen talks a lot about Lance Thomas honing his jumper this summer, which ... well, it still looks like a butterfly exiting its cocoon, but it's been dropping. What *I* want to know is how the hell Lance got so bouncy. Could he always spike put-back dunks and elevate that quickly off the dribble like this? Did he wear ankle weights all summer? Did he buy those moon shoe things from the end pages of SLAM Magazine? I need answers.
- Bright side of another nearly Robin Lopez-less game: Watching him sit on the floor and rock his feet over his head every time the Knicks got a bucket. "Rolo" is a very good nickname for a man who spends part of every game rolling. Literally. But also in the basketball sense sometimes. He's, like, the only Knick who knows how to roll in the basketball sense, which is a shame because he can't do much when he gets the ball on the roll. I didn't mean to be talking about this in this bullet point.
That's all. I'm tired and my rage is starting to fade. Like I said before the game: I am mostly happy to find the brand new Knicks 8-10 after what appeared to be a forbidding opening schedule. I know they could have a better record than that, and that's frustrating, but that makes me happy, too. I hope December brings us a coach better able to negotiate the difficult task of managing his rotation. I hope it also brings us some Knicks better able to perform the tasks assigned to them in close games.
November felt better than I expected, but tonight hurt, like HighFlyers28 said. Onward. Less pain from here on out, please.