Commenter Melo’s Bucket Hat Collection is right on in the title quote above. Especially when that chant is going off in LA, a place that until recently had been a house of horrors for the orange and blue. But after reaching their respective organizational nadirs two short seasons ago, last night the Knicks bested the Lakers for the fifth straight time in a thoroughly entertaining episode of “Who Rebuilt It Better: Significant Other Challenge.”
There were a number of great comments on the board tonight and it was tough to pick one, especially any that singled out one player, because there were three special performances tonight, each after their own fashion: a transcendent Kristaps Porzingis, a deadeyed Derrick Rose, and a stylin’ and profilin’ Brandon Jennings combined to lift New York to a 118-112 win. Yes, the Knicks played like they knew they had this one in hand, with numerous blown assignments and some mind-numbing mental gaffes including multiple fouls on three-point shooters late in the game, but rarely has beating the teams you’re supposed to beat felt so good, and that’s now two such victories to start off a big West Coast swing.
Let’s start off with Porzingis, who had been 25 for his last 80 (31.3%) over the last 5 games, and was one more bad night from the field from getting a “Missedshots Poorstinkus” headline in the Post along with requisite invented feature story (Lede: “Sexy sophomore stringbean struggles as shooting sinfully shoddy”). He was so big defensively and on the glass tonight, any such failing would’ve been excused, but he dropped 26 points on top of 12 boards while blocking an entire lineup’s worth of guys’ shots—he had five different victims on 7 blocks; Randle got stuffed thrice. The only reason KP didn’t get a triple-double on blocks is because on numerous possessions in the second half, the Lakers realized they were about to get their ass blocked yet again by Porzingod’s blessed swatting hand, and accordingly chucked up shots nowhere near the rim while begging for forgiveness or meekly surrendered the ball to the orange and blue on the spot. He was simply overwhelming at points.
I mean we could go on about the defense, but it’s plenty enough to show you these moving pictures instead: including when he blocked two different men on consecutive shots on the same play:
Then there was his inspiring play on offense, which continues to make you believe in things thought to be imaginary like unicorns and playoffs and World Peace (who was nowhere to be found tonight). Among his assortment of pull-ups and catch-and-shoots were a trio of and-one opportunities as varied as his ever-expanding skill set. The standout was off a cut to the rim on a Willy Hernangomez pass, dropping a deft spin in the lane and then finishing after contact when he was nearly on the ground like some sort of 7-and-a-quarter-foot-tall And1 mixtape player who travels around creating spectacle with his basketball-themed circus friends. And he’s supposed to get better? Like, how?
He played a game-high 39 minutes, and looked exhausted with six minutes to go in the game, and ended up picking up three fouls in a two minute span, but hit a couple of free throws and a key three along with grabbing some pivotal boards as time wound down.
Meanwhile Jennings showed out big time in front of his hometown, with 19 points in 22 minutes, along with 4 assists and some serious hotstepping. He danced around minefields all night long, with near-turnovers and some bad chucks mixed in, but spread his wings (literally) in the fourth – going off for 15 including 3-of-3 from deep. His evening was filled with lefty overhead grenade heaves turned into assists, fake behind-the-back passes, pedestrian behind-the-back dribbles into the lane, a step-back fadeaway three-pointer heat-check that went, and a demonstration of his powers as a low-flying thug-angel and how it allowed him to fly into LA without having to go through the poorly-signed labyrinth / seventh ring of hell known as LAX.
And finally, he even called a successful audible on his own celebration after his final three with 1:45 left, as he originally appeared to reach for his waist to maybe do the Championship belt thing, and maybe thought better of it since it might be mistaken for the Discount Double Check, and breezily switched to simply wagging three fingers dipped in extra swag. Even he knew he needed to do no more to impress.
Somehow we’re talking about Derrick Rose third here. Dude came out scorching hot, hitting his first eight shots en route to a ridiculous 12-of-16 night for 25 points, as he looked like a couple nights off put the bounce back in his step. He once again obligingly hit the dagger shot with 19 ticks left to put the Knicks up by six. More importantly, he forced us to ask ourselves—where does a push-shot end and a floater begin? Rose’s portfolio tonight may have proven that it is more a continuum and maybe we should ignore our unquenchable quest to classify things and just kinda enjoy life, ya know?
I imagine this what Kyle O’Quinn thought about tonight while sitting out with a bad ankle. In his stead, Willy Hernangomez dusted his shoulders off after a DNP and played an eventful 19 minutes, scoring 6 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Each of his three baskets were things of beauty, the first two being progressions of each other off the pivot, and the third a nice tip-in. He also threw up an airball three, and an airball hookshot on a good look directly upon recovering the ball after Timofey Mozgov had blocked him. His defense saw similarly up-and-down play, as he was asleep on a number of backdoor plays including a would-be alley-oop whose pass went awry.
He did block two shots, but we were definitely reminded about how he has some growing to do by the way he was beaten by Thomas Robinson off the dribble twice – a guy who has been a turnover machine off the bounce in the half-court throughout his career. The first time, Willy did a totally unnecessary aggressive closeout to Robinson about 20 feet from the rim (where he is no threat whatsoever) and Willy probably would have run right into him had he not subsequently got torched for a layup. The second time around, young Willy gave Robinson space at the top of the key, but it almost looked like he was taking away his left hand due to the wide lane he gave Robinson to the right. Maybe he was expecting help, maybe he didn’t know Robinson is right-handed (by default, as technically he is anti-dextrous; neither hand is usable by pro standards), but it became another easy drive and lay-in. Maybe he needs to dive a little deeper on those scouting report reading sessions. Still, his time on the floor was more impactful than Joakim Noah’s 20 minutes, which has become a pattern among Noah’s understudies. (Sauces say that Melo may be holding up the CBA bargaining to include an amnesty clause, but you should only trust homemade marinara as a life rule).
I guess it might be looked at as kinda good in a way that we’re only mentioning Carmelo Anthony at this point. But that’s what happens to an assist guy when there’s no controversial Instagram posts to divine. Melo made some nice finds and beat the double team for four assists in the first quarter alone, including a pretty bounce-pass that he bent around the baseline and past three defenders to find Willy for a bucket. His shot was off, but he tried to shoot himself out of it to poor effect, finishing 4-of-16 along with seven assists. He missed seven shots in a row (six jumpers) at one stretch in the first half and clanked five jumpers in a row at one point in the second half. When he finally took it to the rack with under four minutes left and a lead that had dwindled to four, he drew a big foul and drained a pair. None of this had anything to do with Phil Jackson.
Speaking of Phil, Courtney Lee was quietly money once again with some key contests on D and hitting 3-of-4 from deep for 16 points, and has arguably been the most consistent addition to the team after Ron. You know the saying: “Defense and bench celebrations never take a day off.” Although it may be fair to point out that Ron’s bench celebration game is conspicuously ramping up with the confidence afforded by extended bench time at the pro level.
Hornacek tightened the rotations a notch tonight, as nine guys played and none of them were named Kuzminskas or Vujacic. It might have been a match-up thing given the speed and physique of the young Lakers. But it was nice to see that there was never one of those unpalatable all-bench lineups out there at any time. He went with a Rose-Jennings-Lee-Anthony-Porzingis lineup to close the last four minutes.
Another development: For only the seventh time this year, the Knicks actually got more free throw attempts than an opponent! They converted a whopping 26 of 31 from the charity stripe while holding the Lakers to 18 of 22. It could have even been better, as New York got into the penalty with more than half the second quarter left, but didn’t draw another foul before the half. All they need now is to play the last-rated defense every night. Jennings and Lee combined to go 11-for-11 from the line.
Finally, a note on the Lakers: We knew they would put up points, make us run, and that Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams and even Swaggy P would get at us, but somehow the rotting corpse of Luol Deng lurched to 5-of-8 from three and 22 points. Your man is averaging 7.2 PPG on the season. And DeAngelo Russell looked like rusty doo-doo in his first game back from injury, as he turned the ball over four times in the third quarter alone and finished 1-of-8 from the field. This was not the night to compare 2015 lottery picks, which is fine.
So the Knicks are 2-0 to start this trip, with a game in Phoenix against a weak Suns team tipping off Tuesday, and the Warriors will be just getting back from a road trip on Thursday. By then the Knicks should have their body clock fully adjusted to West Coast time…
A guy can dream, can’t he? And if a guy gets caught up in such a dream, do you know who to blame? Oh, let’s just say: Phil.