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Hawks 102, Knicks 98 (OT): “Is this what hell is like?”

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Good news! If you’re reading this recap, you probably didn’t watch this game, hence missing out on harrowing torture.

NBA: New York Knicks at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In answer to P&Ter Norman Hathaway’s question in the title - no, this was not hell for those of us who enjoy watching countless slow-mo replays of fouls of all stripes. I mean, it really is cool when you think about it, how many different types of fouls you can commit in an NBA game! Then the best part is talking through it all, and deciding who gets punished! (Answer: We all do.) “Well Melo’s hand was around his throat, but Sefolosha really did pin both Melo’s arms down after that.” “Which of the myriad fouls committed by two separate players against the shooter might be flagrant?” “Was that a shot-clock violation or a hopeless three-point heave that resulted in a three-shot foul? I can’t wait to watch the replay!” The NBA – It’s FAN-tastic.

Here’s the basic rundown: no one on either team could shoot from outside the paint except for Carmelo Anthony, so he got thrown out of the game. Actually the ejection was more for a petty squabble with Thabo Sefolosha, but who really knows with the way this one went. The refs struggled to keep on top of this post-holiday-Walmart-scrum of a basketball game, as three techs and a flagrant were assessed to each team. Still, for much of the time, it appeared like the Knicks might still have this one under control, but weak bench play, incessant P&Rs to free up a hot Dennis Schroder, plus Derrick Rose missing six straight shots in the last six minutes thusly doomed onlookers to a tie at the end of regulation and ‘bonus basketball’ or a hellish approximation thereof.

You likely gave Rose a mulligan given his clutchtitude to date, but as he had a chance to win this game in the final seconds and chose to look off an open dive to the rim by apprentice Master of the Universe Kristaps Porzingis, and instead forced up an ugly brick despite being surrounded by four Hawks, AND made this game continue longer, Rose quickly used up the social capital he has earned so far.

In overtime, a non-call of a Paul Millsap push on Porzingis led to a Hawks dunk, driving Jeff Hornacek to earn a technical, creating a three-point swing that put Atlanta up 6 with about two and a half remaining. Since neither team could seemingly score legally, this one looked over, but wait! There’s Joakim Noah capping off perhaps his best game as a Knick with a reverse layup plus two (!) free throw makes, and Porzingis descending from a quick water-break in heaven to send down a rim-rattling put-back slam! Down one but with the ball in the closing seconds, Rose appeared to slip on his own excrement—as he had been liberally crapping all over the floor in the second half—and turned it over to the Hawks, who hit two free throws. With 3.8 seconds left and down three, Porzingis had a chance to tie the game when he was fouled a couple separate times on a three-point attempt, but clanked the first free throw and then committed a lane violation on his purposeful miss of the third. At that point, you were just happy the game was over; it didn’t matter who won or lost anymore. But in the standings it counted as a loss for the Knicks, although some rightfully suggested that it should count as a loss for both squads.

There must be something useful to take away from this, right?

The good:

-With two days off before this game, Joakim Noah looked really good, as his numbers suggest: 14 points, 16 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, and a block. Even when he didn’t secure a rebound, the fact that he battled led the Hawks to lose the ball out of bounds several times. He ran the floor hard, and did not look tired at all during his 39 minutes on the floor. This all points to the fact that if the Knicks DO get into playoffs, where there would always be one or even two days between games, Noah might have an outsize impact compared to the regular season.

-After a rough start shooting, Justin Holiday continued his strong play off the bench with 14 points, three rebounds, four assists, and two steals. When everyone else was slipping all over D-Rose’s feces in the fourth, Holiday hit three big shots in a row (two of them from deep) with the game hanging in the balance.

-Of course Porzingis’ missed free throw with a chance to tie at the end was kind of a downer, but it still has to be recognized that this was a valuable opportunity for the young ‘god to grow, with Melo out and Rose struggling down the stretch of a tight one. He otherwise availed himself well, hitting four of his last six shots from the field during the last four and a half minutes plus overtime, including two threes. Each of those first three makes came with the Knicks down by one or two points and desperately needing a bucket. And getting himself free enough for a good look at a potential game-tying three on which he was fouled by a traditionally good defender was pretty dope too, for 30 seconds or so at least.

-As the game wore on, there was actually some reasonable communication on PNRs with switches and re-switches between bigs and guards looking relatively smooth at times. Atlanta just kept coming at them with the screens though, until they did eventually get the look they wanted, but hey, we can take improvement where we can get it. Success usually comes in increments rather than all at once, after all.

-Although Schroder torched the Knicks for 27 points, Ron Baker gave up none of those points (DNP).

-Well, without the parentheses that last one sounds pretty good.

-It was an audibly pro-Knicks crowd last night, with Hawks getting booed loudly at the free throw line late in the game. Always great to see a New York takeover of enemy ground.

-You may think MSG’s new floor projection introductions are pretty slick, but Atlanta was one of the early adopters of this technology and this year they have taken it to another level as far as the 3-D stuff is concerned; worth checking out sometime if you have League Pass. The attempt matters more than the execution at this point (the latter which was a little erratic), but they turned the Hawks logo into some Indiana Jones-type rolling boulder, had various Hawks players navigating a Mordor-like landscape, and also appeared to be manufacturing player’s faces from a mold that would jut out of the floor. Pretty dramatic.

-What really got me nerding out though was a glimpse into the future of what in-arena stats could look like sometime soon. They did a halftime shootout competition between two guys where the projector divided up the floor into shooting ‘zones’ like you’d see on a shot chart. If one guy hit a shot in a zone first, that particular zone would turn red; if the other guy hit in another, it would turn yellow; whoever owned the most zones at the end of a minute was the winner. But it isn’t hard to imagine that being translated into up-to-the-minute shot charts for a player or team projected onto the floor, which would be a visually attractive huge upgrade over the standard counting stats that are on general offer.

-Sasha Vujacic played 28 minutes, the result of which means that probably won’t happen again? He started because ostensibly it wouldn’t mess with bench rotations, and did have a nice three-minute spurt in the third quarter where he hit a jumper when no one else could and corralled three boards, and he didn’t turn the ball over once the whole game. But he once again couldn’t stay in front of anyone on defense — odd that Atlanta didn’t really take advantage of that — and otherwise had no impact. As a coach at this point in the season, you kind of have to give a veteran first crack at an opening in playing time like this, but next time, you would be right to expect someone else in there if Courtney Lee is out or limited.

Since we’re clearly trending in this direction already, on to...

The Bad:

-Melo’s Flagrant-2 plus ejection capped off an inconsistent, seemingly distracted effort by him. He scored ten in the first, but during his second shift he was really just walking around and finding places to stand. I mean, I know it’s midseason NBA basketball, but coming off a team-wide defensive stinker on Christmas Day, it would have been nice to see him be a little more focused and leading by example. Instead, his D was pretty lackadaisical, and he may have gotten thrown off by a guy in the crowd yelling ‘have you read George Karl’s new book?’ right before a free throw (as reported by Breen and Clyde), which Melo then missed. There was no obvious trigger for why Melo took an extra shot at Sefolosha; it looked like an isolated incident that turned into an escalation thing that a player of Melo’s stature has to avoid at this point in his career.

-After the above altercation ratcheted up the rancor between these two teams, I was really hoping for Bazemore-Porzingis 2 at some point. But according to the exclusive locker room footage below, it looks like Kent Bazemore made a cry for help and was talked off the ledge of confrontation by his coach — I apologize in advance for the profanity written on the wall:

As ridiculous a movie as Sunset Park is, watching it might have been a better use of your time last night. Pray that Phil Jackson was in fact watching, so he might be prompted to hire Rhea Perlman as defensive coordinator. Talk about an overnight turnaround! Though it appears it was her pep talks and general spunkiness more than her technical know-how that led her team to success, according to the film.

-The refs had a tough night, and that can happen when there’s a lot of nonsense going on on both sides. The worst moments as far as Knicks fans are concerned included not reviewing a fourth quarter foul that replays showed took place before a called shot-clock violation, which would have given Brandon Jennings three free throws late in a tie game. Perhaps the refs decided Jennings’ absurd heave didn’t merit a chance to score…which is actually kind of hard to argue with. Also the non-call / tech in OT was tough. Aaand at one point Rose got a tech for simply saying “And 1” twice at the refs.

But it’s hard to get too mad at the refs In the end because of….

The Ugly

-The shooting for both teams was atrocious. Before Holiday and Porzingis finally started hitting stuff late, the Knicks had started 3 of 21 from downtown. The ‘Bockers were 5 of 29 on shots of greater than 10 feet during the second and third quarters. Rose was 2 of 12 beyond 10 feet; 9 of 28 overall. There were lots of plays in this one where you could point to a horrifying injustice or a turning point, but really, hit one more of those damn wide-open shots and no one is belly-aching today.

Despite the loss, the Knicks still have sole possession of fifth place—although they are a mere half-game ahead of three teams and a full game ahead of ninth-place Washington. They will take on the Forehead Follicle Freak Anthony Davis (everyone’s some kind of freak these days), along with lovable ex Langston Galloway and the Pelicans in New Orleans on Friday. You’ve invested this much time in this team already so you might as well tune in!