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Rockets 129, Knicks 122: “It was fun while it lasted.”

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NBA: New York Knicks at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Not even mad. Kristaps Porzingis sat, Courtney Lee sat, and Carmelo Anthony sat at halftime. The Rockets hit 21 three-pointers, and James Harden put up one of the greatest stat lines in the history of professional basketball.

And the Knicks still made a game of it! They actually held a double-digit lead early on because the westerly Toyota Center winds carried several straight Brandon Jennings jumpers into the basket. For every dizzying barrage of Rocket buckets, there was a matching rim attack by any of 10 odd Knicks.

So yeah, the Knicks’ defense remained hideous and they’re now below .500, and that’s all bad, but relative to expectations, they performed pretty well in Houston. Some notes:

  • Lance Thomas defended Harden fine, to my eye, especially as a battery with Joakim Noah. They mostly didn’t trap, just made Harden put the ball on the floor and brought help as he entered the paint. There might be a confounding variable, though, which is that Harden only sought kick-outs through the first quarter. After he hit a three with Thomas in his face, it dawned on him that he could do that, so he just kept doing that. Then Justin Holiday took a bunch of the second half softening duties, and roundly failed to do by reaching and over-committing on most of those deadly perimeter fakes. It’s a near-impossible job, but Lance clearly failed at it least, just like last season.
  • A lot of guys without “soft hands” (and this was a Kristaps issue early on, I think) miss point-blank shots because they release the ball in a hurry, but I swear Joakim Noah blows layups because he holds on too long. And sometimes he sends the ball away from the rim. Like, the point of release is closer to the basket than the apex of the shot’s arc. It’s bewildering. Nice to see Noah get some more tip-ins and stuff, though. At least the stat line looks nice.
  • Speaking of Noah, the Rockets opted to switch on damn near every pick he set, which is a pretty sound strategy against a big man who won’t post up a guard effectively and ball-handlers who can’t necessarily get a good open look against a big man. Derrick Rose finished some gorgeous drives in these halfcourt sets (although somehow shot well below 50 percent yet again. He has a gift for missing like 6 more shots than I thought he did every single night), and Brandon Jennings got some layups to fall, too. But a lot of Jennings’s season-high 32 points were just tough, step-back shots over those switched big men. Often, he’d dribble for a few seconds and stare down an open shooter or cutter before pulling those, which ... well, if it goes in, then sure.
  • I love those stretches in which Willy Hernangomez just snaggles every rebound for a few minutes.
  • The Knicks definitely not would have made this game without a handful of genuinely productive minutes from Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Maurice Ndour, which is nice for those two guys. Kuz got a couple lovely outside looks in secondary transition. Ndour dropped an alley-oop and somehow still scored.
  • While Melo was playing — that is, before his clearly troublesome left knee sidelined him -- he entered full-on Bully Ball mode a couple times against Harden and Trevor Ariza. Got those finishes to drop, too. He also played no defense. Not a moment of it.
  • Honestly, it was an interesting basketball game, but this is all I want to talk about:

Guys. In the first half, Mike Breen noted with some surprise that Spike Lee was at the game in Houston. One wouldn’t expect Lee to show up to an away game on New Year’s Eve, but he’s popped up on the road before, and he’s a big fan, and ... whatever, not that big a deal. Spike was sitting just a few rows back on the sideline, so you could pick him out on the broadcast now and then during the game action.

Guys. It wasn’t Spike Lee. It was just a dude. A dude wearing a Knicks hat and a bright orange shirt, Spike Lee’s glasses, Spike Lee’s earring, and Spike Lee’s goatee. If this man was not intentionally impersonating Spike Lee, then the coincidence is mind-boggling. Breen and Rebecca Haarlow — both of whom must be on a first-name basis with Spike -- thought it was him. Haarlow even said she went up to the guy and said hi before realizing she was talking to a doppelganger. The only wilder comparable thing I can think of is when Tupac showed up at a Celtics game.

Anyhow, they lost. James Harden is amazing. The Knicks defended badly as usual, but Harden generated some offensive energy that would have overcome any defense. It’ll happen. At least the Knicks competed for a bit. Like rcnt said, it was fun while it lasted. Hope for better things in 2017!