Bottoming out is a good thing. Bottoming out is a good thing. Bottoming out is a good thing. Bottoming out is a good thing.
It doesn’t feel good. The Knicks’ 98-97 loss at the buzzer to the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t feel good. It felt like when you keep tripping and falling down, and after you fall for the last time and take a breath, thinking the stumbling’s finally ended, something heavy you forgot about above you falls right on your head. You could see it on Carmelo Anthony’s face immediately after T.J. McConnell’s last-second shot went in. Thought one of their Big Three going AWOL from a game was as low at it gets? Bro, do you even Knicks?
New York opened hot, especially Melo and Derrick Rose, who combined for 23 points in the opening quarter. Kyle O’Quinn was rolling along, doing everything there is to do on both ends. The Knicks steadily pulled away from a better-but-still-bad team. They got the lead as high as 17. Joel Embiid came up limp late in the half after scoring — awful news on a human level, but for a Knick team desperate to stop the bleeding, the enemy of my enemy of is my friend. Then, in a development so predictable it’d make the hackiest Hollywood hack hack with shame, the Knick defense couldn’t keep Philadelphia out of the paint, which meant they couldn’t keep them off of the free-throw line, and Melo and Rose went from 23 in the first to three in the second; a 15-3 Sixer run cut the lead at the half to 5.
The 76ers took the lead in the third and you just knew this was gonna be one of those back-and-forth comes-down-to-the-last-shot affairs. Carmelo woke up late in the third and blew up, scoring 15 in the quarter. Interesting to note he only took three shots in the fourth, failing to score. What, me, worry? A 9-0 Knick run seemed to restore sanity, and after a Rose pull-up jumper they were up 91-83 with just over three minutes left.
Two minutes later, an Embiid three brought the 76ers within three, and on Philadelphia’s next possession Ersan Ilyasova drove and found Embiid underneath to cut the deficit to one. Rose took it to the hoop against Embiid, spinning a lovely lefty lay-in off glass to make it 97-94. But Rose couldn't contain Gerald Henderson on the other end, and two Sixer free throws cut it to one again with 27.8 seconds left. 27.8 minus 24 equals 3.8. Remember that part.
On their final possession, for reasons the physical universe itself revolts against, Rose went into his move with 9 seconds on the shot clock, drawing three defenders and kicking out to Brandon Jennings, who immediately found Porzingis open in the corner. KP airballed his three, leaving the Sixers 6.6 seconds for Gerald Henderson to dribble downcourt, circle back and pass it to Ilyasova, for him to find McConnell for a baseline spin-o-rama and then the game winner. A shot-clock violation would have been better. Instead, it’s another winter L. Them L’s stick to your bones.
- Alan Hahn could not quit gushing in the pregame about how McConnell can’t shoot and is pretty much a subhuman NBA point guard.
- From the late third throughout the fourth, Noah was getting steals, blocking shots, scoring a three-point play and improbably hitting an absolute abortion of a runner that Clyde was kind to label a “Eurostep.” If the Knicks had hung on, he’d be your unsung hero. He had to get treatment after bleeding from his hand and laughed while doing so. Seven points in the fourth. He bled. He laughed. I don’t know if he cried, but if not that’s the only thing he didn’t do tonight. And all that was after getting some ice wrapped on his shoulder eight minutes in.
- KP took Embiid one-on-one and threw a Dream Shake fadeaway that, finish aside, was as pretty a thing as you’ll see.
- KP blocked Embiid in the opening half. Embiid also tried to throw down over Porzingis but got stuffed by the rim. This, coupled with his rejections of Giannis Antetokounmpo last week, confirms the Latvian’s stature as the Apex Unicorn.
- Courtney Lee’s first basket was a positively Jordanesque reverse flip and-one lay-in. One reason I highly suggest following the NBA for decades is witnessing the evolution of the miraculous to the mundane. In 2036 you’ll be watching some forgettable veteran who’ll play for six teams in his career do something only LeBron does in 2016 and think “Holy shit.” It’s not an unpleasant sensation. Aging gifts you all these little luxuries.
- Late in the third, Lee tried another Jordanesque shot after drawing a foul. Not even close.
- Sergio Rodriguez: one of seven from the field, two points, four assists. OAKAAKUYOAK (Once A Knick Always A Knick Unless You’re Oak).
- Absolutely no three-point game for the Knicks tonight. 4 of 22 from downtown. Made the Sixers’ seven of 28 seem positively Golden State-y.
- Carmelo passed Robert Parish for 26th on the all-time scoring list. Respect, Chief.
- In baseball, you can see when a starting pitcher has exhausted his prime. It’s not dramatic; it’s not that hitters start hammering them. It’s the foul balls off their out-pitch; that cutter inside that used to eat guys up doesn’t get in with quite the zip it used to. A pitcher literally only needs to lose about 1% off his best stuff to go from star to slipping. Watching Carmelo guarded by Robert Covington...the numbers don’t show it, but you can see. He’s lost his fastball.
- Embiid shut down Melo twice at the rim and I was instantly transported back to the night of May 18, 2013.
- Jahlil Okafor: DNP-CD. The next time you’re pissed the universe didn’t unfold the way you wanted, remember how a lot of folk felt when the Knicks slipped in the 2014 lottery and it looked like they’d tumbled out of Okafor/D’Angelo Russell territory into Porzingis/Justise Winslowville.
- Kuz got a good look on a three as a quarter ended. When he let fly, there was a pretty good “KUZ” chant in the crowd. One day the Knicks will be good, and Kuzminskas will be a part of that, and nights like tonight will gain a saintly glow in the collective memory.
- Justin Holiday will be a part of the good times, too. He’s like a having a butt warmer in your crappy 12-year-old car. Your problem isn’t the seat being cold; it’s a lot of other stuff. But one day when you have a nice car, you’re gonna love that butt warmer.
- Mark Jackson had the best tear-drop of any Knick I’ve seen. Brandon Jennings might have the best rainbow jumper. ¡Que parábolas!
- Noah got a pass right under the basket with Embiid closing in. He didn’t even look to score, instead passing it to Lee, who quickly found Melo wide-open for three. He missed. Clyde criticized Noah for not looking to score. A Melo open three is a better shot than Noah potentially contested underneath the rim. A Melo open three is better than Noah alone in a gym underneath the rim.
- Walt Frazier, upon hearing, seemingly for the first time, of the existence of MSG Go: “We talk about the golden age of sports. This is the golden age of life. You can do anything you want to.” Goddamn right, Clyde!
Quoth Rice2012: “Not playing a top team tho.” When you’ve bottomed out, they’re all top teams, though, so tomorrow night at MSG when they play the Bulls it might as well be Michael, Scottie and Rodman. If they lose, look on the bright side: you’ll still be in shock from losing to a T.J. McConnell buzzer-beater. Tonight is your own private narcotic to numb your way through tomorrow. How many teams ever make you feel drugged, yo?