This game was the culmination of a long list of season-long warts.
All year, the Knicks been atrocious on the road and on back-to-backs. Saturday night, those two factors played off each other to form an overly dense singlularity of suck, much like the first half of Friday's matchup in Milwaukee. In fact, the game flow was alarmingly similar overall; this time, however, the Knicks turned in a low effort, low IQ performance for even longer! The phrase "digging yourself a hole" doesn't quite do it— this was more like "setting off literal tons of explosives to blow massive holes into the earth so you can subsequently BASE jump into the smoking crater". The team stats in the box score cannot possibly show how badly this went, thanks to a late run, but the rebounding numbers sure can: 53 to 32. The Pacers aren't even a good rebounding team. It was bad, and ugly, and also bad.
The sole silver lining is the continuation of the legend of Ron Baker, as his insertion in the 4th quarter sparked a "comeback" once again; due to the aformentioned crater, however, our hero was unable to lead the Knicks to the promised land this time around.
There's really not much to say about this game from a macro perspective, sadly. It's basically a microcosm of every single issue we've collectively harped on from the start of the season. Literally everything was terrible. It's irresponsible to expect a win on a back-to-back against any team in the league at this point, and that is really, really bad. Giving up 60+ points in the first half has become expected. Making generic teams look like the 2014 Spurs on offense has become expected at this point.
From a micro perspective, though, there were two main takeaways from this game.
First, Brandon Jennings, who might have the most deceiving box score of all time (17 points, 6/11 FG, 3/5 3PT, 4 assists, 3 boards, -6). It's hard for me to describe how bad he was for the entire relevant portion of this game. He just isn't a threat to do anything. The only high percentage shot he has in his entire arsenal is a catch-and-shoot 3, but he plays as if it's the lowest percentage shot. Jennings isn't a threat to attack the basket -- his attempts at finishing are offensive to viewers, and he flops for fouls more often than he actually tries to put the ball in the hoop -- so teams don't respect him at all as a primary ball handler. Opponents WANT him taking step back jumpers, because he's not good at them, so they just let him kinda dribble around and play the passing lanes, which forces turnovers and stagnates the offense. On top of that, Jennings can't really break anyone down in one-on-one situations because he's so weak -- defenders just move their feet, push him off his route, and he's happy to pull up short and pass the ball to Lance Thomas with 6 seconds left on the shot clock.
Worst of all, this was but a continuation of his entire body of work in the past few weeks, with the sole exception of the Rockets game (where he hit an array of incredibly lucky shots, as he will do once in a while). He did some of that tonight as well, which was nice, except he did it in the 4th quarter, when the Knicks were already down 25. And I think it goes without saying, but his terrible defense remains terrible.
Second, Ron. Once again inserted at the start of the quarter, only to stay until the final buzzer. Just like last time, good things started happening on both ends of the floor the second he entered the game. It's like clockwork. He's like everything good about Sasha Vujacic, if you took all that and put it into a functioning NBA athlete. Baker works his ass off, keeps the ball moving smoothly, and it sure as hell seems like his constant defensive effort inspires other guys to work hard as well.
The zero turnovers for the second game in a row is really great to see, as he struggled with those in his early-season stint, and he's already shown improved passing out of the pick and roll. Baker is just savvy beyond his years. His entire game is basketball IQ and physicality. His decision making, particularly on defense, is fantastic. He may legitimately have a case as the best defender on the floor tonight. I can't rave enough about his game. If he doesn't get a role in non-hopeless situations going forward, I'm going to put my head through a wall. How much evidence do we need to see to give the kid some of Jennings' minutes?
I liked that Hornacek played Jennings and Baker together, too -- let Baker run the actual offense and get the defense moving in order to give Jennings creases to attack off the catch rather than trying to create by himself all the time. It's a nice balance; Baker can defend either guard position against most benches, so Jennings can hide, and Jennings is actually a decent shooter off the catch as well. I wouldn't mind seeing more of that. But he needs more minutes.
Obviously, Baker's still not perfect, and he definitely got beat a couple of times (that's what happens in the modern NBA). But you gotta love what he's given this team every time he's touched the floor in non-garbage time. Well on his way to true cult hero status, a la Pablo Prigioni and Steve Novak. Except better. (*EDITOR'S NOTE:* You better be ready to catch these hands, comparing anyone to Pablo)
Everything else? Pretty much shit. I guess Courtney Lee was OK. And Mindaugas Kuzminskas definitely had a good game. Other than that, though...trash.
Next up, the Pelicans are coming to MSG. Let's hope these dudes finally manage to show up for a full game.