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Oklahoma City 105, New York 84: “It’s one game”

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Tis better to have hung for a half than never to have hung at all.

NBA: New York Knicks at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The most important takeaway from the Knicks’ 105-84 opening night loss in Oklahoma City is that it’s just one game, the game that’s like literally the furthest removed from both the team and narrative we’ll see develop over the season. A lot of this game’s headlines were easy to see coming. The Thunder led most of the way. Kristaps Porzingis was the Knicks’ best player. Carmelo Anthony took a lot of shots and scored a lot of points. Russell Westbrook had a triple-double. Ron Baker did not.

The thing no one saw coming — especially with extensive garbage time — was Willy Hernangomez not getting in the game till the last 3:46, Frank Ntilikina playing eight minutes and Damyean Dotson playing three. Joakim Noah is still serving a drug suspension and he almost played as much as last year’s All-Rookie First Teamer.

The Knicks were competitive and respectable for much of the first half. Anakin was besting Obi-Wan.

Survivor’s guilt had Carmelo missing everything and turning the ball over, but the Knicks were even turnover-ier, with 11 in the first quarter alone. The all-around brilliance of Porzingis helped New York take the lead in the second. A 13-2 Thunder run the last three minutes of the half was all the separation they’d need on the night.

The biggest positive from tonight’s game may have been what happened with 9:22 left in the second. Melo drove in transition and drew Porzingis’ second foul. I wondered if Jeff Hornacek would pull him, and if he didn’t how long it’d be before Porzingis picked up his third. That third foul didn’t come until midway through the third quarter, despite KP maintaining his aggression. He was hitting threes off screens, pump faking, jab stepping and posting up, even backing down Melo and making it look kinda easy. Leaving him in is another sign he’s the new number one in town. Justifying that faith gave us an opening night glimpse of our would-be franchise player, a more welcome opening night storyline than what many feared New York would endure.

The Thunder blew the game open in the third, capped by consecutive alley-oops to Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and Adams again. On a night the Knicks couldn’t hit their threes (7 of 24) or free throws (13 or 20) and had more turnovers (25) than assists (19), the death knell came late in the third when they went 6:15 without a field goal. The high point of the night was the long hug and words KP and Melo shared after the final buzzer. I counted: they held each other for more than three seconds. That was some beautiful male intimacy. Among the sweet nothings Anthony shared with Porzingis: “You’re the unicorn. You’ve got to embrace it.” Tonight, he did.

Notes:

  • Michael Beasley hit his first shot, a corner three, then his left foot came down on Westbrook’s right foot. Done for the night. Or...was he?

Legend indeed.

  • 25 of KP’s 31 points came from somewhere other than three-pointers. Somewhere in Montana, Phil Jackson’s aura is burning.
  • This was the fourth 30-point game of Porzingis’ career. He could double that total in the next month.
  • 22 for Melo. Gonna miss that man.
  • Ntilikina’s NBA career began with consecutive airballs. There was once another rookie teen who had a consecutive airball streak.

Ergo, Frank is the new Kobe.

  • Did Ron Baker look like an NBA player tonight?

My Admitted Overreaction Of The Night: Baker missed five of eight free throws. Every time Ron misses a free throw, it rubs in my fear that he’ll never ever ever be a good shooter, and that this whole Ron project is destined to fail and we should all just be adults and admit it already. As I typed this, Baker picked off a Melo pass for his third steal of the game, and I was about to think “Every time you write Ron off, he makes a play, “ only right after the steal he turned a 3-on-2 into a remarkably bad turnover, so instead I thought “The Baker project is destined to fail.” Then I thought “Isn’t it still too early to judge?” Then I remembered this is the My Admitted Overreaction Of The Night. So it’s all good.

  • Doug McDermott had three assists in his first five minutes. He also played 60% more minutes than Hernangomez, Ntilikina and Dotson combined. Your call which fact is more suprising.
  • Two points, three assists and three steals for Raymond Felton. OAKAAKUYO.
  • The fact that I watched this game and realized afterward I had zero feel for what kind of numbers Tim Hardaway put up probably tells you all you need to know about the night he had.
  • During the game, the Knicks signed Isaiah Hicks. There’s a Clyde-ism for ya.
  • I like the cut of Alex Abrines’ jib. The Thunder Spaniard looks like he thinks he belongs, which is the first step in showing you belong.
  • Got a glimpse of Frank’s defense on one sequence against either Josh Huestis or Jerami Grant and holy shit — the length, the fluidity of footwork, the awareness and anticipation of counters, the countering of counters...bookmark tonight as when this truth became self-evident: the kid’s gonna be all right.
  • The Knicks def look to run more than before. It’s still not a lot, but there’s some conscious intent there. It’s a start.
  • What a relief at halftime, to hear the TNT crew talking about a Knick game and it’s all just X’s and O’s. Nothing embarrassing or scandalous. It’s a start.
  • A Westbrook foul was the only thing that kept Porzingis from tearing a hole in the fabric of reality on a missed dunk. I can’t wait till KP’s strong enough to finish those. I feel like he misses more would-be mammoth throwdowns than any player I can remember.
  • My “Why didn’t Willy/Frank/Dotson play?” trifecta: Kanter getting minutes is in the hope of upping his value enough to trade him and escape his player option. The company line, from the head coach:

"We have a lot of bigs," Hornacek said. "(O'Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy's not far behind. He's got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can't play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn't matter if you're in the rotation or out of rotation. If you're in it, you've got to earn it to keep it."

McDermott is an expiring asset they’d love to get even a second-round pick for (I feel like Cleveland would consider doing this, somehow, later this season), so Dotson’s minutes are currently secondary to that aim. And Frank is fine. Really. I want to see more of him. We all do. But an eight-minute debut after a summer and off-season of knee pains? No worries. If the front office has some off-the-books Joba Rules that Hornacek’s ordered to enforce, we have plenty of time to find out and huddle Nup the torches and pitchforks.

  • Kanter held his own a few times when matched on Melo 25 feet from the hoop, not biting on fakes, moving his feet, keeping Melo in front. Just doing my part to up that trade value!
  • The Knicks cannot pass. At all. Not an entry pass. Not swinging the ball after a double-team. Even inbounding the ball has them at sixes and sevens.
  • There’s a Gandalf “you shall not pass” joke lurking in there somewhere. Kudos if you figure it out.
  • Watching Paul George camp behind the arc, putting up 13 three-point attempts, five in the first six minutes, convinced me: I’m over all the pace-and-space. I’m starting to feel like I grew up watching a league full of craftsmen and now I’m watching workers on an assembly line.
  • When TNT showed the pictures of both teams’ starters I asked the five-year old who’s the cutest. She literally RAN to the TV excited to point out Steven Adams. “I noticed the tattoos. I like them.” The wife was not as enamored. “He looks like “something out of No Country For Old Men.”

Quoth Rice2012: “It’s 1 game.” Truth. The Knicks will take their second stab and their first win Saturday win they host Detroit. Tune in. Turn on. Drop out with us then.