For decades, the Indiana Pacers have shown themselves to be the most effective measuring stick for the Knicks’ place in the NBA. Their nearly-annual postseason duels between the two franchises in the ‘90s are the stuff of legend, and it was the Paul George/Roy Hibbert Pacers who emerged to check the first Knicks team to pass the first round of the playoffs in the Dolan Era.
And wouldn’t you know it, the surprisingly good 2017-18 version of the Knickerbockers came face-to-face with a surprisingly better version of the Pacers on Sunday night. For three quarters Indiana showed off the savvy, unselfish style of ball which allowed them to emerge as a playoff contender, building a 19-point lead and weathering a rare off night from Victor Oladipo thanks to contributions from the likes of Domantas Sabonis and Darren Collison.
But these wonderful, wacky 2017-18 Knicks have a trump card that Indiana lacks—a budding superstar by the name of Kristaps Porzingis. That big Pacers’ lead withered in the fourth-quarter in the face of an onslaught of shot-making and shot-blocking from the Unicorn, who finished with a career-high 40 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 6 rejections. It was an MVP-level performance.
Oh, this isn’t to say that Kristaps lacked for help in bringing the Knicks all the way back for the 108-101 victory. The young Euro even felt compelled to take to Instagram post-game and thank his even-young Euro compatriot.
Was Sunday the night Frank Ntilikina truly arrived on the MSG stage? The Frenchise finished his first game (outside of garbage time), playing all of the fourth quarter alongside Kristaps. The Pacers had been able to pick-and-roll New York to death until Jeff Hornacek deployed Ntilikina and his colossal squid arms. And Frank ran the offense to perfection, doing what we had been begging Knick point guards to do for years no: get the ball to KP and let him cook. If that weren’t enough, Frank canned the two biggest three-pointers of the game, including the eventual game-winner. As P&T’er BlackPlague1986 noted, his performance was worthy of not one, but two BANGS from Mike Breen.
To the notes!
- Underrated Knick of the Night: Lance Thomas, who didn’t play until the second half, but played with the closing lineup of KP, Frank, Enes Kanter and Tim Hardaway Jr., helping to shore up the leaky Knick D. The Knicks switched pick-and-rolls more often in the second half, a strategy which assistant coach Jerry Sichting had mentioned in his halftime interview, but it didn’t truly work until Lance and Frank were in there to effectively guard Indiana’s sweet-shooting bigs on those switches. Lance was plus-23 in 16 minutes, which’ll do.
- Myles Turner is a tremendous young big—one of the pearls of the 2015 draft class which also gifted us our beloved Kristaps, There have been some moments in the past two years—Kristaps’ lowest moments—during which he even appeared to be KP’s equal. Boy, is that no longer true. Turner was actually quite good in this one through three quarters...just not on Kristaps’ level.
- The “Who got the better deal for trading their superstar to the Thunder?” duel was a draw. Sabonis (acquired for Paul George) was the best player on the court in the first half, but Oladipo (also acquired for George) was uncharacteristically off throughout most of the night. Meanwhile, Kanter (acquired for Melo), struggled to finished around the basket, but did grab 18 rebounds and played decent defense in the fourth. Doug McDermott (also acquired for Melo) didn’t put up numbers, but was a part of the unit which helped turn the game around early in the fourth. The dude remains refreshingly solid, even though he’s not hitting his threes.
- How about Jeff Hornacek? Coach was pushing all the right buttons in the fourth quarter, using non-traditional lineups with Lance and Frank playing with the usual KP/Kanter frontcourt. Perhaps more importantly, he trusted the teenager Frank to play during crunch time. Isn’t that what we’ve wanted all along?
The future has arrived:
When Frank Ntilikina & Kristaps Porzingis shared the floor, the Knicks outscored Pacers 45-20 tonight, per @msimonespn. (9-3 outside of 4th)— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) November 6, 2017
Drink it in, Knicks fans.