The beauty of lowering one’s expectations is that it becomes more and more difficult to feel pain. The New York Knicks came into San Antonio riding a streak of three soul-crushing losses. Those losses, combined with the opponent (very good!) made it easy to dismiss this game as an ‘L’ even before the opening tip.
And, lo, it was a loss! The Knicks played the Spurs tough through the first 27 minutes of the game, even taking a brief third-quarter lead, but Coach Pop’s boys don’t lose in San Antonio, and the Knicks don’t win anywhere outside the Five Boroughs. Jeff Hornacek experimented with his second-half lineups, though perhaps not in the way most Knicks fans wanted (Jarrett Jack and Michael Beasley together?). In the end, the only thing made clear was precisely what Hornacek has seemingly been looking to avoid: the veteran Jack isn’t getting the job done with the starters.
It’s time for a change, my dear friends. The future is now. The Frenchise is now. Frank Ntilikina took control of the offense against the ravenous Spurs defense, dishing 11 assists against only 1 turnover. If you’re wondering about the last time a Knicks rookie put up such numbers—it’s been awhile.
Frank Ntilikina dished out 11 assists and committed just one turnover last night in San Antonio.— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) December 29, 2017
Per @bball_ref, Ntilikina is the first Knicks rookie with more than 10 assists and fewer than 2 turnovers in a game since Greg Anthony in 1992.
Even when Jack played with Ntilikina in two-PG lineups, it was clear who the true floor general was. Frank was much more confident probing the interior of the Spurs’ D, looking for open teammates. It was a joy to behold, even in the loss, but it leaves Hornacek with another quandary. Plugging the vet into the starting point guard spot was acceptable when the team was winning, but now the Knicks are falling out of the playoff race and Frank is clearly the No. 1 option right now. So whatchu got, Horny?
—Everybody’s crapping on Hornacek recently—and rightly so—but I agree with his decision to put Kristaps at the 5 against LaMarcus Aldridge in the second half. History will say that Aldridge crushed the Knicks with 25 points, shoving Kristaps around a bit and fouling Kristaps out for the first time all season. In reality, Aldridge shot a paltry 42% and had the worst plus/minus of any Spurs starter. He hit some straight-up garbage fadeaways over tough defense—an Aldridge specialty—but he wasn’t exactly dominating Kristaps and company.
—I would have liked to see more Lance Thomas. One night after his defensive masterpiece against Nikola Mirotic, Lance played only 13 minutes in San Antonio. The Spurs scored 119 points. Just saying.
—Speaking of 119 points, you might be surprised to learn Michael Beasley played a lot! Beas’ gambles for steals were even more reckless on this night than usual, which is saying something.
—Ron Baker reappeared Thursday night, with 9 minutes of playing time. He had been playing well, so I’m quite confused as to why he suddenly vanished from the rotation. It’s as if Hornacek watched the quality bench play of a few weeks ago and attributed it solely to Beasley. “Beas is the superstar; screw these other losers.” It’s not the path I would have taken, personally.
OK, so the Knicks are back under .500. Like P&T’er Ewing Finger Roll of Doom said, “Can we start Frank now?”