If you tuned into Friday night’s game merely looking for a distraction from living in James Dolan’s America, which incidently turns out to be some kind of war-torn Hunger Games-type hellscape where we are all nameless Garden employees expected to tow the company line or face being 86’d, then you may have been entertained, as the game was in fact entertaining after a fashion. But if you were hoping for some sort of boisterous open fan rebellion to the recent treatment of Charles Oakley, you may have been somewhat less edified.
Oh, there were a number of chants of ‘Charles Oakley’, ‘We want Oakley’, ‘Free Charles Oakley’, and ‘Fire Dolan’ throughout the night, but they were generally not as throaty or prolonged as anyone would’ve liked. Or the crowd mics on MSG may have been muted a bit. Or they may have been located in whatever soundproof (some might say ‘insensate’) bubble Dolan watched the game from last night. Who knows.
What was clear was that both teams stood by Oak by refusing to play defense, while the Knicks went a step further and didn’t rebound either. Both squads allowed dribble penetration and ball-watching to be central to their protest while bringing all the intensity of a pair of teams jockeying for lottery position. The result was a back-and-forth affair which saw insanely hot stretches of shooting, starting right out of the gate as the two teams combined to hit the first seven shots of the game. The Nuggets went on later in the opening frame to hit 10 in a row at one point. The Knicks’ second team then came on for an entertaining 20-6 run filled with hustle, ball movement, and smarts to open the second quarter and give New York a 12-point lead. By the half, Denver had come back within a bucket.
Denver then didn’t miss a shot during the first six and a half minutes of the second half, as the Knicks watched a halftime lead turn into a 17-point deficit. With the game clock winding down, the Knicks embarked on a fake comeback which saw them hit 8 shots in a row at one point while Melo went supernova in the fourth with 21 points, hitting all eight of shots including five triples.
But they couldn’t grab a damn rebound when they needed to, and allowed the familiar succession of back-breaking threes, adding a new twist by throwing the Nugs a game-sealing four-point play.
The story of the game was the indomitable somnalence of Nikola Jokic, who basically sleepwalked to a career high 40 points on 74% shooting, along with 9 boards and 5 assists; it was just that easy for him. Nothing the Knicks threw at him could slow him down, including the time when the Knicks threw nothing at him:
The Oakley ban included paint defense. pic.twitter.com/PRtvnlcYHt— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 11, 2017
Someone needed to call security for backup, because that guy got real offensive real close to Dolan’s seat. #FACTS
-Kyle O’Quinn and Willy Hernangomez nearly matched Jokic’s torrid scoring, combining for 28 on 14-of-16 shooting. KO’s only miss was an in-and-out three ball, and he added 6 boards, 4 blocks, 3 assists and some funk-nasty on this throw-down to end the third quarter:
-Willy’s 12 points and 4 boards came in only 8(!?) minutes. Maurice Ndour got a couple ineffective minutes of play for some reason. And one of the tragedies of tonight’s game is that nobody had the wherewithal and class to match the Hernangomez brothers up and just let them have at it mano-a-mano (Juancho scored 8 in 16 minutes and had a late-game block on Porzingis). #FireDolan
-Ron Baker played a bunch and Ronned like hell, with some beautiful touch passes which helped spur the second quarter run during his four-assist, zero TO night. Oddly though, when the Knicks needed defensive help down the stretch, Ron didn’t play a single minute in the fourth.
-As hinted at earlier, the Knicks got their asses handed to them on the boards (44-33). Will Barton had 10 rebounds tonight; Will Barton unofficially weighs 126 pounds and, with all credit to his leaping ability, could be boxed out by a stiff enough ‘Char-les OAK-ley’ chant.
-Kristaps Porzingis struggled defensively, getting owned by both Jokic and Wilson Chandler (19 points) and grabbing only four boards. He managed 17 points but continued his trend of missing wide-open threes, with the possible result of teammates starting to pass him up a little bit when he is free for threes. Or maybe it’s just terrible court vision.
-Courtney Lee did everything he could to try and keep the Knicks in it for a while: he was flying all over the place hustling, breaking up breakaways, getting down court in transition, drilling open looks, you name it. The Knicks were looking for him off of inbounds passes, and even seemed to be running plays for him. That is, until he disappeared into a black hole on the bench for most of the third quarter. He finished with 15 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists.
-Derrick Rose joined Lee on the bench after the first four minutes of the third quarter saw him look generally disinterested and void of energy as the Knicks gave up a 15-6 run, including him giving up a three-quarter court in-bounds pass to his unmarked man because Rose was busy jawing at refs after a turnover and then getting beat on a pick and meandering backdoor cut to the rim. Jeff Hornacek had seen enough; Rose was pulled and didn’t get up again until eight minutes were left in the game. This kind of lack of focus and effort—above and beyond the team’s usual poor defensive communication, of course—this sticks in the gulliver a little when you’re down a couple of possessions at the end of the game. Definitely will be a bit of a shocker if he makes it to the finish line this year with the Knicks.
-Brandon Jennings played 39 minutes, shot 2-of-10, and while on defense he approximated a wide-open ‘special entry’ gate at a rush hour subway station. But every time you asked yourself, “why is he in there right now?” he pulled out one of his 13 assists or a not-quite-momentum-changing deflection. Improbably, he also had zero turnovers. He was the constant in a strange array of lineups tonight; I personally would’ve liked to see Baker instead at the end. If you’re into wins or development, anyway.
-With Clyde away celebrating the 50th anniversary of his Southern Illinois Salukis’ NIT championship and Mike Breen on ESPN, Wally Szczerbiak had a great night on the mic—by strictly unintentional comedy standards. Whether he was in full shill mode and saying Dolan did a great job handling himself on his Michael Kay interview earlier in the day, or encouraging the Knicks to “make [Denver] miscommunicate like the Knicks sometimes miscommunicate”, he dropped several instant shudders down viewers spines. This includes a tone-deaf comment referencing a Jennings steal while speaking over a replay of Jennings hitting a 40-foot underhand heave after an open-court foul: “The Knicks need more plays like this one to get back in the game”. Why stop with the ridiculousness there, Wally? Why not bring back the MTV Rock ‘N Jock 25-point basket?
That could distract the joyless citizenry at MSG for a little bit. And that’s all we need—a little light-heartedness rather than just another distraction. Look into it, JD. Because at the moment, a lot of fans seem to side with P&Ter John Stark, who supplied the title quote for this recap. And it’s always better to have the fun clowns outnumber the sad and scary ones at a circus.