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Jazz 108, Knicks 101: ‘They’re still playing these things?’

It was tense — too damn tense — but the Knicks pulled off the loss.

NBA: New York Knicks at Utah Jazz
This is a great picture, Frank Layden. I still hate your son, though.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

For those who truly believe in the tank, these are truly harrowing times. In theory this should be a cakewalk — the Knicks’ closing schedule is brutal, and losing has always been their strength. But then you check the Tankathon standings and notice the sheer volume of L’s being put together by pretty much all of their competition:

Suddenly you are reminded of the end of the 2014-15 campaign, when the Knicks’ tank competition closed with relentless losing and our boys in orange and blue faltered, winning just enough to push themselves out of the top of the lottery. And you find yourself panicking: “My God, what if they actually win some of these games? Forget fourth or fifth place — could they actually get passed by the Timberwolves? NO! Not again! They got Towns, they kept Rubio...those bastards aren’t making fools of us again!”

Wednesday’s loss to the Utah Jazz was just a little bit different than the standard “Knicks start out hot before the other team adjusts and dismantles them” game for a few reasons. With the exception of Rudy Gobert, who demolished New York for a career-high 35 points, the Jazzmen looked disturbingly lethargic throughout. Certified Knick-killer Gordon Hayward was ice-cold. And the Knicks were holding off Utah runs with some surprisingly spirited basketball.

A day may come when the tanking of our Knicks fails, when they forsake their fans and break all bonds of shared lottery hope...but it was not this day. This day, the Jazz — Hayward in particular — woke up at the perfect moment, Kristaps Porzingis struggled to stay on the floor due to foul trouble, and the Knicks wilted. Good job, boys. Now never put us through that kind of hell again.


— I try not to make excuses for Kristaps Porzingis’s persistent foul troubles. You gotta stop reaching in at ball handlers and jumping into shooters, kid. But a sequence late in the second quarter absolutely broke my heart. Kristaps had played Rudy Gobert pretty well up until this moment, helping the Knicks to a comfortable lead. Then, as he was completing one of the more sold block-outs I’ve seen from him — textbook form, really — Gobert jumped over his back to tap the ball away. Whistle, foul on Gobert...right? Nope, they called the foul on Kristaps...for standing with his back to the dude and holding up his arms, for fucking blocking out. The Jazz maintained possession, and mere seconds later Kristaps got caught leaping at a gorgeous Hayward up-fake. If that over-the-back had been called correctly — hell, even if it was a no-call — Kristaps probably ends that possession with only one foul, and has a chance to end the half on a high note. Instead, he leaves the game with three fouls and Gobert goes ballistic at the end of the half, closing Utah’s deficit to four. It was good for the tank, but bad for Kristaps’ development.

— Much will be made of Kristaps getting owned by Gobert on the defensive boards. And it certainly was true. Gobert is the worst possible matchup for him in this regard — just as long and bouncy, but far stronger. The Stifle Tower grabbed 11 offensive boards, which is just astounding. Still, I was encouraged by Kristaps’ offensive game. He rediscovered his three-point shot, hitting 3-7 from beyond the arc, which helped pull Gobert away from the basket. And he attacked mismatches whenever possible, drawing a bunch of fouls. He even stared down Gobert after dunking on him late in the fourth, drawing a stern “Don’t stare down your opponent when down at the end of the game” lecture from Jeff Van Gundy. Fuck that. These past few months have been a nightmare for the young Unicorn. He just yakked it on one of the premier defenders in the game. He scored 24 points. You strut, young man. Never stop strutting.

— Willy Hernangomez pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds, but he too was soft on Gobert and struggled to defend the pick-and-roll. I expect more from you, big cat. It’s a nice sign of how far Willy has come as a rookie that he can drop 9 and 10 on the Jazz in 17 minutes and it felt like he underachieved.

— Derrick Rose looked incredible finding shooters out of the pick-and-roll in the first half. Where was the court vision all season? And how the hell can Hornacek watch the offense hum along on the basis of that pick-and-roll action and think, “We need to do this less often?” Ah well, the tank rolls on. Rose hurt his ankle, by the way.

— P&T’er John Stark opened Wednesday’s game thread with sentiment shared by many of us: “They’re still playing these things?” These contests can feel rather pointless, particularly when the vets are in. By far the most exciting moments of the game come when the little-used rookies get a chance to shine. In related news, Chasson Randle got two minutes of playing time in Utah. Two. Way to choke any shred of fun from these games, Hornacek. PLAY RANDLE.

— Ron Baker (7 points) was surprisingly frisky in taking it to the rim against Utah. It didn’t work very often, but I appreciate the gumption.

OK, the Knicks are playing in Portland in a few hours. Rest Rose. For God’s sake, please rest Carmelo Anthony (36 minutes Wednesday). Play the kids. Make it at least a tiny bit fun.