France will always root against Germany. Samurai Jack will fight Aku till the end of time, and through time. Ditto Jedis and Sith, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and the Knicks and Heat. New York’s 98-94 win Friday night in Miami is a good thing, because justice never rests. Justice never forgets, even years after the war, for many, is over. For some, the war is never over. The practical Knick fan climbs into bed tonight, closes their eyes, and sees phantom ping-pong balls fading to oblivion. Me? I close my eyes and see P.J. Brown burning in Hell, pushing a boulder of calcified karmic debt up a hill; when he nears the top, Pablo Prigioni — resplendent in a shining toga/halo ensemble — sneaks up behind him, steals the boulder, and rolls it down the hill. Brown does this over and over again, for eternity. Tonight, I’ll sleep deeply and well.
The Knicks went with the vaunted Ron Baker/Courtney Lee/Sasha Vujacic three-guard lineup, along with the Sevilla Towers frontcourt of Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez. No Carmelo Anthony, out with a sore lower back. No Derrick Rose. No Lance Thomas. No problem. New York came out hot and led throughout the first quarter, playing some of their most attractive, coherent ball in memory. Guys were moving without the ball! Guys were rewarding guys who moved without the ball by passing it to them! Porzingis was scoring efficiently, quieting (for one night) the “He hasn’t succeeded as a lead option!” Chicken Littles. Willy was scoring and rebounding. Baker set a career high for assists — in the first half. The team had 16 assists to only five turnovers; after averaging seven steals a game this season, the Knicks gakked eight by halftime.
The game was close throughout; the Knicks led most of the way, but the Heat kept staying close and briefly pulling ahead. A nostalgic 39-39 second half score belied how entertaining and end-to-end the action often was. The third quarter ended with Justin Holiday almost severing his leg trying to finish a Justin-Holiday-Can’t-Make-That-Shot Eurostep. Thirty seconds into the fourth, he went flying over the scorer’s table after a loose ball; on the next possession, he skied over Kyle O’Quinn for a rebound. Hire this man!
It was 90-90 with just over five minutes left. Hassan Whiteside fell on Hernangomez’s face. Willy didn’t like it. Whiteside seemed apologetic, if also somewhat amused. Next time down the floor, he tried to slap five/bump fists with Hernangomez. No dice. Pat Riley would’ve been proud of the inhumanity. The Knicks were up 96-94 with 30 seconds left and had the ball. No Melo. No Rose. WHAT WOULD THEY RUN?!? Well, Baker held it for a while, then drove off a KP pick before finding Hernangomez baseline. He missed. But the novelty got some of y’all off, and you know it.
Miami had a chance to tie. Goran Dragic missed and Whiteside was called for offensive goaltending. Courtney Lee caught the inbounds in the backcourt and busted out a Cousey-esque twisting/turning dribbling escape. He got fouled and hit both free throws. Game.
Go ahead. Lament the Knicks hurting the tank by winning this “meaningless” game. But winning kept the Heat from becoming the first team 19 games under .500 to:
1) reach the .500 mark that same season,
2) reach the playoffs, and
3) set a new record for the most wins (38) by a team that was 19+ games below .500. The current record holders? Your 2014 New York Knicks.
It also hurts the Heat’s playoff chances, as they’re now tied in the loss column with eight-seed Indiana and ninth-seeded Chicago. My better angels advise that I focus on what the Knicks need to do to get their own house in order, not whatever petty disappointment Miami suffered. I advise my better angles to fuck that noise.
- Five Knicks in double-figures: KP, Willy, Lee, Baker, and Holiday. Porzingis led the team in shot attempts, which seems wise. Vujacic was third, which seems #Knicks.
- 10 and 9 in the first half for Willy. Zero and three in the second.
- Honorable mention: Maurice Ndour had two points and no rebounds in 12 minutes. Tonight was Ndour’s fifth game in five nights, between these Knicks and the D-League outfit. The other day my fiancee called me on the phone. When I answered she asked if I was walking somewhere outside. I was, and asked how she knew. “You sound like you’re out of breath,” she laughed. So yeah: mad respect, Maurice.
- When KP drives in the lane, he’d do well to hold the ball up higher when he picks up his dribble. He’s so tall and long that if he doesn’t, it’s almost a given defenders will get a hand on it. And while I’m sure he can palm a basketball, I’m not sure how strong his grip is. He doesn’t strike me as having Marv from Sin City’s mitts.
- Willy is like Thelonious Monk with all the syncopation and microrhythms that go into him waiting versus rolling on PnRs. Aesthetically, definitely the one thing I’ve enjoyed most about this year’s team.
- Anybody else ever notice a slight Lonzo Ball sling-action thing in Courtney Lee’s form? It’s not exactly the same, but tonight whatever oddity Lee has really hit me.
- Ndour hit a driving layup around James Johnson and it was like the personification of trial beating error.
- Imagine television existed thousands of years ago. Imagine Nero had not only burned Rome to the ground, but televised the atrocity and broadcast it for years afterward. That’s what it’s like seeing 90’s Knick/Heat highlights on James Dolan’s MSG broadcasts.
- With 7:15 left in the second, after a Heat timeout, the Knick pressing defense forced Miami to call another timeout after they couldn’t inbound. You will never read a more unlikely sentence in your life. You’ll pro’ly try to craft some, and we’ll all laugh. But you won’t.
- Word is Porzingis will workout with Dirk Nowitzki this summer. He should add Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to his agenda. KP could be could be should be tossing skyhooks down over the top of fools forever. Jaromir Jagr’s butt has kept him in the NHL since 19freaking90. KP’s height: make it happen.
- Baker hit his first four shots tonight. I really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really hope Ron Baker develops a jump shot. Because he can defend. Career-high six assists tonight, too, though none in the second half. Could’ve been more.
- That was one “really” for every three-pointer Baker has made this year.
- KP WAS SMILING AGAIN! That’s as encouraging and important an outcome as anything that might have happened tonight, besides...
1) Erik Spoelstra walking up to Rily after the game, ripping his face off to reveal it was a mask worn all along by Charlie Ward, knocking the old man out, lugging his body atop a steel cage ring and body slamming him,
2) A Bunsy appearance, or
3) Jeff Hornacek walking up to Phil Jackson after the game, pulling him close, and saying “Triangle? Rambis? Frankly, my dear...” and straight-up Rhett Butlering Phil’s ass.
- I know he’s not a Knick anymore. Hasn’t been in years. But Jamal Crawford used to be a Knick. Someday, he’ll age to where he’s no longer a viable NBA player. When that day comes, he’ll be a Knick again. In the meantime, it’s still fun seeing Crawford Crawf. That’s your verb for the day. Crawf.
- Clyde kept calling Kyle O’Quinn “KP.” It’s tank time for the announcers, too.
- The rare moment of actually learning something from Clyde’s analysis went down tonight. After Mike Breen brought up how the Heat have switched to super long nets in their baskets, Clyde pointed out this is so after shots go in the ball falls through the net faster, facilitating more run-and-gun.
- Breen told a story about the whole MSG crew going out for dinner together and how he’d never seen Clyde eat so much dessert. Clyde joked about how that was why he didn’t hang out with the other guys more. In that moment I realized I would be deeply troubled, somehow, if Clyde did hang out with Breen. Something about that image saddens me inexplicably. Dazed And Confused is the same thing for me. I love that movie. But once it gets to the last minutes, I feel super down all of a sudden.
- With 4:08 left, the Knicks stopped Dragic and got the ball back. But the ref on the baseline mistakenly thought Porzingis, who was out of bounds, had touched it, and gave Miami possession. I bring this up because when this sort of thing happened at the height of these teams’ rivalry, back in the day, that one bad call would inspire hundreds of sports radio show call-ins. Now?
Quoth Walt Clyde Phraser: “...at least we beat a team I hate.” Truer words were never spoken. Bitch all you want in May if the randomizing lottery process drops the Knicks below another team whose wants and needs you and I and their fans know nothing about, and the Knicks take someone whose future none of us can do more than guess at and hope for the best. They’ll likely resume losing Sunday afternoon on national TV against Boston. You wanna put all your eggs in futures? Go for it. The Knicks just beat their most hated rival (it’s scientific!). I feel alive.