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Grizzlies 101, Knicks 88: ‘I would like a Hernangomez double-double and an L, please’

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Willy vs. Marc was fun.

NBA: New York Knicks at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Gasol: 34 minutes, 16 points (4-13 shooting), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 blocks, +8

Willy Hernangomez: 29 minutes, 11 points (4-7 shooting), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 steals, +12

Look, we all know the stakes of these last few games of the 2016-17 season. Losing is winning, kids on the periphery of the 15-man roster (and Sasha Vujacic) get playing time, etc. This was especially true Friday night in the Knicks’ road finale in Memphis, as both Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis were out. If ever there were a game where fans needed to squint to see positive signs, this figured to be it.

Instead, the starting lineup of — I kid you not — Ron Baker, Courtney Lee, Justin Holiday, Maurice Ndour and Willy Hernangomez played the Grizzlies more or less straight-up, with the Knicks actually holding a two-point edge heading into the final quarter. What happened next would have pissed me off if I had the slightest interest in the Knicks winning — Jeff Hornacek kept bench players like Chasson Randle, Sasha, Marshall Plumlee and Kyle O’Quinn in the game far too long as the Grizzlies pulled away. The difference between Willy and O’Quinn was particularly stark: +12 for Willy, -21 for KOQ, with Willy sitting until only a few minutes remained and the game was already out of reach.

But who cares? I dunno about y’all, but I came for the Battle of the Spaniards. Willy started the game a little hesitant to challenge one of his idols, an elite center with whom he is often (probably unfairly) compared. But Wig Billy quickly found his bearings, and pretty much played the former Defensive Player of the Year tough throughout the game. The Knicks won the “Willy vs. Marc” minutes and got slaughtered otherwise. They fulfilled P&T’er jacoop’s wish of a Willy double-double and a Knicks’ L. These days, it’s hard to get any better than that.

Notes:

— Maurice Ndour scored the first seven points of the game for New York. His 15 points led the team through three quarters...and, keep in mind, the Knicks were winning at the time. Big Senegal ended up with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal and 3 blocks...mostly while matched up on former All-Defense team stalwart Tony Allen, no less. He slithered around and behind Memphis defenders to get easy buckets, which is cool, and he canned a few tough mid-range baseline J’s, which Phil Jackson probably thinks is cool. Despite my unyielding love of Ndour, a week ago I would have put his chances of returning at roughly 0%. Now he has given himself a fighting chance. He may not be the end-of-the-bench bruiser that teams seem to love to keep in the 15th man role, a la Marshall Plumlee, but at least he has legit NBA upside.

— Ron Baker got all loosey-goosey with his handle, breaking out some behind-the-back and between-the-legs moves. I thought that kinda shit was illegal in the Kansas youth system! Ron point guarded to his utmost, dishing 7 dimes against only 1 turnover. He still can’t shoot, though: 1-7 from the field. You need to learn to shoot, Ron. Looking like a psychedelic ‘60s Jimmy Chitwood will only get you so much respect in this league if those jumpers never fall.

— If you’re a fan of “RESPECT THE GAME” feistiness, Courtney Lee got super pissed at Grizzlies’ rookie Wade Baldwin, who tossed up a halfcourt shot before the final seconds of the game had ticked away (He made it, of course, cuz Knicks). Baldwin kind of pranced away toward the locker room after the buzzer, celebrating his shot, and Lee, who was nowhere near the action at the time, jetted over with intentions of giving the kid a piece of his mind before being stopped by Grizzlies veterans (Lee played for Memphis last season).

Lee went all Lot’s wife after the game, turning into a pillar of salt:

Fans tend to have STRONG feelings one way or the other on this topic — honestly, the “Why y’all so salty?” crowd gets just as indignant and obnoxious as the “Respect the game” crowd — but I can see why this would be tough for Knicks vets to handle. It’s the end of a long, brutal season, and Lee’s teammates — end of the bench guys getting rare playing time — actually played Memphis pretty tough. This was a rare game where the Knicks could walk off the court with their heads held high, and the kid sort of messed with that. Whatever. It is what it is. The world will laugh at Lee’s overly sensitive remarks, because Lee is a Knick, and that is now his lot in life.

— Clyde rather snidely mentioned that Marc Gasol (4.6 assists per game) would lead the Knicks in assists, and I half expected some Derrick Rose (4.4 assists per game) fans to bum rush him and grab the mic: “NOT A FAIR COMPARISON! YOU CAN'T EXPECT POINT GUARDS TO GET ASSISTS IN THE TRIANGLE! ROSE’S TEAMMATES MISS TOO MANY SHOTS! I BET YOU NEVER EVEN PLAYED COLLEGE BALL!”

That’s it for the road portion of the Knicks’ schedule, as well as “Friday Night Knicks.” Robert Randolph will now retreat to his hobbit hole for the next few months.