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Lakers 127, Knicks 107: ‘Holy hell what is this defense?’

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Juuuust a bit outside

NBA: New York Knicks at Los Angeles Lakers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks came into Sunday’s matinee looking to win consecutive games for the first time in over a month and consecutive road games for the first time in 363 days. They’re still looking after falling to the KCP-and-Lonzo-less Lakers 127-107. It was three quarters of breathless, back-and-forth end-to-end action. Fine flaws abounded, on both teams, and so theatrics ran riot. But L.A. was quicker and hungrier throughout, and that’s often a cliche but it wasn’t tonight. The Lakers were always everywhere. It was like the Foot Clan if the Foot Clan was legit.

Both teams opened hot and stayed hot. Tim Hardaway Jr. was subbed out midway through the first quarter. I dunno, that seems interesting to me. Kyle Kuzma hit his first four shots, but was done for the night after 10 minutes with maybe a hand injury. Something called Alex Caruso kept racking up assists and drawing charges. Imagine the soul of Pablo Prigioni in the body of the first kid you knew who had a fake I.D. That’s Alex Caruso.

ESPN

Jordan Clarkson was coupling efficient scoring with setting up teammates. It was like watching Kobe Bryant the way Kobe must imagine himself in dreams. Or, you know, like watching LeBron.

The Knicks were living and dying from the field, and living pretty well. It took until a third of the game had passed before they got to the free-throw line. Kristaps Porzingis and Michael Beasley were four fists of destruction, but they also had seven fouls between them midway through the second. This led to the birdwatcher’s delight, a.k.a. Enes Kanter and Willy Hernangomez playing together. Despite the offense flowing, warning signs hinted at a tough night. The Knicks committed mad dumb fouls and they couldn’t corral a defensive rebound*. That’s how you can be hitting 60% of your shots, half your threes, have your bench shooting 90% from the field, have 18 assists on 26 baskets and still be trailing.

(*I looked this up, because defensive rebounds are one of those stats I feel play totally different in front of you and on the page. The Knicks were only out-defensive rebounded 27-26. But I swear to you if you watched this game, you know the Lakers owned the boards.)

Hardaway opened the second half with a four-point play that gave him 10 makes in his last 13 attempts from deep. This was the start of something.

Another Hardaway three followed, followed by one from Courtney Lee. Porzingis hit two more from downtown; the Knicks hit their first seven shots of the second half.

The Knicks scored 21 in the first four-and-a-half minutes. And yet, they were still only up four. Caruso dribble-penetrated at will. Julius Randle offered tantalizing glimpses of a potentially pulchritudinous Porzingis partnership. With four minutes left in the third, L.A. led 90-89. KP managed meaningful minutes without picking up a fourth foul. The stage was set for a flourishing finish. Then the Lakers went on an outta left field 10-0 run. With just under two seconds left in the third, down eight, Lee didn’t even bother trying to get a shot off. What the hell?

Then for something completely different, Jeff Hornacek opened the fourth with Trey Burke playing alongside Frank Ntilikina. Burke hit a pull-up off glass and a lay-up, but he wasn’t going to overcome thirty-six minutes of collective defensive reparations. Porzingis picked up a technical, and I decided to imagine that moment as the spark from which an epic comeback was fueled. On New York’s next possession, he hit an and-one pull-up over Randle. He hit the free throw. Here it comes. Hold up. Free throw nullified. Lane violation. On Porzingis. Jēzus Kristus. That’s when you knew. This was no Hollywood ending. This was 21-26.

Notes:

  • Larry Nance Jr., Clarkson and Caruso killed the Knicks. 51 points on 34 shots. Each finished at least +23.
  • Caruso split the defense on pick-and-rolls, drew an offensive foul on Beasley that led to a Kuzma three off a feed from Caruso. Later he drew a charge on Kanter. Caruso had like five assists in his first five minutes of action, including an alley-oop to Larry Nance Jr.
  • An MSG graphic showed over his first three seasons and 202 games, THJ never scored 30+ points. The two seasons prior to this one, covering 79 games, he did it twice. Coming into tonight, he’s already done it three times in 25 games. Spoiler: just 17 tonight for Tim. But it seemed like more than that, somehow.
  • After a lackluster performance and temporary demotion behind Burke, Ntilikina came out aggressively looking for his shot and setting up others. Seven quick points and three quick assists and then...not so much after that.
  • Mike Breen and Clyde Frazier couldn’t shut up about the Lakers being the worst free-throw shooting team (68%) in the league, so natch I expected them to go like 30 of 30 from the line today. They finished 15 of 21 for 71%. Not to be out-dimmed, the Knicks had fewer attempts (10) and hit a lower percentage (70%).
  • Hernangomez has already earned more money than I ever will. He’s a good-looking, athletic bloke. Probably won’t make a lot of the mistakes I did as a younger man. Probably doesn’t need to. However, there is one riddle Willy is nowhere near solving in his life yet, and that is Julius Randle. Willy was inexplicably closing out on Randle, who ain’t exactly Sam Perkins on the perimeter.

Later Randle was setting a screen near halfcourt and Willy pretty much just shoved him out of the way rather than put any effort into contesting the screen. Impressive. Wouldn’t mind seeing him doing that for the Knicks someday. I know he has limitations. Everyone not named LeBron has limitations. But Randle and Porzingis both bring strengths the other can’t.

  • Beasley’s foul trouble was especially unfortunate, ‘cuz he was unstoppable today.
  • When I wake up in the middle of the night to pee, I think up reasons to doubt Porzingis as a franchise player going forward. When I watch him making aggressive, decisive, indefensible moves - usually in the first quarters of games - I chill.
  • The Lakers’ starting backcourt featured Tyler Ennis and Josh Hart. Not your father’s Lakers, to be sure. If you ever have kids now, the Ennis/Hart Lakers will be their father’s Lakers. Or their mother’s.
  • MSG’s cameras found Steve Mills and Magic Johnson sitting and talking in the crowd. It looked very much like two friends winding each other up talking shit about the same person. Who might they share as a common nuisance?
  • THJ took the Brandon Ingram assignment early and often and helped set a tone that saw the talented Laker shoot just four of 13. It’s easy to call out tangible, stat-centered offense. Wanna give credit where it’s due and easily overlooked.
  • Brook Lopez hit three three-pointers in the first seven minutes and took five in the first quarter alone. Sometimes I miss the old Earth.
  • Nance Jr. seems like a real dick. Not always. Def today.
  • There was a tie-up late and Corey Brewer and KP exchanged words. Porzingis mostly seemed to be laughing at whatever he was hearing. Made me think about nature and the confidence that comes with height. Even if Brewer could kick KP’s ass, it’s hard to look down on someone woofing at you from 7 inches below and take them seriously. Giraffes must be the chillest of mammals.
  • The last time the Knicks won consecutive road games was January of 2017, in Boston and Indiana. New York’s leading scorers in the Pacer game: Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and Willy Hernangomez. Like, literally no one on this roster has ever contributed to or experienced winning consecutive road games for this team.
  • I love Sarah Silverman so much. So much.
  • It looked like Clyde Frazier was wearing both of his championship rings, each of which came against the Lakers. That’s like a 50-year-old troll job. Clyde = G.O.A.T.

Quoth Kristaps Porschezingis: “Holy hell what is this defense?” If you thought today was an abomination, the Knicks’ next game is at Golden State Tuesday. Golden State! Trumpets will sound. Water will become blood. Jarrett Jack will guard Steph Curry. Say your prayers, true believers.