Four games into the 2018/19 season these Knicks have already mastered the fake comeback. Tonight the good guys’ efforts to overcome a 19 point halftime deficit after being on the receiving end of an onslaught from not-your-father’s Bucks came up short courtesy of a Khris Middleton explosion.
Middleton got off to a hot start, bulldozing past Frank Ntilikina on the first possession of the game as Enes Kanter stood at the rim, watching motionless without attempting to rotate over. There was alot of that this game as Kanter was often victimized in pick-and-roll or on switches by Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, it’s just what Kanter is.
If you wanted to really see a lack of defensive effort in the first half though, look no further than Trey Burke. In his nine first half minutes, he was a -13 and even that fails to capture how awful he was on both ends. Unable to find any kind of offensive rhythm despite hunting for his shot, Burke’s poor half was compounded by simply letting Eric Bledsoe do whatever he wanted to do and go wherever he wanted to go.
With the Knicks’ defense getting attacked in 1/5 pick-and-rolls to great effect, David Fizdale turned to an unusual Ntilikina, Allonzo Trier and Damyean Dotson lineup early in the 2nd quarter with Noah Vonleh at the 5 which stemmed the tide and briefly got the Knicks to within 1. The Bucks quickly resumed their blitz, extending the lead back to 8 when he took out Ntilikina, Trier — both of whom had been pressed into extended minutes due to Kevin Knox’s absence and the injured face Ron Baker suffered after literally running into Vonleh’s elbow — and Kanter for Burke, Kanter, and Lance Thomas.
This did not stem the tide. Milwaukee pushed out to a 71-52 lead by the end of the half.
There was little reason to believe the Knicks could mount a comeback. The offense looked stagnant and after forcing 20.3 turnovers on average through their first 3 games the Knicks forced just 4 in the first half. Antetokounmpo wasn’t particularly efficient but he was single-handedly wrecking the Knicks on the glass while Middleton rained death from outside.
Nights like this happen when you’re rebuilding and suck. If the Knicks had mailed it in during the second half few would have cared or noticed. It would have gone down as a mere footnote in a season destined for numerous losses.
But they didn’t and the biggest culprit of the first half, Burke, redeemed himself with a 16 point scoring burst in the 3rd quarter. He was cooking with hot grease, returning the first half sonning he was on the receiving end of in kind.
Trey Burke has 16 third quarter points to spur this comeback pic.twitter.com/ehhlYCVw1P— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) October 23, 2018
The Knicks’ team defense was also much more solid, forcing 10 second half turnovers. Ntilikina came out early in the period, as Fizdale seemed to want to save him for the 4th quarter without another point guard at his disposal, and Dotson came in. The 2nd year player knocked down triples and his toughness and rebounding payed dividends defensively as the Knicks were able to mostly hold the Bucks to one shot possessions. By the end of the 3rd the Knicks had whittled the lead down to 1.
But, alas, the fake comeback was real. The Knicks went shot-for-shot with a Bucks team that’s in a different class, but cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Quoth Still Ntillmatic, “Middleton looking like KD.” After the Knicks tied the game up at 110 apiece, Middleton knocked down the final two of his seven triples on the night, the last of which he seemed to get hit on the arm by Enes Kanter without a call. That sealed the game for Milwaukee as they pulled away to a 124-113 victory which belied what was a tremendous team effort from the Knicks.
-The Knicks started the game with 3 mid-range shots. The Bucks started with 2 shots from beyond the arc and a layup at the rim. One day..........
-Let’s talk about Frank, because he’s interesting and he matters. If he’s going to play off the ball he needs to get better at knocking down threes, sure, but he needs to generally be more active as a cutter. He did it once in the first quarter, cutting to the rim when Burke was dribbling along the baseline and he got a layup out of it. More of that please, Frank.
-Also, Frank, I love the defense. It’s for real and was certainly a factor in helping the Knicks come back at various points in the game, but if you’re going to play lead guard, you can’t go an entire half without shooting the ball like he did in the 2nd half. I’m good with him being unselfish and team play, but looking to get into the paint and create more often isn’t inherently selfish. He’s shown flashes and it’s early. I’m not bugging about it, but I kinda am, because I’ve seen those flashes and I want to see it more.
-The Frank/Trier combo makes sense and I like it. I don’t know what their net rating or anything is, but my eye tells me it’s good, especially on defense.
-Damyean Dotson is a player. He can knock down threes (4 of em’ tonight) and his defensive rebounding is real (7 of those). It would have been nice for him to get more minutes last season over the likes of Lance Thomas and Courtney Lee (thanks Jeff!), but at least he seems to be cracking his way into the rotation under Fiz.
-Burke was on fire in the 3rd and didn’t get back into the game in the 4th until after Middleton hit those back-breaking treys with a little over 2 minutes left. The Knicks were tight almost the entire way, so it didn’t completely backfire, but that was a strange decision from Fiz.
-Speaking of Fiz, good god the Knicks’ out-of-timeout plays are hideous. Inbounding is a chore and they never seem to get an in-rhythm shot out of it. Not sure what the disconnect is, but it cost the Knicks at various points today when they had chances to get their noses in front. There’s alot to like about what he’s instilled in this team early on, particularly on defense, but the offensive flow and execution ain’t one of ‘em. Let’s see how things develop over the course of the season.
-Kanter has seemed to be a more willing passer this season, but he’s still not a super effective one. He really waits for the double to get all the way there, which Bledsoe realized and capitalize on in the first half to pick him clean.
-Mario Hezonja had his best game as a Knick and I still wasn’t entirely convinced about it. He knocked down some shots and even stripped Antetokounmpo in the post at one point, but he still doesn’t fill you with confidence in his decision making even when he has it rolling. Do it for a few more games and I’m in. The effort was at least all the way there tonight.
-Noah Vonleh is a player and he often seems to tilt the game back towards the Knicks when he comes in. Don’t be surprised if he vultures some of Kanter’s minutes and maybe even the starting center position as the season goes on.
-Four games and four times the Knicks’ starting lineup has gotten behind early. Not sure what the the solution is, or if there even is one, but that ain’t it, chief.
For the Knicks it was another frustrating loss. They showed tremendous heart in coming back against a team with far more firepower and talent, but getting across the finish line, especially on the road, is damn hard. One day the Knicks will get there, but that day wasn’t today and it doesn’t figure to be very often this season. Take the moral victories you can and keep it rolling.