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Pelicans 129, Knicks 124: “Word.”

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NBA: New York Knicks at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever seen a pelican walk?

Seductive and uncomfortable. A lot of the Knicks’ 129-124 defeat at the New Orleans Pelicans was seductive. A lot to like about what went into building and holding a lead for 45 minutes after not leading after any quarter for three straight games. The foreplay was on point. But when it came to the crux of the biscuit, there was always the uncomfortable certainty that the best player on the floor would pull his team ahead. Anthony Davis did.

The Knicks started Tim Hardaway Jr. and Emmanuel Mudiay along with three rookies: Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier and Kevin Knox. It’s the earliest in a season the Knicks have started three rookies since 1986. 1986 was a historic year in New York sports for youthful talent hitting the heights; New York’s young talent looked like champs off the block.

Mudiay and Hardaway scored early and often and the Knicks repeatedly got to the rim. A 9-0 scoring edge off turnovers helped build a 32-16 lead after one.

Enes Kanter played the first five minutes of the second quarter. Over that time, he:

— faked setting a screen and slipped to the basket
— watched Davis miss a fadeaway
— was uninvolved in the offense
— dropped back defending Jrue Holiday on a pick and roll, leaving Holiday room to drive to the cup, but miss
— was uninvolved in the offense
— joined Noah Vonleh in letting Holiday drive by for a lay-in
— slipped another screen
— allowed an uncontested jumper to Ian Clark, who missed
— was uninvolved in the offense
— was uninvolved again, i.e. he literally stood still and did not move a muscle for like six seconds
— gave up another uncontested jumper to Clark, who again missed
— was uninvolved in the offense
— played conscientious objector to yet another Holiday pick and roll, surrendering a three-pointer
— slipped another screen and nearly turned the ball over
— slipped another screen
— grabbed an offensive rebound, then turned it over after doing that deer-in-the-headlights pausing schtick that clues every stray for 100 miles that the one thing he’s def not gonna do is not shoot.

That’s how a 16-point lead dwindles to nine. The Knicks gave up more points in those five minutes with Kanter on the floor than they had the entire first quarter.

Mudiay had 16 points and 6 rebounds in the first half. Trey Burke was prolific and perfect.

Davis scored 21 in the second quarter.

Still, the Knicks were up 10 at the break and held the lead while New Orleans made a push in the third. Knox’s first half was foul-filled, but he stayed active and aggressive. Even with him not hitting enough of his shots, he’s making more and more tough shots. A difficult and-one over Nikola Mirotic got him going; he’d drill a three afterwards and look good doing it.

Then he hit a catch-and-shoot corner three to put the Knicks up 13. But right after he committed his fourth foul and had to sit.

New York was winning the three-point contest for much of the game, but that tide turned late. Davis was brilliant, unstoppable, which duh. Damyean Dotson hit big buckets to help maintain some breathing room, and that’s a thing we’re learning.

New York was up eight entering the final frame, and Burke’s valuable bucketry and change-of-pacery gave the Pelicans fits. For a hot minute David Fizdale had a lineup of Mudiay, Burke, Kanter, Vonleh and THJ, but our God is a loving God, so that shit ended and right quick. The lead got as high as 11.

Then Davis returned, and you knew it was gonna be eight minutes and sixteen seconds of butt-clenching ulcer-nursing Tobey Maguire strain face.

The Knicks scored 32 points in the first, second, and third quarter. They scored 28 in the fourth, which is plenty most nights, except when you give up 41 in the fourth. Still, it was seductive, imagining Mudiay, Dotson, Hardaway, Knox and Robinson closing out an unexpected win on the road over a Western conference semifinalist last year. Then Fizdale whispered the safety word — “Trier” — and the blinds was up, the dream was dead, the jig was up.

The rookie struggled just to get a shot off, and when Davis got behind Knox it looked like the Knicks got behind for good.

They were.

But not before the last cruel twist of the knife: with New Orleans up one, Davis missed two free throws, but Trier fell asleep behind the arc and let Randle come flying in full-bore for a follow-up lay-up. Trier couldn’t hit on the next possession. Holiday could, from behind the line. What had been an eleven-point Knick lead with seven minutes to go fell before a 26-10 onslaught by the home team.

Notes:

  • So why did Trier replace Mudiay, who’d cooled in the second half but still enjoyed one of his best games as a Knick? Fizdale told reporters after the game it was “absolutely” a conscious decision. “I wanted them to go through that,” he said. “And either win it or suffer.”
  • AD = 43/17/5.

All I want for Christmas is a reason to believe he’s on the Knicks in two years.

  • Poor Elfrid Payton. This was his first game back after missing nine with an injured ankle, and eight minutes in he fractured his left pinkie.
  • Davis, Holiday, Mirotic and Julius Randle all with double-doubles for New Orleans.
  • Wally Szczerbiak said Burke has “very long arms.” If Szczerbiak were your GPS, you’d never get where you’re going and you’d be bored and lied to the whole time.
  • Knowing since he first arrived in New York that Kanter’s fall from grace would be ugly doesn’t make its onset any less ugly.
  • Four straight double-digit scoring nights for Knox. Before one can score efficiently, one must show they can score, period.
  • A Workers Of The World tribute to Tim Hardaway Jr. Most of us have worked somewhere you were just passing through — like, this was a gig, not a career — and you’d meet people for whom it was a career, the lifers. And some got small and shriveled and pissed about it, while others never lost sight of the majesty of themselves as humans or the other humans around them.

The Knicks might be good in the future. Maybe the near future. If they are, odds are because of timeline or financial changes, THJ won’t be a part of it. If an Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant is a Knick by the end of the decade, you may go years without giving Hardaway a passing thought. But while all these young kids are struggling and failing and learning, Hardaway handles a load no one else on this roster can, and though his game doesn’t peak at “superstar” or maybe even “All-Star,” there is value to the self and to one’s teammates in reaching “Brings enough gravity to make games competitive, preserving a level of realism necessary for all the struggling and failing and learning to be tested against” level. All tanking teams lose, but some tanking teams lose better than others.

  • It took like literally 30 seconds after Kanter checked-in for your nightly “Kanter fighting a teammate for a rebound leads to losing possession.”
  • Early on, Frank Ntilikina spun past Holiday and drilled a pull-up jumper.

CALLED IT 20 MONTHS AGO.

  • In one minute Robinson had more positive defensive impacts than Kanter did all night. Also, despite being slighter, Robinson actually sets picks sometimes. I saw Kanter set one actual pick all night, and it led to a Hardaway three. Kanter is more likely to come to mind than Robinson when ranking who’s more “physical,” and while a thing may be true, it’s often less true than we suppose.
  • Midway through the third, Randle got Ntilikina in the post and dreamed big. As soon as he began backing down I was yelling at my TV “Let him try it! LET HIM TRY IT!!” Frank held his own, pulled the chair, and forced a travel. When’s the last time it was such fun watching a Knick perimeter defender?
  • Mudiay is starting to look like he’s figuring out how to use his strength and frame to maintain better body control and finish at the rim. If he ever nails that, that’s a game-changer.
  • I don’t know if Mudiay’s recent shooting is enough of a run to inspire confidence. But he looks like he feels he’s more confident. I’m starting to find his fadeaways...attractive.
  • No Hezonja. Who cares.
  • I love me all kinds of NBA players and styles, but give me a forward who’s post-ups and spinning and this girl’s on all fours. Xavier McDaniel, Larry Johnson, etc. So I appreciate the admittedly primitive version of this Noah Vonleh busts out.

Quoth FooBarChu: “Word.” If you didn’t watch this game and your friend told you “Pelicans beat the Knicks,” you’d go “Word.” If you did watch the game, you could see it coming, and when it did, knowing what the night and the year were always gonna be and be about, you’d go, “Word.” Next game is Sunday in Orlando. Might be their last shot at a win for a few weeks.