Have you ever seen Mario Hezonja and Wolverine in the same place at the same time? If Aaron Judge is Superman and Noah Syndergaard Thor, NYC’s triumvirate of superheroes is missing something, and maybe Hezonja fits the bill. New York’s 136-134 overtime win over the dark horse Finals candidate Milwaukee Bucks featured just one bucket from the Croatian Sensation, but it could be the Knicks’ most drama-filled basket of the season.
Wolverine is famous, among other things, for his rivalry with the Hulk. The latest chapter in this history came early in the game: Hezonja got out in transition and dunked, with Giannis Antetokounmpo late to contest. Most players would have been happy with this result and kept on keeping on. Mario Hezonja is anything but most players.
Halftime Highlight ✨— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) December 1, 2018
Let's take another look shall we... pic.twitter.com/cYXMyWJogj
Being a tad late to block the shot would heighten many a player’s competitive spirit. When the hood whodunit literally looks down on you, that takes it up a notch. When he steps over you, it’s serious. When it’s Mario Hezonja stepping over you, you gonna get angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
Also, Giannis is likely to yam on fools even when he’s not extra-motivated (stat courtesy of Stingy). So why give him any added fuel?
Hello, Speed Racer.
You’ll note Hezonja did not for one second look interested in challenging Antentokounmpo. Wolverine’s a tough little bastard, but the Hulk is the Hulk.
The Bucks, led by the closest thing to young LeBron since mid-career LeBron, led for most of the half, up as many as 13. But the Knicks, thanks especially to an aggressive Kevin Knox, a multi-faceted Allonzo Trier and a he-better-not-disappear-from-the-rotation-again Damyean Dotson, cut it to four at the break.
Early in the third Enes Kanter gave New York the lead.
Milwaukee responded with a 17-0 run that felt like the third act of the recent run of poor play that started in Detroit and continued against the 76ers. Instead, the Knicks kept scrambling and gambling, chipping away the lead.
Trier won’t heave threes at the end of quarters, but give him a sliver of daylight and he’ll drive for the basket and net you two points. This made it 97-93 Bucks after three quarters.
On MSG’s broadcast, Mike Breen mentioned the Bucks were 14-0 when leading entering the final frame. Fortunately, youth is too dumb to know better.
The Bucks went up 113-99 but the Knicks continued to probe. Knox poured in a career-high 26 while adding rebounds, assists, and a timely rejection of Brook Lopez at the rim. Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dotson hit tough shots late, and Mudiay added nine late in the action, including a leaning three that capped a 25-11 run to force overtime after Antetokounmpo couldn’t hit over Dotson. You’ll note I didn’t credit Dot with the stop. I think he’d understand.
Dotson on stopping Giannis to end regulation:— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) December 2, 2018
"He bailed me out. He shot a fadeaway on a 6-6 (guy)... so that’s to my advantage. Saved me. Not that I can’t get a stop. I feel like he could’ve got a better shot... Pretty good defense, though. I just tried to not let him drive." pic.twitter.com/YB3kHHtzyK
In added time Mudiay continued to shoot fire from downtown, but Antetokounmpo went into smash! mode, fouling Vonleh out and generally bringing mayhem and anxiety to anyone involved in or rooting for the Knick effort. With a little over a minute left, David Fizdale called timeout. Whaddya got, coach?
Dotson’s fifth three-pointer in five attempts put the Knicks up one. Mudiay rebounded an Eric Bledsoe miss, but couldn’t control it and fell out of bounds. Antetokounmpo missed and Mudiay rebounded again, then hit one of two free throws to put New York up two. Bledsoe figured fate favors the bold. Not when the bold is a human pogo stick and plus rim protector.
The loose ball resulted in a tie-up between Dotson and Antetokounmpo. The Great Greek won the jump and tipped it to Lopez, who went up with it and fouled out Robinson. Lopez missed the first, then, with his team down two, intentionally missed the second. Antetokounmpo grabbed the offensive board underneath, but the clock expired before he could get off a shot or draw a foul. Sometimes beyond a tough little bastard long enough wins the day. It did this time around for the Knicks.
- Gotta like a rookie whose response to his first rough spot is to address it with the media in a mature, positive manner, then go have a career-night over 37 positive minutes. And he wasn’t just standing in the corner waiting for kickouts.
Oh, and uh...
- If you ever played Altered Beast on the old Sega Genesis, you’ll remember your character started out looking like mid-1980s Roger Clemens, then after a couple power-ups he looked like Yankee ‘roid raging Clemens. That before-and-after contrast is what Knox and Antetokounmpo look like standing next to each other. Giannis is that rare NBA specimen — LeBron, Shaq, and Magic were, too — who, compared to other pros, looks, physically, like varsity players going against the JV.
- You didn’t think Antetokounmpo forgot about that stepover, did you?
Hezonja with perhaps the last, best word.
Hezonja on stepping over Antetokounmpo: Honestly, if you’re afraid, this is not for you. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but if you feel fear this is not the place for you, New York is not a place for you and this team is not a place for you. https://t.co/8j7hfo8I40— Steve Popper (@StevePopper) December 2, 2018
- Before fouling out, Vonleh hit all three of his two-pointers and all three of his threes. That’s 19 this year in 23 games; his career-high is 20 in 54. Do what you’re doing, kid.
- Courtney Lee didn’t play, which was maybe mildly surprising but more likely who cares. The bigger story is that Frank Ntilikina did not play, either. Doesn’t mean he wasn’t engaged or invested.
Frank was benched tonight.— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) December 2, 2018
Yet look at his excitement for his teammates and the win pic.twitter.com/gGRdYAiAs9
Doesn’t mean that engagement and investment went unnoticed.
Fizdale says he talked to the team after the game about how Ntilikina was the most energetic player on the bench, the first one up, the first one telling guys what to do out of a timeout.— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) December 2, 2018
“And that’s not easy when you’re getting a DNP”
| @MSGNetworks pic.twitter.com/kkDtrYDEsN
- Mudiay and Kanter ran a nice syncopated pick-and-roll where the big man staggered his roll in a way that let the guard probe and misdirect the defense’s timing. And let me say this...
I genuinely enjoy watching Mudiay play basketball.
- When Mudiay’s feeling good enough to take wing-and-a-prayer running jumpers and floaters, I’m absolutely here for it. One of the perks of following a team during these seasons of surrender is it’s easier to zoom in on incremental incidentals. Tank seasons slow the vision. You can see the intermediary stages often lost in larger narratives. If a player like Mudiay is really turning the corner, seeing his growing confidence and shot selection is a chance to get in near the ground floor.
- How much of the crap Kanter gets is ‘cuz his game is just not very pretty? Like, he’s effective, but so is your body when it’s heaving and retching. Jamal Crawford and Al Harrington were prolific but inefficient scorers. Why are they remembered with less rancor?
- Just 17 minutes for Trier tonight, but nine points, six rebounds and five assists in that time.
- The two teams combined to go 38 of 76 from distance; New York tied a team record with 20 three-pointers made. When the three-pointers aren’t falling, the modern game is a grotesqe charade. Even when they are, it’s like Camazotz: efficiency at the cost of a soul. Players today are collectively so much more talented than 20 years ago. But I miss the stylistic diversity of the past. Styles make the fight and I miss seeing philosophies clash. Today is more about two teams saying the same thing with slightly different accents.
- Fizdale called a timeout one minute into the second quarter. The two teams called three timeouts combined in the first seven minutes. Please. No more of that.
- Fizdale looks like something always smells bad in his world.
- Tell me Mike Budenholzer will coach the Knicks at some point in the next 10 years and I’ll take it.
- i enjoy having lived long enough to see Brook Lopez’s career shape such an interesting arc. He was a paint meister for years; now bombing away from deep in his twilight, he’s the biggest, burliest gunslinger out there. He’s like the NBA Bonsai tree, stylistically. His brother is, too, aesthetically.
- Dotson had a six-second run against the 76ers the other night. Tonight Luke Kornet checked in for the last 1.2 seconds. There are no small roles. Only small actors.
- Knox busted out a casual “Shit, man” in the mic’d interview with Rebecca Haarlow and the Garden crowd listening. Like we needed more reason to like him.
Quoth Porzingis Almanack: “Knox rox bux.” Next game is Monday when they host Washington. Wiz quiz Fiz? Stay tuned.