I took my family glow golfing today. There was a laser maze there. It looked like fun: you buy a token, go behind this curtain, and you’re in a dark room with green laser beams everywhere. You’re supposed to crawl under, step over and stretch around the beams, avoiding them as you try to reach a couple of targets on the walls. It looked simple, and as I started my ego got the best of me. Too easy, I thought. Should’ve been a bank robber. Would’ve saved oodles on student loan debt. But there were two things I hadn’t realized.
One is I’m 40, which means my body is 40, which means I have gained weight in places I didn’t know gained weight, which means I’d think I’d ducked under a laser only for my fat ass to trip it up. It was like a three-dimensional fat shadow kept hitting the beams. You can’t stop reality from being real. Two is I didn’t know there was a camera in the room that broadcasts your performance to anyone outside the room, so my family was able to watch the entire embarrassment unfold.
Knick fans are a family, and we knew this season would be some rough seas. We knew this team would be overmatched many nights. Most nights. What happened tonight in Utah’s 129-97 win, though, was a whole other level. This was real. This was reality dropping all its pretty pretenses and punching us square in the face, then broadcasting it to the world. The Knicks lost by 32 AND IT WASN’T EVEN THAT CLOSE.
My notes from the first few minutes look so quaint now. “Lance Thomas checks in for Noah Vonleh three minutes in. Guarding Gobert? Will that work?...Emmanuel Mudiay looking distressingly comfy pulling up for midrange Js.” Pretty quickly it was evident this wasn’t the movie I thought I was watching. The entire first half was this.
The Knicks couldn’t stop dribble penetration, couldn’t hit a shot, couldn’t make a clean pass and couldn’t catch one, either. Nearing the middle of the second quarter Gobert had nearly outscored New York on his own. Thing is, Utah was getting literally anything and everything they wanted. This wasn’t a 2018 NBA blowout, where one team hits two-thirds of their three-pointers and the weight of probability forces your team to take a knee. If the Jazz only got points for layups and dunks they’d still be blowing the Knicks out.
To zero in on any specific details, moments or runs would be to miss the point. No notes do the dominance justice. At one point the Jazz led 43-18. At one point they were outscoring the Knicks 36-8 in the paint. Gobert had 24 and 12 in the first freaking half. Dante Exum tied a career-high with 12 assists in the first half. After a Donovan Mitchell lay-in it was 71-31 — in the first half. Tim Hardaway had to hit a 40-footer at the end of the half to keep the Knicks from their worst midway deficit ever. Mike Breen remarked “Even the Jazz crowd [is] tired from cheering,” and he wasn’t exaggerating for effect.
70 seconds into the second half, Derrick Favors had an open corner three, but what looked like a shot was actually a pass to Gobert under the hoop. Kevin Knox fouled the big man instead of giving up yet another dunk. This may have been the best the Knicks looked all night. A 10-0 run cut the deficit to 27. It’s weird seeing a team go on a 10-0 run and realize they still need to go on two consecutive 10-0 runs just to make it a game. A Hardaway three pulled them within 22, which was as close as it got. Every time Utah drove to the basket, it was a question of whether they’d get two points or three. When the Knicks drove?
The Jazz had 71 at the half. The Knicks didn’t reach that till almost halfway through the 4th. They fell behind as many as 46. Honestly, I have a weird thing with numbers. Whenever I microwave something, it has to be a number I can somehow connect to 6 or 13. I forget people’s names right after I meet them, but I can remember a ten-digit phone number I overheard in a passing conversation from three days ago. So for what it’s worth, when the Knicks were down 46 I was rooting for it to get to 50. At least then some part of me would have gotten some satisfaction out of this fucking bloodbath.
- What happened tonight, Coach?
- Truth is, those alley-oops I mentioned earlier were the result of a ton of this:
Knicks try showing high again to cut off penetration from the PnR, but Dotson is late on bump— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) December 30, 2018
Either the Knicks are getting beat off dribble, leaving big exposed on drop, or they are missing on bumps when big shows high pic.twitter.com/ZzxuZ6YMld
I tend to write more about offense than defense because offense is easier to sketch, and ‘cuz I’m overworked and underpaid and only have so much gray matter to devote to a second decade of wondering why the Knicks suck. But even for a franchise that has roamed as far from the defensive roots of its glory days in the 1970s and 1990s as newspapers have from relevance, tonight was remarkable. The Knicks on D looked like the opponents in sports movies, where the actors defending the stars choreograph getting their no-name asses the hell out of the way so the stars can score.
In what might be the great plus/minus game in history, Noah Vonleh started tonight and finished plus-11 in a game the Knicks lost by 32.— Joseph Flynn (@ChinaJoeFlynn) December 30, 2018
- So. You comfortable? You sitting? Okay. Let’s talk Frank Ntilikina.
Frank dunked over Gobert, and yeah that was sweet. Later he was called for an offensive foul that looked like a bad call.
I would love to say Frank was so aggressive he knocked his man over, but this is a flop pic.twitter.com/cj4dfb6wIZ— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) December 30, 2018
Ntilikina has now played 111 NBA games. The brief flashes of aggression are certainly welcome. The next step is to stay aggressive even after missing some shots or turning it over or having calls go against him. In his first eight minutes he took five shots. He played eight more minutes and took just two.
“He’s not a scorer, though,” you say, or “Aggression doesn’t just mean chucking away.” Truth. But in addition to the dunk being his only bucket tonight, he had zero assists. Zero steals. Zero blocks. Zero free throws. There was zero tangible impact. And before you resort to the intangibles defense...
As I’ve been saying, Frank is getting beat off the dribble a lot this season— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) December 30, 2018
(watch entire clip) pic.twitter.com/Zp3LdLuOvE
In baseball you hear about players in slumps having to be careful about not letting their hitting woes carry over into the field. Could Frank’s struggles on offense — or lack of a clearly defined role or stability in the rotation — be carrying over to his defense? Best hope not. If he’s gonna start slipping on that end, NYC’s gonna start sounding like a kid playing with bubble wrap. Pop. Pop. Pop. Bubbles bursting everywhere. But hey. At least he looked aggressive in warmups.
- Four Jazz with double-doubles: Gobert, Favors, Exum and Thabo Sefalosha. I always thought Favors could play well alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Vonleh would be younger and cheaper. I’m cool wit dat.
- Always rooted for Dante Exum. Would def not hate him on the Knicks someday.
"I'll hit the brakes, he'll fly right by.— Utah Jazz (@utahjazz) December 30, 2018
- What’s more impressive than Enes Kanter not defending? Enes Kanter not defending twice on one play!
- In the second half Mudiay looked like he jammed his ankle landing on Kanter’s foot.
- Mudiay is not good on defense. At all. A straight-up turnstile tonight. He does have skills on the other end. Def not a two-way player. Lots of good teams have one-way players. How do you determine which ones are worth keeping? Do you build a good team and then you can afford to pick and choose niche dudes? Do you gather guys who can do something and then hope a star comes or develops that allows your niche guys to flourish in their role? Do we say no to 22-year-olds on the upswing if they’re not two-way talents?
- An amazing graphic tonight from MSG: Gobert has taken 310 shots this year. 307 were in the paint.
- At one point the Jazz had Gobert defend Lance and Sefalosha match up with Kornet. I miss my team being good enough to make adjustments interesting enough to think about.
- There’s a dimension where the Knicks drafted Donovan Mitchell instead of Ntilikina, and some of you are all “That’d be sweet!”, ‘cept what if that meant passing on Knox for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander? Who would you rather have: Frank & Knox or Mitchell & SGA?
- Fizdale called time less than 3 minutes into the game. Fiz has already shattered the Knick coach’s record for most timeouts called before the six-minute TV timeout mark.
- ‘Cuz a guy who missed all six of his shots and finished -30 on the night isn’t at all part of why his team lost.
Enes Kanter was about as despondent as we've seen him in NY - 0-for-6, booed all night and not happy with limited role in blowout loss. Kept repeating, "I just want to play basketball. ...I don't understand why they are shutting me down. I just want to go out there and win."— Steve Popper (@StevePopper) December 30, 2018
- On the MSG broadcast, Wally Szczerbiak mistakenly claimed Utah drafted Trey Burke (I thought they did, too). Mike Breen immediately pointed out it was Minnesota who selected Burke 9th in 2013 before trading him for Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad. My favorite moments of this young season so far: Knox on offense; Vonleh on both ends; Breen not abiding Szczerbiak’s failings for even an instant.
- Szczerbs kept using the verb “allude” as if it’s a synonym for “said.”
- I don’t know if Marc Berman has developed a sense of humor or if it’s time to take away his car keys.
Knicks are one of the league's best bounce-back teams when they fall behind by 40 points. Got it down to 23 late third.— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) December 30, 2018
Quoth Ewing Finger Roll of Doom: “Maybe the [Westchester] Knicks would put up a better fight.” The Knicks’ next game isn’t till Tuesday in Denver. Plenty of time to fly in the B-team. Not sure they could do any worse. If you missed the game, you didn’t. Trust me. I sat through every minute and a silkwood shower couldn’t wash the stench of this loss off of me. I leave you with a small gesture of sweetness and innocence, and hope you find your way back to those states. You deserve so much more than this, loves.