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Nets 113, Knicks 109 “RJ should have never deferred”

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The Knicks are still undefeated in fake comebacks two games into the season!

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

I was worried that with nine new players the Knicks would struggle to establish an identity early on in the season. Alas, the more things change, the more things stay the same! Two games in and the Knicks have quickly found their footing as masters of the fake comeback, with a masterclass delivered in Brooklyn last night on the first Friday Night Knicks of the season.

New York paid an early-season visit to their crosstown rivals in a game that was hyped up much in part to proclamations made by noted Flat Earther Kyrie Irving of the Nets’ intentions to take over the city. Of course, as everybody knows, the Nets trumped the Knicks to signing both Irving and Kevin “The Servant” Durant this summer. In the process they delivered a crippling blow to the Knicks, ending any hopes the franchise has of success on the court for the next 57 years; and as pointed out by Nets owner Joe Tsai’s good buddy and totally legitimate presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, the definite low point for the Knicks in their entire history.

The Nets jumped all over the Knicks from the tipoff. They were quicker to loose balls, and sliced through the Knicks’ defense at will. For the first two quarters the Knicks looked a day late and a dollar short with every rotation, seeming unable to keep up with the speed and precision with which Kenny Atkinson had his team running through sets possession after possession. Irving and noted agent of social change Spencer Dinwiddie took turns creating havoc with their forays to the rim, resulting in a devastating mix of trips to the free throw line, lob dunks, and kick-outs to 3-point shooters.

On the other end, the Knicks struggled to create anything of note with their sets. Possession after possession bogged down, with different players taking turns attempting to create on their own, often resulting in a steady dose of bricked shots and turnovers. Notably, the Knicks ended the first half with only six assists to their name, and went in down 64-51 at the break.

The second half started off in disastrous fashion, with Elfrid Payton with the nice hair bricking an early clock three, then failing to close the gap to Taurean Prince on the way back who stepped in to knock down an in-rhythm 3-pointer to extend the lead to 16. Head coach David Fizdale, who until that point had done little to stem the tide, called a timeout just 29 seconds into the half to address the alarming lack of focus.

While his message did seem to stir up a better effort, the Knicks still couldn’t string together stops and buckets to any effect, with the lead eventually ballooning to 19 at one point in the mid-third quarter. At this stage Fizdale rolled the dice on an RJ Barrett lead guard alignment, and seemed to have struck a winning combination. The rookie led a two-way effort that stifled the Nets and finally got the Knicks out of molasses offensively, with the good guys finally able to find their stride.

Suddenly the Knicks started playing with purpose. Offensively they executed sets with precision, freeing up and finding open shooters from three off of penetration or drawing defenders to get to the line. Defensively, their pick-and-roll coverage improved, as the Nets guards found it difficult to find creases to puncture the defense and the kick-outs no longer yielded in-rhythm threes.

By the end of the third, the Knicks had whittled the lead down to 11 and kept chiseling away throughout the fourth. Fizdale called upon Wayne Ellington, who until that point had been a mere observer, to come into the game after an Allonzo Trier foul with the Knicks down eight with just under seven minutes left in the game. The move looked inspired, as Ellington canned three triples which turned the eight-point deficit into a one-point advantage, which turned into three after an RJ Barrett steal and coast-to-coast drive put the Knicks up 109-106. That would be the Knicks’ final points of the game.

With just 3:41 left in the game, the Knicks continued to clamp Brooklyn defensively, but as the game grinded down into a halfcourt slugfest, the Knicks’ offense again resorted to the isolation-heavy YOLO chuck-fest that epitomized the first half. The Knicks battled, but it’s those closing moments where the top offensive talents in the league can tip the scales, and that’s exactly what Irving did. The ex-Celtic hit a contested mid-range with just under a minute left to cut the deficit to one, and after yet another uninspired possession courtesy of Marcus Morris, he came down and hit a contested sidestep three to put the Nets up 111-109.

The Knicks called a timeout to set up... a Julius Randle isolation from the top of the key. With a spaced floor, Randle went to work on the universe’s most inspiring young center, Jarrett Allen. Just when it seemed Randle had got Allen to overcommit and started a spin move that would have had him right at the bucket for an easy finish on his favored left hand, Randle fumbled the ball away off his foot.

The Knicks fouled Dickwiddle, who summarily hit two free throws, and with under ten seconds left, down four, the game was effectively over. Fin. Fake comeback complete. Achievement unlocked. Penis.

Notes:

  • Hey, it’s me, the guy who argued in favor of Jarrett Culver over RJ Barrett. RJ is the real deal. I don’t really need to go into this with any great detail. If you know, you know. I now know. I’m sorry.
  • Kevin Knox’s shot is butter. Every single three he took last night was a moonshot that never even looked like missing. And his stroke is effortless which led me to tweet this tweet which, uhhhh, generated many interesting replies. It certainly stirred my loins.
  • Knox is still a young adolescent giraffe when he puts the ball on the floor. He’s still not quite sure-footed enough when he makes his moves, and at times still looks dangerously close to collapsing in a heap, but he’s showing a lot more force when he does make a move. His drive in the fourth to go at and through backup center DeAndre Jordan — of the four year, $40 million contract — was one he absolutely wouldn’t have had the strength or wherewithal to complete last year. The more streamlined focus on what he’s being asked to do this year is going yield a much better picture of what he needs to work on moving forward and what he could eventually become. Rashard Lewis 2.0 with a much nicer forehead, IMHO.
  • Julius Randle had a fucking stinker, man. His isolation and post-up possessions were a turnover waiting to happen, and happen they did. The Knicks’ prized free agent signing stumbled and bumbled his way to six turnovers, continuously forcing the action when he’d have been better served kicking it out to teammates. Dribbling the ball off his foot on the deciding possession, when a game-tying bucket seemed inevitable, was the cherry on top of his shit sundae of an offensive performance.
  • Allonzo Trier is a gift and a curse. The gift is everything we saw last night. The Knicks were stumbling around like a drunk offensively and precipitously close to an absolute beatdown when Trier, who totally isn’t ISO Zo, started ISO Zo’ing with great efficiency. He buoyed the Knicks for much of the second and third quarters to keep the game within touching distance. That is no doubt a skill, and one Fizdale has been quick to note. I have myself argued many times that isolation scoring is the single greatest individual skill. I’ve also professed my disgust with Zo’s style of play. I’m not sure how to reconcile that within myself, but I do know that nights like yesterday are why he’s such a tantalizing talent. If that ability could be coached and harnessed within the flow of the offense, and only leaned upon when absolutely required (as it was last night), then Zo’s a keeper. I’m less certain that Fizdale is the coach to strike that balance.
  • Let’s talk about our fearless leader for a second. He continues to confound with some of his in-game decision making. Dennis Smith Jr. coming in as the first point guard off the bench was a poor decision. That’s not what’s concerning, though. It’s that after Smith Jr. — who clearly is either injured, in his own head, or both — and that predictable shitty lineup stunk up the joint to end the first quarter, Fizdale rolled that unit back out there to start the second. The lead ballooned from nine to fourteen in rapid fashion, resulting in Fizdale having to call a quick timeout to remedy the situation. Leaving in a shitty lineup for too long, calling a timeout, then leaving them in the game is a Fizdale special. These instances of giving certain lineups and players too much rope that cost a couple of buckets here and there add up in the aggregate. In a four-point loss, they can prove deadly.
  • To Fizdale’s credit, after coaching a total stinker in the first half, he was quick with adjustment in the second half. The leaky, unorganized pick-and-roll coverage of the first half was tightened up, with the Knicks bigs showing out higher to the level of the screen and denying easy passes to the roll man or driving angles to the ball handler. They also adjusted to their off-ball screen coverages, switching fluidly and denying the Nets the juicy open threes they feasted on throughout the first two-and-half quarters of the game.
  • The team’s also clearly playing defense to force turnovers in a way they didn’t last year, which is igniting their transition game. They’re extremely dependent on that for easy offense. RJ Barrett in particular has been a revelation, using his wingspan to great effect to create havoc in the passing lanes with steals and deflections. So yeah, some kudos are in order to Fizdale for these things, and I’d be remiss not to admit that.
  • But holy fucking shit this team’s halfcourt offense is still a total disaster. The entire first half was just a steady stream of designed post-ups for Randle or Morris isolations. These guys are upgrades in talent on what we had last year, no doubt, but they’re not LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, or even Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol. When the Knicks have looked their best in the halfcourt, as they did in the final preseason game against the Pelicans and in the second half last night, it’s been a steady stream of HORNS and some actual spread pick-and-roll. Why those actions aren’t the staple of the offense, and instead post-ups and top of the key isolations are I do not understand.
  • To that effect, don’t constantly preach ball movement and play lineups that are totally skewed to on-ball shot creation. Wayne Ellington’s impact was palpable in the minutes he played and his pairing in lineups alongside RJ Barrett continue to yield some of the Knicks’ juiciest shots.
  • Zero shots for a red-hot Kevin Knox in the final eight minutes of the game. The players need to do a better job of finding the hot hand. Coach needs to do a better job of scheming shots for him.
  • The Mitchell Robinson/Jarrett Allen showdown was pretty buns. Mitch got into foul trouble, but two of those were moving screens that were largely the fault of the ball handler, especially his fourth foul, which came when Carmelo Morris went back-and-forth on his screen 32 times before doing anything. Mitch looks close to having a genuine impact on a game, which is nice after his somewhat unfocused start to preseason.
  • Jarrett Allen is so overrated, man. Nothing he does is really that spectacular, and he literally fumbled the ball away like 15 times in a row at one point. If Sean Marks is as smart as they say, I’m expecting Allen to get moved in a package before the Nets have to pay him real money.
  • Marcus Morris, man. I do really love a lot of what he brings, but Fizdale is leaning into his worst tendencies by treating him like some a quality high-usage shot creator. Stop that shit, now.
  • No Frank Ntilikina tonight. Not an indefensible position, but a strange choice on a night that the Knicks struggled for the majority of the game to contain dribble penetration. Dennis Smith Jr. isn’t covering himself in glory. Give the Frenchman a chance off the bench tonight against the Celtics.
  • Sure didn’t sound like the Nets had taken over Flatbush Ave., let alone Brooklyn, let alone the city last night. Maybe when the borough is completely gentrified they’ll finally get that done.
  • Yeah, the losses are annoying, but the Knicks have been very competitive against two teams that are largely viewed as much better than them. No moral victories here, but they’re close. Very close.

The Knicks fought and they kept at it, when they could have let go of the rope. This team certainly is more resilient and talented than any of the Knicks teams over the last year-and-a-half after Kristaps Porzingis was injured. Now they need to turn some of this into wins.

A little more creativity in the halfcourt would do nicely. Quoth Actually I Prefer Talent: “RJ should have never deferred.” He shouldn’t have, and running the offense through him is quickly be becoming the move Fizdale needs to make to forge a more cohesive halfcourt offense. Knicks play the Kanter-less Celtics tonight. Would be a nice first win of the season.

See you then, losers.