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Celtics 118, Knicks 95: “I don’t like this”

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At least Kanter wasn’t around to ham things up.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

When there’s good news and bad news, which you wanna hear first? I always choose bad news. I’m an optimist, which means I’m a pessimist who’s concluded optimism is how you hedge your bets when you know the universe is out for you, gaining on you and a right toothy bastard at that.

After the Knicks fell last night 118-95 to the Celtics, there’s good news and bad news this young season. The good news? The Knicks have played three likely playoff teams, two on the road, and been competitive. The bad news? It’s two-fold.

First, the Knicks started pretty similarly last season, opening with a win before dropping three in a row to playoff teams: a tight loss in Brooklyn (sound familiar?), a home loss to Boston (sound familiar?), and a double-digit drubbing in the third loss. Second, New York is winless in three games this year after the wheels fell off in the second half, in particular the fourth quarter. The crowd grew surly and pointed in their anger, and this was just the home opener. David Fizdale repeatedly makes faces and decisions that inspire any and all emotions besides confidence. So what happened? How could an underdog that entered the fourth down five find themselves in such a low place, so quickly?

I could give you reasons. For starters, the Knicks got off to a dream start. The first basket at home this year was the future finding the future.

Boston scored the game’s first points, after which New York ran off 13 unanswered. Even the Celtic rebuttals were rebutted. Pete Buttigieg stunt man Brad Stevens called time after the Knick run and drew up this out-of-timeout beaut.

RJ Barrett immediately responded with a three-pointer. This wasn’t it, but we both know you ain’t resisting no RJ highlights.

Late in the first, the Knicks’ shot selection started to go the way of Buttigieg’s campaign, meaning nowhere, allowing the Celts to get back in the game. The writing was on the wall early on: even when Jaylen Brown took the kind of improbable fadeaway high off-glass that inspires Andrew Wiggins write-offs, fortune smiled upon it.

By the start of the second quarter the Knicks had nine turnovers and a ballgame on their hands. Fortunately they also had Mitchell Robinson on their hands, making his presence felt protecting the rim and owning the offensive glass.

You know the hand you use for gratuitous auto-eroticism? Imagine you break that hand. It’s completely gone. Useless. For a while you forget about it. Then it heals enough to once again...deliver the goods, shall we say. That electric earthquake, that spasm of life and death colliding in ecstasy, that reminder of what your hand can do — watching Mitchell Robinson after even one game out of action is the same feeling.

Speaking of similar feelings, the Knicks repeatedly felt like Kemba Walker taking open threes was no big deal. The Harlem Shake didn’t really explode in the opening half. Had you read that sentence before the game, you pro’ly would have figured Frank Ntilikina saw some action, unlike two nights ago in Brooklyn. You’d be right. Frank played 18 seconds. All at the end of the first half. The Knicks were busy heading to the break on an 8-0 run and for the first time this year dominating the boards.

Then came the second half.

If this recap came with an abstract summarizing its content, this would be that:

A Barrett baseline dunk put the Knicks up 58-54. Then Kemba hit a three. Barrett found Bobby Portis underneath off a pick-and-roll. Then Kemba hit a three. Then Kemba hit another three. Over one stretch he scored 11 in a row single-handedly, part of a downtown discrepancy that saw the Celtics outscore the Knicks by 24 from deep in a game they won by 23. Still, with three minutes left in the third, New York trailed by just four. The game was there for the taking. Unfortunately so was Dennis Smith Jr., whose number Fizdale called.

I see a few possibilities for what’s going on with Smith. He could be hurt. He could be healthy enough to play but still struggling mentally to feel fully recovered. He could be 100% healthy but a mental pretzel as far as his confidence. He could be suffering heartbreak in his personal life. Whatever’s going on, it doesn’t feel like Fizdale is putting the kid in a position to succeed. Kill what you keep is a snappy saying, but if you keep coming back from the hunt bloodied and empty-handed, running right back out there with a quiver full of broken arrows isn’t tough, it’s stupid.

DSJ fouled Carsen Edwards on a break where Smith mostly looked to be hoping the Earth would swallow him whole. Later he led a fast break and ended up quitting on it, pulling back and missing a pull-up three. With 35 seconds left in the third, Smith pulled up for a miss, too early for a two-for-one. Boston was up six, the crowd was chanting for Ntilikina, and Smith looked a mess when he reached the bench. Damyean Dotson gave him a pep talk. Nice to see someone on the bench doing something.

No fake comeback tonight, courtesy of a 24-6 Celtic run in the fourth. There was more stressed Knick body language. Julius Randle and assistant coach Keith Smart did not appear to be placing a friendly wager on Kentucky vs. Indiana this year. Mitchell Robinson left the game looking like he’d aggravated his ankle injury, and his vibe was not “There is no spoon. The universe unfolds as it must.” Kemba hit a few more threes. A “We Want Tacko Fall” chant broke out and was honored. The bad news is that loss sucked to watch. The good news? We’re ready to get to the notes and move the hell on from this game.

Notes:

  • Frank post-game. Comment parfait!
  • Fizdale re: Ntilikina:

Lulz at Fiz sounding like a fan. If you believe Frank will be ready when his number’s called, why not call that number now...since you’re convinced he’ll be ready?

  • I’m starting to see behavior in Coach Fiz that I saw in Rex Ryan and Mickey Callaway, which doesn’t bode well for him. Rex came to town talking and acting like a tough guy, a bully, and that was all well and good until his Jets finally started getting punched in the mouth. Once that happened, he shrunk away from the bravado.

When Callaway was introduced to the media as Mets manager, he sounded like a humanist dreamboat:

“We’re going to care more about the players than anyone ever has before. We’re going to know that they are human beings and individuals; and this is going to be a group that feels that every day they come into the clubhouse. Our main concern is to show them that we know this game is difficult and we care about you as a player, a human being and about your personal life.”

Early last season, Callaway’s second, the Mets were three games under .500. After a meeting with the owner’s son, Boy Wonder Jeff Wilpon, where Wilpon allegedly pushed Callaway to basically save the season to save his ass, we started hearing Mickey talk like this:

“We put ourselves in a position to win more games than we did but we lost them, so it doesn’t matter what position you put yourself in, you gotta go get the job done. We have to do better. I’m kind of getting sick of saying we have to right this ship.’’

So when Fizdale, hired as a player-development whisperer and master of human relations, is already at the start of year two quoting flesh demons like Steve Jobs and reducing reality to the binary of “productive” or “not productive,” it feels like someone’s losing their sense of themselves because they’re more worried about what they are than what they’re doing. I get it, on a human level: millions of people would like to coach an NBA team all over the world and only 30 get to. If Fiz is canned this year, he may never get this shot again. But he’s not being fair here to multiple players, starting with DSJ.

  • How’s is Smith feeling, anyway?
  • Hey, RJ Barrett. You’re three games into life as a Knick savior. How you handling the losing and the drama?
  • On a night the Knicks were outscored 72-44 in the second half, Barrett still played 37 minutes. After a preseason of heavy minutes, RJ is averaging 37 per so far. I was gonna gripe about that, but when I looked up the minutes per-game averages of every Rookie of the Year this century, Barrett’s no outlier.

Most of the players on this list were 19-20 years old rookies. So maybe I had it backwards. Maybe Barrett playing so many minutes isn’t a threat to his greatness; maybe it’s further proof of it. 26 points and 7 rebounds in your third game ever is a good look, too. And in case you thought to ask, a quick comp of Barrett’s per-game averages after three games versus the Knicks’ last top-five pick:

BARRETT: 21 points, 5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.7 steals, 0.0 blocks, 51% FG, 50% 3P
PORZINGIS: 11.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 37% FG, 17% 3P

  • Dotson saw his first four minutes of the season. Wayne Ellington never checked in. Meanwhile, Smith, Allonzo Trier and Elfrid Payton combined to miss 12 of 14 shots.
  • Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.

Five more for Randle. Maybe it’s time Julius upped his grip and picked up a pair of another Julius’ Hot Hands basketball gloves.

  • Being the home-opener, MSG announced all the players on the roster before tip-off. The first Knick intro’d was Kadeem Allen, who was announced as “two-way player Kadeem Allen.” The fuck is that? A two-way contract isn’t some honorific. That’s like introducing the players by broadcasting their salaries or a list of their fears. Show some class, Knicks.
  • Mike Breen said that since 2001, the Celtics have a better winning % at MSG than their own arena. How many teams do you think can say that about another team? Not many, I bet. I wonder which other teams could say that about the Knicks, if any. Houston, surely.
  • At one point Boston rookie Carsen Edwards took a three from about 27 feet out — in rhythm, to be fair — and Mike Breen laughed with sheer joyful appreciation at its audacity. Breen didn’t shoplift as a kid. He was never the lookout. But he was definitely waiting just around the corner to bike home as fast as he could with his thieving friends, never feeling more alive than then.
  • If you didn’t see the game on MSG, trust me when I tell you have no idea what you missed with Clyde’s suit. It literally sparkled.

Grateful that 42 years since he was a Knick, Clyde still gets hyped for games against Boston.

Quoth marcus7: “I don’t like this.” Nor should you. Next game is Monday when the Knicks host the Bulls. Other than Chicago, the Knicks won’t play a team that missed last year’s playoffs for another week, so this could be their last chance for a while to get that first win. They need won*. I need won*. See you here Monday, hopefully for a happier recap.

(*this is what happens when you’re still writing at 3 a.m. and your Freudian brain slips up)