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Knicks 106, Mavericks 103: “We’re like 2 games out of the 8th seed”

Since the Knicks own the Mavericks, and Dolan owns the Knicks, does that mean the Mavs now suck?

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Normally I follow the same routine every time I prep a recap. The repetition appeals to my compulsiveness, like Visine for siempre high-ass eyes. Before yesterday’s Knicks/Mavericks/KP-in-MSG showdown, the game we knew a year ago would be the biggest game this year, I tried something different.

Hours before the game, I came up with an idea for a radically different recap approach. As the game got underway around 8:00 8:20 (damn your lies, TNT!), I figured I’d just notate some drama and plug into a brand new life form. A game this big deserved something more than a simple ol’ fashioned.

But as I watched the Knicks adagio and crescendo to a 106-103 win, my feelings, I found, were somewhere I hadn’t foreseen. Last night mattered to me less for keyhole peeking (KP) than seeing the whole damn door busted in. Big picture > small, ya dig? The boos Kristaps Porziņģis heard in lineup introductions? It made me chuckle; him, too.

This wasn’t a knock-down, drag-out divorce after 30 years of marriage, three kids and the slow death of the self via paper-cut compromises and abandoned dreams. KP and the Knicks were only together long enough to cop flustered feels over their clothes. If OK Boomer can get widescreen: having saw Patrick Ewing return to MSG in a Sonics jersey, heard Pat Riley booed like a deadbeat dad and half-expecting John Rocker to get jumped running in from the Shea Stadium bullpen after foreshadowing Trump, KP’s Two Minutes Hate was, as Hyman Roth would put it, “small potatoes.”

This team needs wins. They got one (two in a week!) against a probable Western Conference playoff team, thanks to contributions from young players who could/should be part of that someday Rapture we’re always waiting for around here, and from some of the veterans entrusted with leading us to that promised land. “Moses” does fit Marcus Morris’ persona, don’t it?

At tip-off the arena sounded like the Red Sea was done departing and wanted to come crashing down on Porziņģis, a playoff-hungry, playoff-loud crowd (if you ever gain access to a time machine, go back to the ‘90s, find a disgruntled Knick fan who’s pissed because they lost in the second round, the conference finals, the NBA Finals, ask them to talk about it, then punch them in the throat).

The game was high-key high energy, at times too much. Elegance was elusive; elan was not. A 9-0 run near the end of the first quarter put the Knicks up eight, which was pretty close to the high-water mark all night. This game was close throughout, the Knicks ahead more often than not, but Dallas not ever letting them pull away.

One of the night’s delights: the play of Dennis Smith Jr., who’s looked lost on the court and who recently lost his stepmother. Smith brought bounce to an offense that too often slogs like a slug; you knew he’d brought it tonight even before the deep-behind-the-line pull-up three he hit as the shot clock expired. Or this less dramatic but equally-worth-three three.

The Knicks looked at the neighbor’s lawn and wondered why Dallas had attempted 16 free throws before any Knick enjoyed the privilege. The Mavs looked at the neighbor’s lawn and wondered how only 22% of their three-pointers were landing versus 43% for New York.

Frank Ntilikina picked up his third foul right after drilling a three, forcing him to the bench. Cool, cool. Tuesday in Chicago when DSJ and the bench checked in, it was the death knell. It never had that feel tonight. The Knick reserves outscored the Mavs’ 52-29. Smith Jr. was given a six-point lead and led the team into halftime with a five-point lead.

Ntilikina picked up his fourth foul early in the third, but David Fizdale — perhaps you’ve heard of him — left him in. Shortly thereafter Moses Morris hit a couple buckets to push the lead to eight and push Rick Carlisle to call timeout. Shortly thereafter, Frank picked up his fifth. OK, and? A Morris three put the Knicks up 10. Remember that earlier DSJ/bounce bit?

The sun rises in the east, and as the Slovenian sun rose — Luka Dončić...perhaps you’ve heard of him — so did Dallas’ fortunes. The quarter ended with a heavyweight flurry of punches: a Dončić three, a Knox three, another Dončić three, a Randle two, another Dončić three, a Dončić free-throw, followed by a missed three, followed by a Porziņģis putback dunk to tie it at 87 entering the fourth.

It was still tied midway through the quarter, leading Carlisle to rest both Dončić and Porziņģis for more than half the period. I get it, and I get that he figures to figure there are playoffs in his team’s future, so he’s playing a longer game than, say, Fizdale. Is it too cute by half, though, when you need to win one quarter to win the game and you play half of it without your two best players?

A Tim Hardaway Jr. three gave Dallas its first lead since the opening quarter. RJ Barrett followed his own miss to regain the lead for New York; moments later a fugly fast break led to an offensive foul and Mitchell Robinson fouling out. Proving ugly is an acceptable kink while fugly remains taboo, the biggest cheer of the night came after Ntilikina stripped Dončić, dove to floor and forced a jump-ball, and another roar of approval after he won the tip, and another after Frank followed that by finding Morris for three of his 16 second-half points.

Lots of things started happening. Let’s talk about things that didn’t. Ntilikina confidently pulled-up for a jumper he would miss, missing Marcus inexplicably wide-open beyond the arc. The Knick defense forced the Mavs to inbound with a tenth of a second; Dwight Powellasaurus tipped the pass into the basket; somewhere on this Earth, David Lee shivered. Dončić didn’t hit a three-pointer after KP passed up taking it, and he should have taken it — you watch the NBA for moments like that, when a lost love lines up for a game-changing shot with 19,763 calling for blood and millions of people waiting to see what happens next. Passing up that moment is weak as shit. Oh, also KP flopped to draw an offensive foul on Randle. Didn’t work. Knicks up two.

THJ missed a corner three, but nobody — and by “nobody” I think I mean Barrett — boxed out Seth Curry. Tie game. RJ tried that move on where he drives into the defender, uses his strength to bounce them back and throws it up off glass, only he tried it on Max Kleber, who is 6’10” and 240 pounds and who only bounces when the mood strikes. Moses got matched with Kleber in the dying seconds and hit a three over him to put the Knicks ahead for good. The Jets have two wins. The Giants have two. The Knicks have three. Watch your back, Blueshirts!


  • This was a true team effort. Seven Knicks grabbed 5+ rebounds. Seven hit from downtown. Six crashed the offensive glass. Five scored in double-figures, including three off the bench (Robinson, DSJ and Bobby Portis).
  • In the spirit of the season, Dennis Smith Jr. sharing in the spirit of gratitude.

Some of what he’s talking about:

  • On one early sequence, DSJ got in the paint, rebounded his own miss, pulled it back, attacked again and found Mitchell for the oop. As a human with eyeballs whose tithe-tied them to too much time watching NBA possessions, hundreds of thousands over three decades, I can watch a Knick guard dribble-penetrating all. Fucking. Day. I suffered a lot of Howard Eisleys and Chris Duhons and Jose Calderons to get here. Goddamn right I loved Emmanuel Mudiay. I’ma be rooting for much more of this DSJ.
  • One another sequence, RJ grabbed a rebound and found Smith Jr. up ahead. Nothing happened. I only mention it ‘cuz seeing Barrett on the floor with someone else who can push with the dribble was new, and consciousness-raising.
  • Seen a lot of Bird vs. Dončić talk in the comments last week. This was Larry-like.

Nitpick whatever you want. I’m all for 15 years of Dončić joy.

  • Frank’s energy level tonight wonderful. In addition to almost posterizing KP last week, he should’ve been credited with a clean yam here.

Apparently his cuteness is off the charts, too.

  • Randle has spent this entire season looking like Josef K trying to make sense of The Trial. If that doesn’t make sense, go read it. It’s not long.
  • KP fouled Mitch and I was reminded me of that brief bright time last year I escaped a lousy job dreaming of them in the future Knick frontcourt.
  • Every free agent signing ever is enjoyable at least insofar as what you learn seeing them every night that you’d never know otherwise. When Bobby Portis takes a corner three, it is obvious the moment the ball leaves his hands whether the shot is good or not. Try it. It’s eerie.
  • That line started forming a long time ago.
  • Marjanović kept getting wide-open off screens and a bit o’ ball movement. Dallas would run a couple picks, the Knicks got into their rotations and the biggest dude alive is alone in the paint.
  • The encore encore of two-time OAKAAKUYOAK Tim Hardaway Jr. sparked no reaction whatsoever. Tim, son of Tim, shot just 9-of-25 over both matchups this year, including 29% from three.
  • Another soul to keep in your prayers: Courtney Lee. Tap water incarnate didn’t play last night after managing just 5 minutes last week. When the devil tries to tempt you with that “If we’d kept KP, we could’ve paired him with Barrett and Morris and blah blah blah” == no. First fo all, you know damn well if the trade never happens the Knicks are sending KP to the lottery drawing for good luck and he’s tripping over David Griffin’s rabbit foot or Dan Gilbert’s sense of entitlement and re-injuring the ACL, and the Knicks are falling to fourth and ending up with Darius Garland, plus they’d still be stuck with the immovable contracts of Hardaway and Lee. So no.
  • The alternate jerseys are growing on me. God help me, I don’t know why, but they are.
  • Spike Lee in a yarn-looking Halloween muumuu? Why not?
  • Meanwhile, guess who signed with the Trail Blazers?

Quoth Aspano: “We’re like 2 games out of the 8th seed.” Next game is tomorrow vs. Charlotte, who depending how you tiebreak are somewhere between 7th and 11th in the East. Keep climbing that ladder, boys!