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Hornets 103, Knicks 102: “Live by the Randle, die by the Randle”

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Sure, Charlotte won. But at what cost?

Charlotte Hornets v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Fist. Stick. Sword. Arrow. Bullet. Bomb. Climate change. Humanity’s weapons of choice evolve, but the driving force behind that evolution is constant: the drive for efficient violence. Efficiency must be brutal, and nothing is more brutal than the obvious, e.g. 3>2.

But efficiency begets brutality. New violence is always faster and wider than old; the world is always the worse for its winners. So on a night the Charlotte Hornets pulled out a last-second 103-102 win over the New York Knicks, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s: the Hornets won, improving them to 6-7 while the Knicks drop to 3-10 and remain without a winning streak since April. Enjoy your earthly wares, Team Jordan. Charlotte bludgeoned the Knicks over and over with the odds. At least the Knicks still have some soul.

The Hornets were carpet-bombing throngs of threes: 48 in 48 minutes, fer Chrissake! But they opened ice-cold, missing 11 of their first 14 from distance. The Knicks — gracious hosts — missed their first eight from deep; manners cost nothing. Watching the best players in the world looking like the junior varsity isn’t much fun. While the Hornets were also bricking on twos, the Knicks were hitting just fine from there, and for once hitting their free throws, too. That’s why they led most of the night.

But the Hornets played with the zealotry of the recently converted (which they are, having risen from 21st in threes attempted per game two years ago to seventh now, a rank that’ll rise after last night). The threes eventually fell, and with it the weight of probability. 3>2, especially when that ratio’s expressed as 51>18, the Hornets’ and Knicks’ points off threes.

This one had juju from the jump. New York’s starting backcourt, Frank Ntilikina and RJ Barrett, had a 4-inch and 7-inch advantage over their counterparts. Naturally we saw little to nothing of either guard pressing the issue, yet were treated to Taj Gibson posting Cody Zeller, who’s three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. Frank and RJ still had their moments.

On one possession, Ntilikina missed a jumper, then hit one on the Knicks’ next possession. It was nice to see this little glimmer of confidence from the neophyte. It was especially welcome on a night where Dennis Smith Jr. committed five fouls in his first seven minutes.

Malik Monk’s Lazarus cosplay continues; the could’ve-been-a-Knick has now scored 10+ in three straight games after managing the feat only twice in the first nine contests.

Devonte’ Graham has been Charlotte’s most pleasant surprise this year, and after noticing his growing powers in the early-season box scores tonight was an introduction to the flesh and the flesh was feeling it. Fortunately none of his teammates were, and just like Thursday vs. Dallas the Knicks’ bench was pure Jerzy Kosiński, a.k.a. Being There. Bobby Portis scored 12 in the first half, Mitchell Robinson did it at both ends (more on that later), and by halftime New York’s bench had outscored Charlotte’s 27-12.

The Knicks were up eight, and in the third would go up by as many as 15. It felt like a mostly wire-to-wire win against a losing team playing the second end of a back-to-back. The highlights were rolling.

But Mike Breen noted the Hornets have trailed by double-digits in every game they’ve played this season. Charlotte was born losing, molded by it. You can’t scare the ocean with threats of drowning.

The glitch in the matrix first pixillated late in the third. Walt Frazier started complaining about the Knick defense, saying they were so intent on guarding against twos they’d become derelict defending from deep, and that’s “why [Charlotte is] hanging close.” The Knicks were up 13 and were on pace to give up just under 90 points. I figured this was just Clyde mailing it in more obviously (more brutally) than usual. But as soon as he said it, Ntilikina left with his fourth foul, and then:

And then the threes finally started falling, and the game turned. The Hornets finally re-took the lead late in the third, after which it was late-and-close till the end. Charlotte went to a zone that stymied a Knick offense that up until then had done well inside the arc. Almost as if their coaches recognized a trend mid-game and made an adjustment. Hmmm......

Early in the fourth, a spontaneous and unmediated chant of “Let’s go Knicks!” could be heard. Morning beer is proof of God’s love; proof of God’s righteousness was the crowd’s authentic support being rewarded with the rarely-seen-in-nature Ntilikina crossover/spin/fadeaway. Still, the wheel was tilting against the Knicks: while they were taking three two-pointers for every three-pointer, the Hornets were shooting 40% more threes than twos. To mix and mangle a metaphor, the squeaky tilt gets the bigger point values.

Not the same as Bo Jackson running sideways up the outfield wall in Baltimore, but what Mitchell Robinson did after injuring his ankle was one of those moments where someone’s sheer athletic gifts hit you pure and right.

The last couple minutes were the usual torrid fumblings. Julius Randle and Terry Rozier went back and forth, with Randle hitting a few tough fadeaways.

The Knicks kept running Barrett off a Randle/Gibson double screen, and it worked, until it didn’t. Isn’t that what they say? “Run it till they stop it.” Well they did, and then they did.

With about 11 seconds left, that same double-pick set resulted in Randle missing a runner that was probably his toughest look of the night. The Hornets rebounded and coach James Borrego waved them up the floor, presumably to run some action before the Knicks could call time and prepare for anything...only with just over six seconds left, right as Rozier started to start in on some maneuver, Borrego called timeout and drew up this.

Fiz?

You’ll note Barrett, who’d come on strong the second half and who was even hitting his free throws, was not on the floor for that last play. Wayne Ellington, who didn’t play all night, was.

So Charlotte wins. Another night lost to another blank slate team running the NBA’s basic programming language: 3>2. New York lost, but in so doing honored diversity. The Hornets are another Stepford team in an NBA gone Camazotz. At least when the Knicks look in their mirrors, someone with a soul will look back.

Notes:

  • Frank did not cover himself in glory immediately after his hoped-for breakthrough in Dallas. DSJ looked like he’d turned the corner Thursday. Tonight reminded us that even when you’ve turned a corner, you haven’t left the block.
  • Can you imagine Robinson’s impact on a good team? Every game there are stretches where he single-handedly keeps the offense alive by how many possessions he saves and shooting fouls he draws. Add his improved FT% and you have a guy who matters on offense even when he isn’t dunking, a wonderful development in year two.
  • If Mitch’s foul issues keep him from starting, could he sooner than later compete for Sixth Man of the Year? The fewest minutes per game averaged by an honoree was 19.3, by...well, any guesses? Runner-up was Corliss Williamson (21.8 in 2001-02).
  • We’re not at all worried about Robinson’s durability, right? He gets banged up, bonked or bent every game.
  • Could’ve-been-a-Knick Miles Bridges missed all eight of his shots and lasted only 15 minutes, finishing -17.
  • Give.
  • The RJ corner-three/pump-fake that leads to a baseline pull-up is one of my favorite sights this season. Also loving the 4-of-5 from the line! Barrett stepped up as the game wound down. Before you can get it, you gotta want it. He wants it.
  • On one first-half sequence, RJ & Frank pressured Rozier the whole time he dribbled up the floor, very nearly forcing an eight-second violation. I git Jordan/Pippen vibes seeing those two Dobermans harassing like that. The Knicks did not go back to this pressing defense.
  • One wondrous defensive possession: Graham spent nearly 10 seconds trying and failing to shake Gibson on the perimeter; Frank stayed on Rozier’s hip as he drove to the hoop, where Randle rotated to contest and Barrett rotated over to Randle’s man, Zeller, leaving Rozier no option but to kick out to Batum across the floor and behind the arc. Frank hustled from the middle of the paint and nearly flew out of bounds on the contest.
  • Alternatively, Frank started doing more of that picks-up-his-dribble-as-soon-as-he-goes-around-a-pick crap I keep hoping he’s left behind.
  • If you think this year’s Knicks have been hard to watch, remember that last summer a great many of us feared they’d give Rozier something similar to the 3-year, $58M contract Charlotte did. Imagine Elfrid Payton with job security further clogging up this toilet clog of a positional need. That’d be Rozier here.
  • Remember when you were 10 and playing one-on-one with your dad, or an uncle or older brother, and the moment would come when they’d stop cutting you slack?
  • Graham looks like a player. More than that, he may not fill Kemba Walker’s shoes, but he’s fitting his footsteps, ya dig? The handle, the scoring, the prelapsarian confidence in pulling up anywhere and everywhere. Funny: Boston and Charlotte lost Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker last summer, yet both are exceeding expectations without them. So far.
  • Is Marvin Williams the most forgettable #2 pick of this lifetime? Usually players drafted that high end up as superstars or flameout busts; even most of those who end up in-between are memorable for their journeys there. But Marvin Williams, man...Marvin Williams.
  • Clyde so fly.
  • Trivia answer: in 1986, Bill Walton won Sixth Man of the Year playing 19.3 minutes a night.

Quoth Melo’s Bucket Hat Collection: “Live by the Randle, die by the Randle.” Tonight Julius was a symbol for something bigger. The Knicks tried to Chun Li their way to victory and the Hornets took Zangief and just kept mashing buttons until they landed enough bodyslams and roundhouses to win. On Monday the Knicks host Cleveland. There’s strange comfort in that.