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Knicks 123, Cavaliers 105: “The new normal”

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Guess who’s .500 their past six games? (Not the Nets.)

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Our daughter had a surgical procedure yesterday. Had to be anesthetized. The 24 hours before the procedure were us repeatedly reassuring her she’d be fine. When they wheeled her little 7-year-old self away in the hospital bed to take her in, I was finally able to feel my feelings. I was anxious. Afraid. Wondering how any parents survive any child’s vulnerabilities. Not long afterward, she was awake and it was all done. In retrospect, everything went fine; swimmingly, even, but for those moments when my focus turned to what might have been.

The Knicks coasted to their first blowout win of the season last night, a 123-105 shellacking of the same Cleveland Cavaliers team that shellacked them a week ago. It was a pretty much wire-to-wire whupping, with New York up double-digits after every quarter. A few reversals of fortune of note: Julius Randle had his most efficient and prolific night in the blue and orange; this was especially welcome in the opening quarter, when he scored 15 points on 78% shooting while the rest of the team scored 17 on 25%. Dishing and swishing was he.

The Knicks forced 19 turnovers while committing only 7, including just one by Randle. They out-rebounded the Cavs in a team effort, with no one gobbling more than 8 boards, and were one shy of doubling Cleveland up on the offensive glass. They blocked 10 shots while suffering a single rejection themselves. They even got to the line 35 times, hitting 77% of their free throws.

But what might have been: with about eight minutes left in the second quarter, Cedi Osman got a good look on a corner three. If he’d made it, the Cavs would be down 38-34. I’m always struck watching soccer at how quickly fortunes can swing. One team can be dominating possession, whipping crosses into the box and winning corners, threatening to score for minutes on end, and all it takes is 12 seconds for the team under duress to clear the ball, get it up the pitch and score on the counter.

Osman’s look was good, but not his luck: his three rimmed out and 30 seconds later a Randle three put the Knicks up double-digits. Soon thereafter, back-to-back-to-back threes by Wayne Ellington, Bobby Portis and Marcus Morris meant the blowout was on.

There is no context-neutral vantage in this life. The last 10 seconds of the half saw the Knicks in a non-stop offensive rebounding orgy, repeatedly getting follow-ups, failing to convert them but continuing to win more tries. If you’re down six and that happens, it’s a bad omen, but up 13 it’s a testament to your relentlessness.

In the third the lead ballooned to 25; in the fourth it neared 30. No drama. No anxiety. No fear. Everything was fine. Everything went swimmingly. I don’t know if we deserve nights like last night. But we need them, and we got one, and I’m grateful.

Notes:

  • With the win, the Knicks snapped the Cavs’ 11-game winning streak at Madison Square Garden. When is the last time a visiting team won that many games in a row at MSG?
  • Barrett’s hit 10 of his last 12 free throws and is up to 51% from the stripe. Keep it up, kid!
  • See these two Knox buckets.

Cool, right? Except Knox took 10 shots and those were his only makes. His last five games he’s shooting 29% (10-of-35) from the field. My eyeballs tell me he’s improved, and improving. The numbers show a guy who’s grabbed 5+ rebounds just twice, none since the third game of the season. The assists are up and the turnovers are down, but those numbers are basically where Tim Hardaway Jr. has ended up. Is Knox ultimately bigger THJ?

  • Knox took it strong to the iron in the second half and drew the foul. One of these days he’s gonna deliver on one of these epic facials he never finishes.
  • Dennis Smith Jr.’s shooting form is still unsettled, but it appeared to normalize over the course of the game. One might suggest the fact that it was changing during a game is not a good sign. But I was raised better than that.
  • 14 games into his career, RJ Barrett, teenager, has, in different games, scored 25 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, dished nine assists and gakked six steals. He leads the team in offensive fouls drawn and free throws attempted and is second in steals. Yet he won’t be old enough to drink until the Knicks are a couple weeks away from being spurned by Giannis Antetokounmpo in free agency. What a time to be alive.
  • The Knicks started 7 of 15 on three-pointers, which is very good. But the Cavs were 10 of 18 at the same time. Do more and more teams shooting more and more threes mean more and more nights when shooting well from deep doesn’t mean what it used to? Someone talk nerdy to me.
  • After Collin Sexton, Coby White and Devote’ Graham lit up the Knicks of late, it was un curativo seeing Sexton and Darius Garland combine to shoot just 9-of-22.
  • I had a hypothesis that Taj Gibson’s minutes might correlate with the Knicks winning. The data does not support my hypothesis; in fact, last night was the first time Gibson has finished with a positive +/- in a win. Still: watching him direct traffic on defense and role-play the 1990s Eastern Conference power forward role on offense a la Charles Oakley or Horace Grant (set screens; crash the glass; pick-and-pop 15-footers), it’s undeniable that Gibson is good to have out there.
  • The “Who’s Leg Does Damyean Dotson Gotta Hump To Get Some Minutes Around Here?” traveling circus put on another crowd-pleasing show. Has Dot convinced the organization of his value? After playing 18+ minutes only once in the first 11 games, last night was the third consecutive game he’s done so. He hit half his shots, and they weren’t all jumpers.
  • Late in the first half, Frank Ntilikina went around a Portis pick and finished over Tristan Thompson. What was so impressive about the play was that Garland caught up to him a few moments after the screen, even appearing to bump him from behind, but Ntilikina is so much bigger it didn’t faze him at all. Garland may as well have been a ladybug landing on Frank’s back. I intended to share the clip of the play with you, but nba.com has become a real knob job about sharing their videos this year.
  • Frank and Taj are nearing Kyle O’Quinn/Doug McDermott-levels of simpatico. Still a ways to go before they threaten the Stephon Marbury/Keith Van Horn mind meld.
  • I imagine whenever Portis gets the ball late in the shot clock, the relief he feels knowing he’s morally cleared to shoot with no care for the rest of the world, to do what he always wants to do, is a feeling similar to a really good poop.
  • After Thompson airballed a free throw, I let loose a reflexive “Whoa” and heard Marv Albert echoing through the years. Later Thompson airballed a desperation 3 as the shot clock was winding down. We’re at the point in the game’s evolution that big men are airballing free throws and threes in the same game.
  • Thompson took a tumble after a hard foul and a couple of Knicks helped him up. All I could think of while watching him accept that courtesy was “You cheated on the mother of your baby when she was nine months pregnant.” To be honest, every time I see Thompson do anything, that’s what I think about.
  • Most unlikable: Matthew Dellavedova, Grayson Allen or Chris Paul?
  • Shout-out to anyone who saw the Cavs’ jerseys and had visions of Shawn Kemp, Bobby Sura and Tyrone Hill grinding out an 83-79 loss.
  • Dean Wade made his NBA debut for the Cavaliers. Dean Wade looks like the kind of boy Mennonite parents warn their daughters about.
  • Wade missed his first NBA shot-attempt at the rim. “That’s why he [was] in the G-League,” Clyde said. At another point in the broadcast, regarding nights out back in the day with Joe Namath, quoth Clyde: “I used to get Joe’s overflow. Joe was the man.” I don’t know what Clyde’s putting in his Cheerios this season, but I am all in favor of it.
  • Cleveland coach John Beilein looks like some dark shit has gone down in his barn.
  • Itching for a Mitching?
  • Meanwhile, somewhere in Westchester...

Quoth MyNameNoSpaces: “This is the new normal.” They were talking about Frank, who looked comfortable all night and who looks more and more comfortable. But why can’t the Knicks winning become more normal? After starting 1-7, they’ve split their last six games. They’re a game under .500 at home. Maybe they’re starting to jell? Next game is tomorrow at Philadelphia. Better jell quick.