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76ers 109, Knicks 104: “The vets have to trust the young guys”

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“We must hang together, or surely we will hang separately.”

New York Knicks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

For whatever reason, I spent most of yesterday thinking the Knicks were hosting the Spurs. Somehow I totally forgot they were traveling to Philadelphia. One 109-104 loss later, I’m not sure if I envy the me who had no idea what kind of game was coming, or the me who didn’t. I wanted last night’s win. Badly. The Knicks went up 17 in the third. A flavor that suggested the taste of victory would sour and end up a whole lotta late-and-close acid reflux for the soul.

Ben Simmons hit his first NBA three-pointer. Ever.

Patrick Ewing made 19, so congrats on sparking flint while the rest of the world burns, Prometheus.

Frank Ntilikina Dennis Smith Jr. and Bobby Portis scored early and often, leading the Knicks to a hot start from downtown in particular.

DSJ’s highlight deserves a gold star.

At one point in the second quarter New York hit seven shots in a row, part of a 16-4 run that put them out in front. The Sixers were missing a ton of open looks, perhaps because the Knicks are one of the few teams in the league with size across the board to match-up with Philly’s big boys. Sadly, a 12-point Knick lead was cut to just two by intermission. The 76ers were sharing the wealth and the workload; their 16 assists against just 3 turnovers dwarfed the Knicks’ 9:5 ratio. And though their starters shot just 12-of-33, the bench came through on 9 of 17 looks.

Then the third quarter got going, and things started happening.

New York scored the first 15 points of the frame. Frank Ntilikina was stopping, rising, dropping and surprising, netting nine in the third; for a while he was the team’s leading scorer. I think the starters stayed in together for about nine minutes, for good reason: for a while, this was (on its way to being) the Knicks’ best quarter all season. It got to be so good even geometry took an L.

A 10-0 run to close the quarter pulled Philadelphia within five. 2:30 into the fourth a Joel Embiid dunk knotted things up. The team with the All-Stars rode their brilliance to a higher level of play. The team without any All-Stars hoped Marcus Morris and Julius Randle could approximate. Hero ball arrived, sans any heroes.

Perhaps you wondered what happened to Ntilikina? The Knicks didn’t seem to. Frank sat and the Sixers were +14 while he did. Still, the game was there for the taking, but the Knicks couldn’t took it. RJ Barrett missed a wide-open three with four minutes left that would’ve tied things up. Ntilikina missed a wide-open three with two minutes left that would’ve given New York the lead. Randle lost Tobias Harris cutting behind him, then compounded the error by Hubert Davis-ing Harris, i.e. committing a Charmin-soft touch foul that leads to a three-point play. Even Randle’s random acts of kindness trended Pyrrhic: down two, an exhilarating steal led to free throws, but he missed one.

The cruelest almost-was/never-was Morris losing his eyesight leading a 4-on-3, unable to pass, instead missing a lay-up Emmanuel Mudiay-style (missing in a manner whereby the shooter is unable to get back on defense). With numbers the other way, Mike Scott hit the last of his three fourth-quarter bombs.

The icing came shortly thereafter, off an Embiid three. You know the feeling.

The Knicks entered this game having lost eight straight to the 76ers. Maybe this was the loss of a team in the process (pun def intended) of turning things around. Only way to prove that’s the case: start winning these games. The moral victory will pro’ly feel good when I wake up tomorrow. Right now, shortly after midnight, everywhere hurts.

Notes:

  • Frank, being a better defender than most, here defending Fizdale resting Ntilikina when he did:
  • Despite Ntilikina’s obvious impact on the run of play, the entirety of crunch-time was “You there! Non-Frank! Save us!” Even when they found something that worked, like Morris ooping to Mitchell Robinson on pick-and-rolls, they went away from the action before the Sixers proved they could stop it.
  • Frank & DSJ combined: 11-of-17 shooting, 4-of-7 from distance, 30 points, 2 assists, 3 turnovers.
  • What’d you think of Frank, Fiz?

“We’ve gone through so much noise, he and I together.” Close, but no cigar, Coach: Frank hearing “You should play!” is not the same noise as you getting “You should play him!” I like Fizdale the human being; just having fun with an easily choppable sentence.

  • How many 3s is Randle taking this year?

A) More than ever.
B) Entirely too many.
C) Really, though. For real.
D) Quit it.

  • Are Frank and RJ both tattoo-less? Who’s the last great NBA team led by a pair of ink-less stars? The Spurs? The old Malone/Stockton Jazz?
  • Morris and Embiid got involved in some extracurriculars, leading to the rare, perhaps never- before-heard Clyde-ism take on Embiid: “pugnacious & loquacious.” The video review took over 5 minutes to conclude double techs plus a flagrant 1 on Morris. Whaddya say, Mo?
  • In 30 years I’ve only seen two centers who were indisputably superior to Ewing: Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal. Embiid has a chance to be the third. But having said that, and having confirmed that yes, Virginia, he is hitting 39% from deep this year...every time he puts up a three, I feel like I did in the ‘90s when Charles Barkley did the same. I’m not saying it’s the same; Barkley was possibly the worst overrater of his own three-point game as any NBA player has ever or will ever be. I just think Embiid is scarier inside the arc than outside.
  • Bigger New York sports killer: Mike Scott...or Mike Scott?
  • You know the lids on big salt containers? That metal-ish thing?

For whatever reason, I will not open that metal thing with my hand. Ever. I find something about the texture incredibly unsettling. Disgusting, even. If I don’t have a utensil to pry it open, that salt may as well be in the garbage, ‘cuz I ain’t touching it. It’s oddly viscerally intense. I feel the same way whenever two teammates fight for a rebound and lose it out of bounds. It’s nails on a chalkboard to me gulliver.

  • Nine points and two dimes for OAKAAKUYOAK Trey Burke. There was also a Kyle O’Quinn sighting, one very much in the spirit of KOQ’s post-Knick career, meaning signing on with good teams who don’t play him.
  • MSG aired an ad for a cooking show with ‘90s Knick alum and Rochester basketball legend John Wallace cooking show. Maybe the show already aired? Or maybe it’s a segment and not a show, like “Too Many Cooks” only without any of the meta or Smarf? Anyway, I may have found it on YouTube.
  • How I love when the game announcer spends 30 seconds building up to a point about something or other, only for Clyde to answer with no more than an uninterested “Yep.” My dad’s version of “Yep” was “Uh-huh.” Mine, I’ve come to realize, is either “Nice. Nice.” or “I can see that.”
  • Brett Brown looks like what I imagine Captain Queenan from The Departed would look like in real-life.

Quoth felinequickness: “The vets have to trust the young guys.” Gibson, Randle, Morris and Portis shot 45.6% from the field in this one, shooting every 2.47 minutes. Frank, RJ, Knox, Mitchell Robinson, DSJ and Damyean Dotson shot 50% and took one shot every 3 minutes. Do you trust those numbers? Should you?

I dunno. All I know is the Knicks play the Spurs Saturday, a Spurs team who’ve lost seven straight and sit just above the Western Conference cellar. I hope that game’s as exciting as this one, and that the vets trust the kids to fall and rise, and trust the kids to figure out when to turn to the vets to show them the way.