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Knicks 106, Mavericks 102: “An intoxicating win“

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Heroes abound.

NBA: New York Knicks at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The other day at the grocery store I found a dead bird. I felt for the little guy, so I placed him beneath a nearby tree and offered some parting words. A woman entering the store looked at me like I was crazy. Yesterday I found another bird there. It wasn’t dead, but it was clearly dazed and injured. I brought it home, hoping that with time it would get better. I’m happy to report it has.

Last night the Knicks enjoyed their first road win and their best win since I don’t even know when, a literally spectacular 106-102 triumph over Kristaps Porziņģis and the Dallas Mavericks. I saw KP’s pregame talk with the press about his time in New York and realized I hold no hate for the man. I wanted the Knicks to win this game so badly it felt like the playoffs, but my passion was a matter of pride rather than vengeance. My heart said its parting words to his neverwere era nine months ago. Some people looked at those who supported the trade like they were crazy. Last night Luka Dončić scored a career-high 38 while notching his fourth triple-double this season while Porziņģis added 28, yet the breakout performance belonged to Frank Ntilikina, who’s never looked dead and finished as a prospect, but has often looked dazed and dealt with injuries. With time there was hope he’d get better. I’m happy to report he has.

You know the first time you see an ex kissing someone else?

Both teams started out white-hot, with Julius Randle, Marcus Morris and Bobby Portis in particular piling up points for the Knicks. Dallas missed 16 of their last 19 shots in the first quarter, when a late 7-0 run gave New York a lead they enjoyed most of the night. Dončić and Porziņģis were brilliant throughout; one reason the Knicks were able to stay in front was because Tim Hardaway Jr. was letting fly with no hesitation but missing everything.

Then, around 9:30 p.m., Ntilikina nearly ended reality.

Initially the officials whistled KP for the foul, but Rick Carlisle appealed and, despite Porziņģis planting his mitt square in Frank’s chest as he soared in, the call was overturned. But rather than retreat into his coquille, Ntilikina remained active and impactful, hitting his first three three-pointers and leading like a floor general.

As happened late in the first, the Knicks used a 7-0 run late in the second to enter the half with the lead. As has happened all year, they kept missing free throws, or else they could have been up double-digits. Still, it was the Knicks’ best offensive half this season. The ball not only moved, it moved with purpose, with intent. There were a few great passes, but what was really great was the clearly thoughtful sharing going on much of the game on that end. The Knicks kept taking and making threes because the shots were coming in rhythm; many of their threes were not tightly defended.

If you didn’t know the deal at tip-off, by midway through the third it was obvious Dallas’ two-man game carries almost all their weight. Dončić and Porziņģis were 19 of 36 for 49 points when the rest of the team was just 7 of 26 for 20.

Spread the wealth continued to pay dividends for New York. A Ntilikina whip-pass found Randle for three, then Portis forced Dončić into a turnover that led to a Morris three in transition and an 11-point lead.

The Mavs flipped the end-of-quarter script in the third, closing with an 8-0 run to cut the deficit from 12 to 4. Rookie Jalen Brunson, son of OAKAAKUYOAK Rick Bruson, kept the run going in the fourth, opening the action with a three-point play. The Knicks were flailing and failing. They needed a little miracle. One arrived from somewhere over the rainbow.

It didn’t look like enough when KP kept hitting threes and turnaround jumpers as the Knicks resorted to go-nowhere isolations; Morris couldn’t miss much of the night, until he could, which he def did.

The sequence of the night came from Ntilikina, who blocked a fast-break lay-up on one end, then calmly sunk a game-tying three and followed with a long pull-up two as the shot clock neared zero. Frank also turned more than one Dončić fast break into turnovers, including one that led to the Randle breakaway that led to Porziņģis’ fourth foul. Unlike Randle’s last performance in Detroit, which featured scoring but nothing else, last night he had positive impacts on the boards and setting up others, too.

Midway through the fourth, it was 92-92. KP fouled Morris on a three-point attempt; MM hit all three. Frank worked with Randle to destroy a THJ/Delon Wright two-man game in the right corner. You know how good Frank is? He began to let up on the play to signal a change of possession, thinking the ball had touched out of bounds off Wright. Seeing there was no call, he got right back in the action and blocked Hardaway’s three-point attempt. A Morris pull-up pushed the lead to 5.

With just over 2:00 left, Hardaway missed a three in transition that would have cut the deficit to 7. Randle followed with a fadeaway to put the Knicks up nine, which may have been game over if the Knicks didn’t shoot free throws like ewww. But they don’t, so...no. Dončić kept coming, hitting a pair of free throws and using the drive to set-up Hardaway for three. This time the ex-Knick hit.

Dončić was relentless, but to the Knicks’ credit so were they. Randle drove and missed, but Taj Gibson was there for a follow dunk that, again, could have been game over, except when you can’t hit free throws games are never really over. Another Dončić lay-up pulled Dallas within four with 33 seconds left. The Knicks inbounded and the ball ended up in RJ Barrett’s 49% free-throw-shooting hands. Luka fouled him. RJ, facing the first big pressure free throws of his career, missed both. But the rebound went to Randle, which forced Porziņģis to foul out. Randle hit both free throws. Game over? Course not!

After calling timeout, the Mavericks found THJ for three. With 27 seconds left, down three and defending with no timeouts, Wally Szczerbiak broke down Dallas’ strategy thusly: “They almost have to foul at some point.” The hell does that mean?! Dallas did foul, this time Gibson, who missed both free throws. So here it was: the Mavs down three, the game winding down, the biscuit nearing crux. Dončić settled for a stepback three-pointer from so far out his back foot was on the center court logo; he missed. Randle missed another free throw but hit the critical second, giving the Knicks the crucial four-point buffer that ensured victory. Porziņģis vanquished. Ntilikina ascendant. It was a good night to be a Knicks fan.

Notes:

  • Once upon a time, a big Knicks win meant eagerly awaiting the next day’s back pages. The Knicks and the newspaper industry have seen better days, so it’s special when we get a blast of both making us feel good.
  • Ntilikina has played 39 and 38 minutes his last two games. Tonight he hit 4-of-5 three-pointers and had 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks. Frank always brings intangibles, but lately he’s been tangible-ing, too.
  • So...Frank’s clearly still starting after Dennis Smith Jr. and Elfrid Payton are back, right? Right?
  • Ntilikina so humble about nearly annihilating Porziņģis.
  • In the interest of fairness, Porziņģis had some nice (if not banal) praise for Ntilikina.
  • Cuties gonna cute.
  • Between field goal attempts and free throws, Barrett took 15 shots and hit just two. Easily his roughest night shooting as a pro. And yet he added eight rebounds and four assists to just one turnover. That’s encouraging. Also encouraging: seeing RJ supported after missing two big free throws late.
  • Is this the first game Randle & Morris have both played well together? I think so. 50 points on 38 shots and +15 combined. Give.
  • Taj Gibson is such a presence on both ends, rotating and helping on D and directing the offense, too. It was Gibson who waved the whole team to one side of the floor so Randle could work one-on-one in space against Maxi Kleber for the quasi-clinching bucket.
  • Randle can pass.

And he has plus-handles for a big.

  • But he thinks he’s Anthony Mason sometimes. He’s not. Even Mike Breen, the diplomat’s diplomat, said “That [Randle] spin move is a turnover waiting to happen.” It will be a welcome day when we stop seeing stuff like this.
  • Damyean Dotson entered in the first quarter, hit a three, was +7 in 7 minutes and that was that.
  • Portis got off 15 shots in just 24 minutes. If you remember the old NES game Contra, there was a machine gun you could just hold the B button and it’d fire continuously. That’s Portis.
  • On one drive, Trier elbowed THJ in the face. Trier’s elbows really are WMDs.

No lie detected.

  • The Mavs’ four non-Slovenian starters, in 90 combined minutes, had just one assist and one turnover. Part of what makes what Dončić does so special is the sheer volume of how much he has to do for his team.
  • Courtney Lee started for the Mavs and played just five minutes. I didn’t notice his presence or absence during the game, which is pretty much the Courtney Lee experience.
  • For about half the game every time Breen said “Kleber” it sounded like “Cleveland” and my brain wondered what basketball Chinese checkers would look like.
  • Marc Berman with the A-level post-game passive-aggressiveness:
  • Hope is meant to be a great consolation, I hear.

Quoth Mike Breen after the final buzzer sounded: “An intoxicating win.” This could be the start of an intoxicating stretch. The Knicks host Cleveland Sunday and visit Chicago Tuesday before Porziņģis brings his walk of shame to MSG Thursday. That game may be the most intense we see this year; it’d have a little more meaningful juice if the Knicks came in on a three-game winning streak. Fingers crossed. Or do what you will with whatever extremities you wish.