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Celtics 113, Knicks 104: “Relax...we’re tied with Golden State”

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Gimme a Scotch. Leave the bottle.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Friends, New Yorkers, P&Ters, lend me your ears;
I come to praise the Knickerbockers, not to bury them.
The losing teams do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with the Knicks. The noble David Fizdale,
even after they lost their sixth in a row,
113-104 to the Boston Celtics,
Hath told you they were improving:

If it were so, it was a grievous growth,
being outscored by 21 on three-pointers,
doubled up on the offensive glass
and managing a mere 15 assists against 14 turnovers.
Here, under leave of the P&T staff–
For P&T is honourable people;
So are they all, all honourable people–
Come I to speak after New York dropped to 4-18,
two games behind last year’s mark at this time.
Fizdale is the coach, struggling in life, same as so many of us:
But Steve Mills suggests Fiz is failing;
And if anyone understands failure, it’s Mills.
He and Scott Perry hath brought many free agents to Manhattan
Whose ransoms did Lucky Sperm Dolan’s inheritance fill:
Did our hope for something more than 17 wins seem ambitious?
When that the losing threatens to stretch into a third decade,
Mills and Perry hath prepared their asses for a soft landing
and prepared for Fizdale the path to perdition.
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff,
if not driven by people with a track record of some success, ANY success,
running an NBA team:
Yet Fizdale says the Knicks are playing better;
And Fizdale is an honourable man.
You all did see that Frank Ntilikina going down with a sore upper back
could not be blamed on Fiz,
nor another 11 missed free throws,
nor turnover after turnover after turnover after crunch-time mothafucking turnover.
The front office thrice promised him a kingly crown,
first Kristaps Porzingis, then Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Was this ambition?
Yet Mills and Perry say Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis and Elfrid Payton
were “a successful free agency period,”
And, sure, they are honourable men.
I speak not to disprove what these roundball geniuses spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did support Fiz’s hiring once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And this abused fan base has lost their reason, with good reason.
Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with the same heart that’s died lo these 20 years,
And I must pause till it comes back to me.

Translation:

It was Kids Day at Madison Square Garden, in the stands and on the floor: Taj Gibson and Julius Randle started along with 19-year-old RJ Barrett, 20-year-old Kevin Knox and Old Man Ntilikina. Knox saw his first action after two DNPs because Marcus Morris was out with neck spasms.

The early stages of the game saw both teams frequently turning the ball over. Knox and Mitchell Robinson both got into early foul trouble, but Barrett and Randle both got off to hot starts, with Randle inheriting the old Boston Porzingis tactic of guarding the big man with smaller guards, in this case Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart and even he’s-only-six-feet-tall-on-his-OK-Cupid-profile Carsen Edwards.

Jayson Tatum was swishing and dishing for the C’s. Gibson discovered some Celtics were feeling transgressively generous with the assists.

Ntilikina left the game in the second with a sore upper back and would not return. So with Frank out, Elfrid Payton suffering an unceasing Mets-like hamstring injury and Kadeem Allen God knows where, it was left to Dennis Smith Jr. to carry that weight. The game was neck-and-neck the entire half, with the last two minutes a back-and-forth three-point bonanza; it was like watching Rocky and Clubber Lang go at it. The Knicks’ effort energy “compete-level” (hire me, MSG!) was in the black. They were hitting their free throws. The bait was bought; the trap was set. It felt like a game they could win.

In many a third quarter, Randle is New York’s canary in the coal mine. I can’t recall how many games this year he’s been the focus of some dark omen, always in the third. Today it was him airballing a three. It wasn’t his first airball from downtown in this game, and that was what stuck with me. How many times does a team win when their leading shot-taker airballs twice from deep? You may have thought Smart getting knocked out of the game with what looked like an injured oblique with the Knicks up as many as nine meant good times again. Oh, you sweet summer child.

This is how you lose her: Barrett impressed with his aggression going to the basket, but after hitting seven of his first eight free throws the hiccups kicked in; he’d miss four straight. Silent-film villain Enes Kanter killed New York on the glass, grabbing nearly as many offensive rebounds (6) as the Knicks (8). Your rooting interest entered the fourth with a four-point lead and opened the quarter with back-to-back offensive fouls by Wayne Ellington and Robinson. Bobby Portis did that thing he does where he scores 5-6 points in 30 seconds, but you’re not sure if he did anything else the rest of the game. Robinson picked up one of a few dumb fouls trying to block Kanter after Turkish Delight got an offensive rebound right under the basket. With just under nine minutes left, the Knicks’ only rim protector was back to the bench.

There is no fall without the rising action that precedes it. Randle scored a couple of times against triple-teams, and despite the lack of rest Smith Jr. was mostly a positive the whole second half. But some nights you know your team can’t fall behind or they’ll never get back up. Tonight was one of those nights.

A Semi Ojeleye corner three tied the game at 95. After a mid-quarter timeout, Dotson dribbled up the floor and practically handed the ball to Jaylen Brown, who took it the other way for a lay-up to put Boston in front for the first time all half. Then Randle coughed it up trying to camel his way through the eye of a needle (in his defense, he is a rich man). Finally, Barrett airballed a three, resulting in a 24-second violation. Shortly thereafter, DSJ passed it to where Knox had been a second earlier but no longer was. By the time Tatum capped a 12-0 Celtic run with a three-ball, the game was out of reach. But not the insults.

A “Let’s Go Celtics!” chant broke out near the end. This is the kind of game that gets coaches fired, which is another way of saying it’s the kind of game that allows a bumbling snake to scapegoat someone he thought was the answer a little over a year ago in order to stick around long enough to hire the next scapegoat.

As is de rigueur for the Knicks whenever they’re down 7+ points in the final minute, they went for two rather than three. This time Barrett was the guilty party, suggesting he’s being poorly influenced by the older boys. On the C’s last possession of the game, they missed but got the offensive rebound, and Robinson, frustrated, fouled out hacking meaninglessly at Kemba.

The last time these teams played, the Celtics outscored the Knicks 36-19 in the fourth quarter. Today it was 32-19. You wanna blame Fizdale for that? OK. You think Mike Miller or Mike Woodson or Pat Riley would’ve won this game? OK. I hate losing to the Celtics, any time, all the time. I hate being 22 games into a season and already knowing it’s a write-off. But my frustration can co-exist with my realization that this team, especially missing two of their starters for some/all of the action, was overmatched. For that, at least, I don’t blame Fizdale, and I’m not pissed at the players. I think they did what they could. You want understanding? Crash the palace at 33rd and 8th someday, break into the sanctum sanctorum and follow the sound of Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Notes:

  • On maybe consecutive late possessions, Brown got DSJ on a switch and took it right to the cup for two. Wally Szczerbiak was moaning about Smith’s defense afterward, as if Wally ever guarded anybody, and as if the Knicks’ don’t employ a phalanx of coaches, one of whom might have prepped Smith and Co. on what to do when faced with such a mismatch.
  • WHAT ABOUT FRANK?!?
  • DSJ gets my star of the day. Despite playing the whole second half he finished with 17 and 7 assists against just one turnover, got to the rim repeatedly and even hit a couple from deep. Performances like this? Give.
  • I thought tonight was one of Randle’s better efforts of the season. He was mostly under control throughout and got a few tough gets when the going got tough.
  • Disclaimer: whenever I evaluate Randle’s play, please know I’m referring strictly to his offensive efforts, unless otherwise stated.
  • Late in the game, Randle obliterated Williams driving into the paint. The ref called the foul on Williams and gave Randle the basket, making it 110-103 with a free throw pending. Boston’s Brad Buttigieg challenged the call. In a classic politician’s fallacy, the review ruled the basket counted, but the free throw was disallowed. God spare me a world with these coach’s challenges.
  • In the first half, Randle grabbed a rebound and led a 3-on-3 push. He was in the center lane, but after just one dribble threw it left to Knox, who wasn’t looking. Turnover. On the Knicks’ next possession, DSJ posted Kemba, forcing Smart to double and leaving Knox open for three with no defender within 12 feet of him. He drained it. This has been your daily “Julius Randle is not a point guard” segment.
  • Knox + muscle = buckets he couldn’t have made last year.
  • How many NBA teenagers have been stronger than Barrett? LeBron and who else? Melo? When Barrett’s 24, him posting up defenders will be a straight-up fatality.
  • RJ may be starting to get the benefit of the doubt on whistles. Several Celtics looked confused or bothered by this. Get bent. He was aggressive tonight, not settling for jumpers but driving strong to the paint. Got a couple calls your average rook wouldn’t. I’m cool wit it.
  • One of my favorite soccer players is Sergio Aguero. He’s a god-level goal scorer. He’s also so right-foot dominant it’s kind of infuriating, unless he’s shooting. Dotson is similar. I like when he puts the ball on the floor, but there are times he gets caught or trapped and the only way out is left and he looks like he’d rather try and spontaneously combust than go to his off-hand. The disastrous turnover to Brown in the 4th featured Dotson going left.
  • Mild cheers for Kanter upon checking in, I’m guessing from people who commuted from towns where they put spikes on benches so homeless people can’t find anywhere to sleep.
  • On one play Portis got Daniel Theis caught underneath under the rim and elbowed him in the penis. After Allonzo Trier, Portis seems the most likely Knick to be linked with “elbow” and “penis” in a sentence.
  • Every time an announcer mentions Boston guard Brad Wanamaker I think of Buttermaker from The Bad News Bears.
  • Lots of NBA players look like dinosaurs to me. It started back in the day with Derrick Coleman. Grant Williams looks a lot like a dinosaur whose diet mostly involves stealing eggs.
  • Sometimes you see Kanter on defense and it really looks like no one told him that side of the game existed till he got to the NBA. His instincts aren’t just non-existent. It’s like he’s anaphylactically allergic to it.
  • You know the Knicks are only tweeting this ‘cuz they heard about the Clyde So Fly people.
  • Can you picture Alan Hahn and Wally Szczerbiak falling in love? No need to reply. Just think about it quietly to yourself, and then move on.
  • Ever wonder what Dante’s 10th circle of hell would be?

Quoth jacoop: “Relax...we’re tied with Golden State.” Quoth Thoreau: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” The Knicks’ next game tomorrow at Milwaukee. Probability states this team has to be good again someday. By that logic, every loss between now and then is part of that foundation; by that logic, Giannis dunking over our boys is a veritable ribbon-cutting ceremony. See y’all at the grand opening of good times ahead.