Last night I dreamed of the end of the world. It was a fairly local apocalypse, wherein everyone in the world knew the world had ended/was ending/would end, but it was ending in a different way for everybody. My apocalypse kept updating when I’d look outside to check on it: sometimes it was an ocean of fire about to crash down on our house; sometimes it was a series of multicolored vertical stripes, like a TV test pattern; in one oddly ominous riff, everything was black except for occasional blinking dots of light. The dream was strange, and beautiful, and never too far removed from horrors both freakish and archetypal.
The Knicks’ 124-122 overtime win over the Warriors last night was in the same vein. Strange was Frank Ntilikina, who came out very aggressive defending D’Angelo Russell, picking up two fouls in under four minutes and spending the rest of the first half on the bench. Stranger still: that was fine. Elfrid Payton led the offense like he’s the best point guard on the team. The Knicks were moving the ball with energy and intent, and perhaps not coincidentally were getting looks they wanted rather than what the defense had on-sale.
Strange but beautiful was Kevin Knox blocking a shot and somehow looking the worse for wear for it, leading to an RJ Barrett breakaway.
I love paint protector Kevin Knox pic.twitter.com/ULwazvusOU— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) December 12, 2019
The rookie showed up in this one: Barrett was in double-digits quickly and repeatedly recognized mismatches he pushed to exploit, i.e. Bobby Portis with Jeremy Evans III on his back. Evans is listed as 6’9”, just an inch shorter than Portis, but if Evans is 6’9” then I am Mickey Mouse. Barrett was hitting corner threes, finishing off drives, and finding teammates who got out and ran.
Consecutive Marcus Morris threes put the Knicks up 22, just the second time all year they’ve been up 20+ (the other coming vs. Cleveland). The crowd was as quiet as I have ever heard an NBA crowd. After entering the game dead last in per game bucketry (36 field goals) and diming (20 assists), New York had 14 assists on 25 baskets. They were shooting 60% from downtown and about that high inside the arc, too. It was so beautiful. But beauty is just the rot’s baby album.
In the third the Warriors started pressing and the Knicks did not handle it at all well; in fact, 13 minutes into the second half they were averaging a turnover per minute. But before we into the nightmare, a respite or two:
Elfrid Payton, ladies and gentlemen pic.twitter.com/LawGret4FK— Alex B. (@KnicksCentral) December 12, 2019
Kevin Knox with the cut and the SLAM pic.twitter.com/0Kd1yxnUIC— Posting and Toasting (@ptknicksblog) December 12, 2019
After the recent Pacers game we talked about Doug McDermott’s cutting game and someone mentioned the wisdom of Knox incorporating that into his repertoire. A very early observation of the Mike Miller era seems to show better spacing than the clown car offense that preceded it. Maybe with space, Knox has more jazz than we knew.
Unfortunately Knox missed his other shots, all pretty good looks from deep, and so Golden State kept getting closer. A Willie Cauley-Stein free throw made it 87-78 and palindromists everywhere offered a little prayer of thanks to the cosmos.
Alec Burks, of all people, paired with Russell to bring the Warriors all the way back, even re-taking the lead early in the fourth, but the Knicks appeared to settle down. Barrett jab-stepped his way to a three-pointer that put New York back in front. Payton found Morris for three in transition; Payton missed a lay-in that spun out, but shortly after that Morris found Portis on the push for an alley-oop; Payton capped a 10-0 run with a tough underhand flip shot.
But the blown lead, the fake comeback’s quiet twin, is, as far as archetypes go, insistent upon itself. Payton didn’t get a whistle he probably deserved on a drive and Russell got ahead of the defense for two the other way. Marquese Chriss, of all people, got mouthy with Barrett after blocking his shot, and Russell hit a three on the other end. With two minutes left, Draymond Green, the last surviving Beatle, got a lucky bounce off a pass that should have been stolen, and Russell laid it in to tie the game at 103.
Morris and Julius Randle put the Knicks up six with under a minute to go. Burks hit a three, then hit three free throws after Barrett fouled him on another long-distance call. Up two in the last 10 seconds, the Knicks inbounded to RJ, who to his credit wants the heat but who often gets burned in the kitchen. He missed his first free throw, hit the second to put New York up three, and then...
At the end of my dream, my fiancee asked me where the mouse was. Our dream selves had a pet mouse, one she’d had for years and was very attached to, and I realized once she asked for it that I’d put it down while cleaning something, and by the time I remembered the mouse it was gone; one of the other pets had clearly eaten it. When I looked where I’d left the mouse, there was a little mouse hole in the wall. Tiny frogs were hopping out of it. I don’t know what the frogs mean, or if they mean anything. They were a captivating visual, for sure.
Payton hit a tough runner after Russell opened the scoring with a tough bank shot. Randle hit from deep. Barrett sought contact at the rim, unafraid to go back to the line; he’d hit both free throws. Glenn Robinson III missed an easy two right at the cup, leading Morris to find Mitch for a drive and dunk. Payton missed a floater that Robinson kept alive, gathered the rebound and hit another floater.
This seems like a Payton thing, missing easy looks in-close but nailing the higher degrees of difficulty. Right as I wrote that note, Payton dribbled from halfcourt all the way to the rim for an uncontested look, but blew a layup that would’ve put the Knicks up nine with 1:30 left. Golden State went the other way and Robinson hit a corner three, cutting the lead to four.
Both teams looked exhausted by this point. The lineup of Mitch, Randle, Morris, RJ and Payton were out there a long time. Exhaustion starts in the legs and spreads to the brain. With 33 seconds left in the game and 13 on the shot clock, Randle drove to the hoop rather than letting the clock wind down and had his dunk attempt blocked by Russell. Robinson rebounded and passed it to Morris, who pulled up for a jumper with seven seconds on the shot clock. He missed, Golden State pushed and the son of a former NBA player was wiiide open in the corner for three. Alas, twas not Son of Dell or Son of Mychal, but son of Glenn Robinson II, and he missed, and thus the Angel of Death passed our door and moved on.
The Knicks snapped a 10-game losing streak and won for just the second time on the road this season. They deserved the win: they out-shot the Warriors, out-rebounded them, out free-throwed and out-three’d ‘em. A very smiley Mike Miller got his first-ever win as an NBA head coach. The overtime session was a microcosm of the game as a whole, which was a microcosm of my dream: visually arresting, with no clear indication what if anything we should take away from it.
- The Knicks took 61 two-pointers (making 51% of them), 29 three-pointers (41%) and 34 free throws (77%). I don’t care what analytics says about that breakdown — it was fun to watch.
- Barrett, Morris and Randle all with double-doubles, with Mitch a point and a board away from joining them.
- Remarkable how good the Knicks’ million forwards can look when there’s a guard who knows what they’re doing in the game. Even though Payton is sub-par from deep and erratic at the rim, he takes shots when he should. Frank and Dennis Smith Jr. would benefit from knowing which shots to take when.
- Good all-around game for Randle. Maybe...maybe he and Morris can both play well the same night?
- Four fouls, four turnovers and just one basket in 13 minutes for Ntilikina. Not a referendum. Just pointing out he had a tough night.
- After playing 25+ minutes just once in his first 13 games, Mitch has hit that mark in six of his last eight contests. More Mitch is a warming, welcome thought.
- The Knicks’ first game against the post-dynastic Bulls in 1999 was a 73-68 win. Toni Kukoč & Ron Harper were still there, holdovers from the three-peat champs, but Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman had become Brent Barry, Mark Bryant and Andrew Lang.
The Knicks’ first game against the post-Shaq & Kobe Lakers was a 117-115 win. Kobe scored 30 that night, getting to the line 17 times, and the pride of South Jamaica, Queens, Chris the King’s own Lamar Odom, put up a 26, 15 and 6 piece. Chucky Atkins played 46 minutes; Shaq’s replacement was Chris Mihm. New York rode 35 from Tim Thomas and triple-doubles from starters Stephon Marbury, Kurt Thomas and Mike Sweetney to the win.
Last night the Knicks won their first game against the formerly dynastic Warriors. Next time the Knicks play their first game against an ex-dynasty, bet on the Knicks.
- New York got off to a 6-0 lead. Whenever one team goes up at least 6-0, I dream of it being the first shutout in basketball history. I keep that thought in a fine and private place deep within myself. I’m afraid of ruining it, the way attention seems to jinx no-hitters.
- 32 and 6 for Russell in just his fourth game back since spraining his thumb. Why does it seem inevitable he ends up a Knick before it’s all said and done?
- After Russell hit the three over Mitch to tie it late in the fourth, Mike Breen complained — yet again — about teams who are up three late defending rather than fouling and sending their opponent to the line for two. First of all, I’m so tired of this argument, because it only comes up when someone hits a three. There are God knows how many games that the team up three doesn’t foul, the opponent takes a bad three, misses, and it ends with no praise for the defensive strategy. Second, WE ARE HERE FOR THE DRAMA. No one who watched the mid-1990s New Jersey Devils success with the neutral-zone trap could question its efficacy. But no one misses seeing that “style” of play, either. I want to hold my breath when that last-second three is in the air, not watch a free-throw contest.
- At the opening tip, Breen called the game a sell-out, despite the cameras showing almost entirely empty seats behind what’s gotta be the shortest scorer’s table in the NBA. Bay Area real estate values really are no joke.
- The crowd got into the game in the fourth, but it never sounded like it used to at the Oakland arena. These fools went and Yankee Stadium’d themselves.
- I am officially feening for a Walt Frazier “fall-back baby jumper.”
- If we don’t know your predecessors, you don’t get to have a suffix. James Ennis III? Jeremy Evans III? GTFO. I can deal with Glenn Robinson III ‘cuz Glenn Robinson II was The Big Dog II (Antoine Carr was the original Big Dog) and Big Dog II did some things.
- Golden State’s Damion Lee wore a red shoe and a green shoe and I still kept thinking he was Russell.
- Got random?
Dunk of the Night: Dennis Smith Jr POSTERIZES Julius Randle! pic.twitter.com/Qzm9SD4qk5— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) December 29, 2018
Quoth LatvianPrankster: “This is a game of attrition.” A lot easier to bounce back from those when you win. Enjoy this rare afterglow. The death march continues Friday in Sacramento.