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Pacers 104, Knicks 103: “If poetry were a Knicks game, it’d be this one”

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Let us go then, you and I...Oh, do not ask “What is it?”

NBA: Indiana Pacers at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

“What’s the strongest verb in the English language?” a poetry professor once asked our class. Those who answered landed on action words suggesting force or power. “‘Is,’” she said, “There’s no room for ambiguity with ‘is’: no becoming, no might be, no ‘what if?’ There simply is. That’s it.”

Another time, before spring break, the professor was going over an assignment that was due right before the vacation. I, who sat a yard away from her spot at the head of our rectangular table. asked what to do about handing it in if we couldn’t catch her in her office before the break. “Just stick it in my box,” she said, and I, who’s never really stopped being a 15-year-old boy, tore every muscle in my face to keep from laughing.

All of which is to say that after watching New York lose interim Mike Miller’s debut 104-103 to Indiana Saturday night, it’s important to remember two things: the team you’re watching is a losing proposition, but don’t take any of this too seriously. The Knicks put in their best shift in two weeks, even winning a second half for the first time in six games and holding the Pacers scoreless for the last 5:30 minutes, yet still lost their ninth straight.

We’ve seen enough of these first-games-after-a-firing games around here to know nothing puts some pep in the Knicks’ step like playing with house money, and that’s how they looked out of the gate: New York hit seven of their first eight shots, led by Julius Randle rolling rather than orchestrating and RJ Barrett doing some of everything.

In a chilling bit of foreshadowing, one sequence saw Mitchell Robinson miss a dunk and a lay-up and Damyean Dotson blow a lay-in on the next possession. Indiana led by five after closing the first on a 15-5 run.

The Knick bench did their part, outscoring the Pacer subs 46-28. Kevin Knox was a part of that, though in quintessential Knox fashion was in position to land a roundhouse and whiffed: after the sophomore threw down a breakaway dunk, Doug McDermott was denied on his own dunk attempt and Knox hit a transition three. The Pacers committed another turnover, leading to another Knox attempt from deep that would have brought the house down, but instead just brought his shooting percentage down. Robinson, for once not in foul trouble, was a force in the paint and on the glass. Damyean Dotson, back after injuring his finger Thursday, looked none the worse for wear. Or I could spare you 80% of those syllables and just say he looked good.

Though the Pacers closed the first half on a run similar to what they’d done in the first quarter, the Knicks were competing and playing together; their 15 first-half assists was a welcome sight.

Early in the third mad block parties, licit and illicit. Randle spiked a rejection that didn’t count because of a foul. Domantas Sabonis, whose name means “cannot miss a shot at MSG,” did his Myles Turner impression on the defensive end.

Nor would Barrett be denied denying others.

You’d think with all those blocks, there’d be at least one highlight involving Myles Turner or M-Rob, the league’s two leading shot-blockers, right? There is, sorta. But not something you’ll want to watch.

Marcus Morris caught fire in the third; his three-pointer put the Knicks back on top briefly, but McDermott and T.J. Warren led Indiana to another late-and-strong run, this one a 13-3 burst that put them up eight headed into the fourth and ballooned to 11 after a McBuckets corner three. I’d say the Knicks must’ve been trying out a bunch of new defensive schemes because of how often the Pacers got embarrassingly good looks from deep and at the rim, but that was happening beforehand, too, so I don’t know what to tell you. Look:

Eflrid Payton, who played one of his best games as a Knick, and Bobby Portis hit a three and a two, then Payton caught some luck to cap a 7-0 run.

Taj Gibson saw some fourth-quarter action (something Knick Nuance recently wrote about); his offensive rebound led to a Morris three that cut the gap to one. Then Randle blew a defensive rotation that left Sabonis free for his 978th uncontested dunk of the game. Payton gutted out a tosser that went in. I’m not sure I’m comfortable using “tosser” as a slang term. A “tosser” is a braggart, and Payton doesn’t seem a braggart in any way. He’d find Randle open underneath; the big man drew a shooting foul and missed one of the free throws. Chilling bit of foreshadowing indeed.

New York gave up just 38 points in the second half. In perhaps the night’s most impressive defensive sequence, they forced Indiana into a 24-second violation, then had them right down to the buzzer before getting a shot off on the next set. In perhaps the night’s most frustrating offensive sequence, Morris missed, only for Barrett to rebound and miss, only for Randle to miss, only for Morris to miss, only for Randle to miss again. On their next set, Morris missed a good look at a three-ball.

The Knicks’ last basket of the night came with 100 seconds left, Morris cutting the deficit to two. Payton missed a lay-up. Jeremy Lamb missed a pull-up. Payton missed a floater (that doesn’t sound better than “tosser”). In the final half-minute, with Indiana up one, Warren missed a baseline pull-up. Payton came away with it and pushed up the floor, finding Robinson filling the lane behind him. Mitch coasted to the rim and tried a reverse lay-up that Turner blocked. Randle got the rebound and drew a foul with a tenth of a second left. He hit the first free throw, making it a one-point game; he missed the second, making it a one-point loss.

The Knicks didn’t fall behind by 40, which in these parts is newsworthy. Their season may be finished with 59 games left, but they’re not finished. There are could bes and what ifs? that may or may not be becoming. You may need help sleeping between now and the lottery. Picture yourself barefoot on the beach, walking besides a robed, Messianic Mike Miller, a series of footprints besides you. ”My precious child,” he says, “I love you and will never leave you. Never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” The Knicks have gone from losing in embarrassing fashion to excruciating. It still hurts, but at least this time the hurt stems from feeling, not numbing. Thanks for that, at least, new guy.

Notes:

  • A string of misses isn’t any less dramatic than a string of makes.
  • Mitch didn’t commit a foul Thursday against Denver and had just one last night in 25 minutes. There’ve been nine occasions over his career in which Robinson played 25+ minutes in consecutive games. In those nine occurrences, he’s committed this many fouls: 9, 7, 9, 6, 6, 6, 8, 9, and 7. So yeah. Feel free to feel good about this.
  • Dougie McBuckets: OAKAAKUYOAK.
  • I forgot how often McDermott cuts baseline for dunk attempts. Doug’s all threes and shots at the rim. How has he never played for Houston?
  • A McDermott/T.J. McConnell backcourt could double as Niedermayer and Chip Diller if when someone re-makes Animal House.
  • Help me here. Where’s the defense go wrong here? I feel like Randle shouldn’t have come to double-team Sabonis; let Robinson handle him on his own, right? Or is Randle at fault for running out at Turner when Frank’s already on the case, leaving Holiday open? Did Randle make two mistakes on this one possession? The clip begins right after Sabonis went at Mitch and was forced to the baseline by him and Randle.
  • One of your early this-is-not-David-Fizdale’s-team-anymore indicators: a more restrained approach to defending pick-and-rolls, i.e. not switching every single one. S’gonna take a while to get used to Mitch dropping back on those. I ain’t against it. Just saying my brain wasn’t sure about my eyes reporting it.
  • Sabonis, man.

Also read anything Caitlin Cooper writes covering the Pacers for Indy Cornrows. She’s fun to read and you always learn a lot.

  • In the first half Indiana committed a blatant eight-second violation. Refs totally missed it. No non-call hits me like blown eight-second calls. If anything could turn me to the dark side, it would be an emperor who promised a galaxy with no blown eight-second calls.
  • No Malcolm Brogdon for Indiana. Out with a hand injury.
  • Jeremy Lamb always looks like he just woke up.
  • Justin Holiday. I liked you when you were here. Who knows what might have been?
  • Miller is the 30th coach in Knick history. I did some counting. In their first 36 years, there were 10; in the past 38, there’ve been twice as many. Another way of phrasing that: the Knicks have had 20 coaches in 38 years.
  • Robert Wuhl attended the game. If you don’t know, Wuhl was Knox when Kevin was just a gleam in his daddy’s eye.
  • No Wayne Ellington tonight. Sore left Achilles.
  • No Mike Breen, either; instead the game was called by Ed Cohen, leaving the Knicks one Cohen removed from Steve Cohen, the new Mets owner who could afford to buy the Knicks, too, if he felt like it.
  • In the opening minutes of action, Clyde said Turner would be “coming off the bench tonight” literally right as Turner, a fixture in the starting lineup since 2016, ran past him. Never change, Clyde.
  • In the second half, Turner airballed a jumper. With the ball about to land out-of-bounds and zero Pacers in the vicinity, Barrett and Morris both went for the rebound, nearly turning it over. Clyde let out the softest “What are they doing?” I’ve ever heard from him.
  • Mike Miller looks like Timothy Stack, the comedic actor from Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Son of the Beach and peak ‘90s everything Night Stand with Dick Dietrick.

Quoth No Ds and DNPs: “If poetry were a Knicks game, it’d be this one.” Poetry is life distilled to its essences, and last night’s loss was pretty much everything Knicks concentrated into a single evening. Next game is Tuesday, late, at Portland. I hear the Blazers have a new power forward. Wonder who the young chap might be.