2019 has been rough for the New York Knicks. Heading into Thursday’s night’s encounter with the Atlanta Hawks, they had dropped 18 straight. Their last win was over a month ago on January 4, in Los Angeles against a LeBron-less Lakers team. They had experienced some gut-wrenching close defeats, and had their asses kicked more than a few times. Such is life in a tank-embracing season.
For the most part, fans have been happy to see the losses pile up with dreams of Zion a soothing tonic.
Watching this brick mountain of a manchild crushing pimple faced college kids with no remorse almost makes you crave losses. That’s easy enough for us as fans, but it’s hard on the guys actually wearing the laundry. Especially on a team with this many young kids who have largely just experienced winning coming up through high school, AAU, college, international tournaments, etc. Losing is a new sensation. Eighteen losses in a row is a foreign one.
And so the Knicks had one last chance before the All-Star break to snap the streak. Of course, the NBA didn’t make it easy, traveling to Atlanta on the second night of a back-to-back after a stirring loss to the Sixers Wednesday night. Yet, from the jump, the Knicks looked eager and more hungry for the win than their opponents.
They started off hot, draining threes, and locked in defensively contesting the Hawks’ attempts from inside and outside, en route to an early 14-0 lead. The Knicks closed the first quarter up 15 — something that hasn’t happened in a long time — and had me feeling like Ben Kenobi.
Of course, the Hawks wouldn’t stay ice cold nor would the Knicks stay cooking. Atlanta exploded for 38 second-quarter points to close the halftime gap to three courtesy of Dewayne Dedmon morphing into Stephen Curry.
The second half started much like the first, with the Knicks quickly pushing the lead out to nine and the Hawks once again chipping away at it methodically. But every time the Knicks looked poised to collapse, somebody stepped up to safeguard the lead. Dennis Smith Jr., Kadeem Allen, Mitchell Robinson, DeAndre Jordan, John Jenkins. etc. Everybody had a hand in extending the lead back out to double digits and keeping it that way.
- Kadeem Allen looks like a player. In just 24 minutes last night he chipped in with 14 points and a team-high nine assists. Maybe it’s because we’ve been subjected to the ups and downs young point guards are susceptible to, but Allen’s steady hand off the bench has been a boon for the Knicks and served as a stabilizing force when things start to go off the rails. He’s done an excellent job of organizing the offense and understands how to either create for himself or others when the shot clock starts winding down. Simply put, Allen consistently makes the right decisions and it’s made a huge difference. An added bonus is his size allows Fizdale to experiment more with two point guard lineups, something we’re likely to see more of when Frank Ntilikina returns following the All-Star break.
Kadeem ends the Hawks 9-0 run pic.twitter.com/Ok59Cucx83— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 15, 2019
- Kadeem is right-handed, but he certainly favors the left-hand finish when he drives. He even pulled out a lefty floater attempt yesterday.
- Dennis Smith Jr. had himself a night: 19 points on 7-10 shooting, and he provided seven assists to just two turnovers in another promising exhibition of ball security. This was, to me, his best performance since arriving to New York. It wasn’t just the box score production, it was how he racked those numbers up. There weren’t many, if any, possessions where he dribbled the air out of the ball. He swung the ball early in the clock off penetration once he punctured the defense and got others involved. When defenders went under on screens he confidently made them pay from outside. He stayed feeding DeAndre Jordan easy oops to feast on, and his defense remains a fairly pleasant surprise despite the odd instance of getting caught ball-watching off ball. He has a ways to go to establish himself as a “franchise point guard,” but it’s these type of all-around performances which give you hope he can become that if/when he’s able to iron out the inconsistencies in his game.
Dennis is very very very good at throwing lobs pic.twitter.com/xtBPOtLHaA— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 15, 2019
- DSJ’s free throw shooting remains bizarrely awful. The hitch at the top of his release is becoming more pronounced, so much so that he reminds me of Markelle Fultz. He’s never been a great free throw shooter, but the current slump looks like a mental issue. Not sure what the fuck Rick Carlisle did to him in Dallas, but let’s hope Fizdale can fix it.
- I’m slightly upset DSJ didn’t get a chance to yam one down on Trae Young at some point last night.
- It’s a struggle to find new words to describe my joy watching Mitchell Robinson. Most encouraging today was that, after picking up three fouls in just eight first-half minutes, he didn’t even get whistled for one in his 11 minutes in the second half. That’s the type of discipline he lacked early in the season, and the more he stays on the floor, the more he can continue to be a consistent positive for the Knicks. In his 19 minutes last night he filled it up with six points, seven rebounds and four blocks, including “The Sonning of Trae Young”.
When your big man runs in the open court alongside a guard and still blocks the shot like he was sitting in the paint waiting for it, you type it out in words to believe what you see in video:pic.twitter.com/dzTTg2dBgC— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) February 15, 2019
- During the telecast yesterday, Rebecca Haarlow mentioned that early in the season, Mitch would quickly dress and bounce from the locker room postgame. He either didn’t realize he was supposed to talk to the media or didn’t feel comfortable doing so. I tend to think it’s the latter, given the numerous mentions of him being somewhat quiet and shy. Whatever the case, Mitch seems more comfortable in his skin now than he was at the start of the season, and it’s translating to a higher level of play.
- I’d bet money that Mitch makes a First Team All-Defense at some point in his career, so long as he stays healthy. His combination of shot-blocking and the mobility to glide alongside perimeter ball handlers with his size and length is freakish.
- DeAndre Jordan really is a nice fulcrum for the Knicks’ offense. Having him to teach Mitch is great, but it also allows the Knicks’ guards to play with an elite pick-and-roll dive man for all 48 minutes. DJ is good for a few oops and couple of cheap put-back bunnies every night. He’s washed defensively for the most part (although he did send Trae Young’s shit packing a couple of times tonight) but that’s fine. The Knicks don’t need him to be the DJ of yesteryear. What he is now suits their purposes just fine.
- John Jenkins can flat out shoot. He was only 6-13 for 14 points, but his quick release off the move is a skill the Knicks have been deficient in all season. He’s also been passable on defense and even chipped in with five rebounds yesterday in his 26 minutes. Guy needs to keep getting minutes.
Jenkins out here streaking pic.twitter.com/kF25hsJ4r7— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 15, 2019
- Kevin Knox continued to struggle from the field, connecting on just two of his nine attempts last night, both from three. He did collect 10 rebounds in just 22 minutes of action, which is the type of all-around effort you want to see more of from the rook, especially right now when he’s stuck in a prolonged shooting slump.
- I thought Allonzo Trier had a nice game. Not a whole lot in the box score to back that up, but that’s actually part of it. He wasn’t forcing the action or slowing down the play every time he touched the ball. Sometimes you need to operate within the flow and he did that yesterday. I like it.
- Luke Kornet’s a chuck, but that chuck is manna from heaven for the Knicks’ floor spacing. He needs to do way less off the dribble, and couldn’t quite find the range from beyond the arc, but he still hit a pair of big threes in the second half.
- Damyean Dotson had a weird game. He looked out of control half the time, but hit some timely shots and played good defense. If he can find his three point shot again that would be wonderful.
- Trae Young had 19 points and 11 assists, but all I remember about his performance was getting his shit stuffed time and again.
- I have an irrational dislike for Kent Bazemore and I won’t apologize for it.
- The Knicks controlled the defensive glass last night. That’s been something they’ve improved upon since the trade. It’s not surprising that the defense has also improved in that time. Failing to close out possessions was a major bugaboo for them for much of the season, so it’s nice to see that becoming less of an issue.
- I ran Tankathon three times in a row last night after the game and the Knicks ended with the first pick all three times.
So the Knicks can head into the All-Star break without the specter of an ever-growing losing streak hanging over them. This was a team effort in which everybody chipped in. Quoth Melo’s Bucket Hat Collection: “Kadeem Allen says no.” And Kadeem wasn’t alone.
The Knicks don’t play again until next Friday. Two young Knicks will be participating in All-Star weekend: Dennis Smith Jr. in the dunk contest and Kevin Knox in the Rising Stars Challenge or whatever the fuck it’s called. Enjoy the All-Star break y’all!