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Grizzlies 96, Knicks 84: “First game”

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The Titanic rearranged some chairs and kept on sinking.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The last Knick game before the Kristaps Porzingis era began was a 22-point loss to the Pistons. Two Knicks that night finished with a positive plus/minus: Cole Aldrich, who went off for 24 points and 15 rebounds, and Ricky Ledo. In tonight’s 96-84 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, the only Knicks with a plus plus/minus were Mario Hezonja, Kadeem Allen and Wesley Matthews. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

New York started Dennis Smith Jr., Damyean Dotson, Kevin Knox, Noah Vonleh and DeAndre Jordan, who in a delightful pastiche of reality and trolling is older than Enes Kanter and yet already ahead of him on the depth chart. Smith’s first bucket in blue-and-orange was a sweet ride.

Without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain’t as sweet. Two quick fouls by Smith led to a seat on the bench and a premature Kadeem Allen sighting. Jordan would be replaced four minutes in by Luke Kornet. The two centers appear at first glance to have little in common, but neither is Kanter, and these days that’s just about the only meaningful quality there is. As long as we’re getting out all our feelings:

Joakim Noah: OADAAD. The “D” rhymes with “Knick.”

The first quarter was a low, low, low-scoring affair. A Hezonja three at the buzzer broke a 19-all tie.

Kornet was hitting threes and blocking shots, to the tune of 11 and 2 in the first half.

Hezonja also did things, both tangible (5 and 4 at intermission) and intangible (good energy). For the Grizzlies Mike Conley looked like the only All-Star on the floor for either team, and Jaren Jackson Jr. put up one of the quieter nine-point, six-rebound first halves a future G.O.A.T. can put up in his Garden debut. The half ended with some end-to-end Luke.

The Knicks were only down one at the break despite a 39/30/67 slash line. Meanwhile, Memphis hit just 31% from the field and 17% from deep. And yet, I was enjoying the game. Maybe the turn-of-the-century fan in me was having flashbacks. They wouldn’t last.

The Grizzlies scored the first seven points of the third, a run broken when Smith found Vonleh in the corner for an open three.

But the bleeding had begun and would not be stanched. A Gasol three pushed the lead to 14. A JJJ desperation three as the shot clock expired put Memphis up 16.

Hezonja tried to take Conley off the dribble. Even if the shot clock ran till the sun swells and bursts, he was not getting past the All-NBA defender. On the bright side of life, Knox continued the Knicks’ end-of-quarter success with an impressive move off the dribble.

The fourth opened with New York down 12 and they worked to live up to that reputation, throwing up some truly horrific bricks early, truly WTF stuff. Just like Friday versus Boston, turnovers killed the Knicks; they more than doubled the Grizzlies in that department. Just like Friday versus Boston, the Knicks made a late, doomed push. A Wesley Matthews three cut the gap to eight.

But Gasol would hit consecutive fadeaways over DSJ and Hezonja. Want him to pick on someone his own size? He hit one over Jordan, too.

So that’s 13 straight L’s. 14 straight at MSG. 26 in their last 28 games. Today was the first time all year the Knicks held an opponent below 100, so natch it comes in a game where they barely break 80.

Notes:

  • I’ve been curious/uncertain whether Knox’s future can include him playing big minutes at the 3, mostly ‘cuz I didn’t think Kristaps Porzingis would ever commit to the 5 spot and I wasn’t sure a good team could survive the presumed non-great rebounding you’d get from a KP/Knox 5/4 pairing. Some rough shooting by the rookie, as well as some missed playmaking opportunities. But he led the team with 35 minutes. If you’re gonna throw him to the wolves, leave him time to learn how to fend.
  • Jordan hit six of eight free throws. So I have to assume all the stats and hullabaloo about his free-throw shooting is much ado about nothing.
  • I literally spent an hour this morning watching film of almost every DSJ assist this season. The majority were finding Matthews off screens for three. The second-most were Smith getting the ball to Jordan or Dwight Powell on cuts for dunks and lay-ins.

For a guy with the quicks and athleticism Smith possesses, there weren’t as many clips of him dimeing off breaking down defenses as I’d expected, though there were a couple today.

  • It can take me years to disassociate a number with a player; sometimes, like with Allan Houston’s #20, I never make the break. Whenever Smith went into his shenanigans setting up a defender, I found myself wondering what got into Courtney Lee’s Wheaties this morning.
  • OAKAAKUYOAK Justin Holiday started for the Grizz. 19 points and five three-pointers. Always liked him.
  • Bruno Caboclo started too, for the first time all year. I guess he really was two years away from being two years away.
  • No Mitchell Robinson today. He was sick. Seeing this game live would only have made it worse.
  • If a week ago I’d made a list of players I could never envision on the Knicks, DeAndre would have been near the top. Giant, super-athletic defensive forces feel less “Knicks” to me than most archetypes. Speaking of giant, super-athletic defensive forces, I’m hopeful Jordan teaches Robinson a thing or two before presumably departing this offseason, or, failing that, that DeAndre is, in his downtime, a Man In Black, and that he erases any memories Robinson has of Kanter.
  • Not the same player, and not the same circumstance. I know. But watching Marc Gasol half-life decaying in 2019 and realizing the haul Memphis could have had for him a year or two ago is the spoonful of sugar that helps make the KP trade easier to swallow.
  • Then again, if like most fans you don’t follow your team to “maximize efficiency” or for “ringz,” I could see you being emotionally satisfied knowing there’s only so many more chances to watch Gasol and Conley connect.
  • Gasol kinda looks to me like someone with a genetics engineering lab tried to create one of the Hemsworth brothers, lost the design specs, tried to do it from memory, realized at some point they’d messed something up, but kept going anyway, kept going too long, and by the time they finally threw in the towel we were left with Marc Gasol.
  • Wesley Matthews was always one of my irrationally favorite non-Knicks, even without the ninja headband. With it, he elevates even more in my esteem. So despite the fact that he’s outta here this summer, and that the “I thought we traded Hardaway” jokes are already flying, I for one am happy and grateful I get to watch him for a little while. Something right about a guy on your team named “Wes.”
  • Matthews’ first half: 11 minutes, zero points, one rebound, +11. In Hamlet Shakespeare writes “There are more things in heaven and earth...then are dreamt of in your philosophies.” Shakespeare would shit on statistics, rightly so.
  • These Avis mid-game commercials, where MSG shrinks the game screen to force viewers to suffer another fucking advertisement like there isn’t a single square fucking inch of the broadcast that hasn’t been whored out already — the court; the jerseys; the stanchion; the scorer’s table; the top of the frickin’ backboard; even the little box on your TV screen that tells you the score and game clock/shot clock. Watching Knick games already had me leave Chase bank years ago. If I’m ever unable to walk and the only transportation option around is renting a car from Avis, I’m crawling till I die.
  • In the first half, Knick assistant Keith Smart called for “Dennis” to check in the game, but Kanter thought he heard “Enes” and made a dash for the scorer’s table. Everyone had a good laugh, including Kanter.
  • Hezonja drew a foul on Caboclo that initially resulted in him being given three free throws; after review the refs caught his foot on the line. Clyde Frazier marveled at the “asininity” of the foul. I marveled at the majesty of Clyde using a word I haven’t heard from him till now. When I was young and first exposed to his verbiage, I just assumed he threw out new words every night.
  • The Stalinist shade is strong as ever at the Garden.

Quoth BJabs: “First game.” The first game looked a lot like the previous 51. Next game is Tuesday when New York hosts Detroit. Time is a flat circle. Time will tell if Aldrich and Ledo return that night. Time will tell where all this rebuilding takes us. They say time is undefeated. That must be nice to root for.