Yesterday one of my classes nearly rioted when I repeated something I was taught in school: facts can be right or wrong. What differentiates facts from opinion is that one is verifiable, the other is not. You can say “the sky is red” and that’s a fact. It’s a false fact. But it’s a fact. Students were literally ready to leap out of their seats.
It was a vibrant back-and-forth. One student, seeking to play diplomat, settled on “Well, hundreds if not thousands of years ago, people thought the Earth was the center of the solar system. That was a ‘fact’ back then. But now we know it’s wrong, so it’s just a mistake.”
From one ancient mode of error to another: the New York Knick Fake Comeback. Last night the ‘bockers put a new spin on an old tradition, sandwiching two blowouts around a single fake comeback in their 120-103 loss at Detroit. It ain’t easy putting a signature on your 15th straight loss and 22nd in 23 games, but even bad art is still art, and that’s something.
It was bad art right from the jump. The Pistons were up 15-3, 24-8 and 43-22. If you blinked you missed Noah Vonleh’s night; he was pulled after three minutes. Maybe you think that doesn’t make sense. I’m used to games in Detroit not making sense; they never have. Little Caesars Arena (I can barely type that handle without hating myself and the species) doesn’t have the accumulated juju The Palace of Auburn Hills did, but road games in the Motor City have always been weird.
Exhibit A: a 15-2 run by New York to cut the gap to eight, led by a unit featuring Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier and Mario Hezonja. Exhibit B: the Pistons scored 41 in the first, then would need almost the entirety of the second and third to score another 41. There were any number of “wow” numbers by intermission. Reggie Jackson had four three-pointers. Andre Drummond, he of the 17 points per game average, had 20 by the break. Dennis Smith Jr. had 19. Shake it up, chop it up, whatever it up, the Knicks were still down nine.
Barely over a minute after the action resumed, after a Langston Galloway three, that nine-point gap had become 15. The third quarter was Blake Griffin’s quarter. Il Prete Rosso had 13 in the frame. But the third was also where the fake comeback peaked, and there is something meta about a fake comeback peaking that early. DSJ hit a pull-up jumper and some free throws (on a night he wasn’t hitting his free throws) to tie the game at 80. Soon after the Pistons went on a 7-0 run. The Knicks entered the fourth down just five. If this game was a dog, the end of the third is when you bust out the shotgun and do what’s right. Remember it for the good times. Don’t let the pain and misery drag out.
Unfortunately, in a country lax on literal gun control we’re oddly stringent about metaphorical limits, so there were still 12 minutes of pain and misery to endure. Luke Kennard remembered he’s Luke Kennard and started hitting his shots. Ish Smith remembered he was facing the Knicks and hit shots. Jackson remembered he’s never more annoying than when he’s good, so he had his moments in a 17-4 Detroit run that swelled the second blowout of the night. Credit the Knicks for overcoming the first one. Damn them for allowing two in the same game.
- We can bend numbers these days like they’re Romanian taffy. But sometimes it is what it is.
Dennis Smith Jr.'s night:— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) February 9, 2019
All other players in NBA history to post those numbers in a game at 21 or younger:
Michael Jordan (2x)
Dennis Smith Jr has 31 points on 14 shot attempts.— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) February 9, 2019
Only 14 Knicks have scored at least 31 points on less than 15 shot attempts. No Knick has done it since Danilo Gallinari in 2010
Translation: no one knows where Smith ends up rising in this league. But you ain’t finding Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina in tweets like those.
Translation two: “Romanian taffy” is meant to evoke flexibility, “Romanian” ‘cuz “gymnasts” and “taffy” ‘cuz “taffy.” I was gonna go with a Tatiana Gutsu namedrop, but I’m saving that for when this team is once again contending.
- I feel it says something about your personal politics if you’re more drawn to Smith missing eight free throws or to him attempting 19. If you think there shouldn’t be refs or fouls anyway, you’re a libertarian and we might be friends but we’ll never be lovers.
- DSJ threw down a 360 breakaway dunk. When I was a kid, a 360, even in the slam dunk contest, brought the entire sports world to a halt. Now it’s just another play in just another game between a couple of losing teams. Then again, as noted above I’m a geocentric relic, old enough to remember when John Starks’ dunk contest throwdowns were enough to get people jumping out of their seats.
On this Date in 1992:— Knicks Film School (@KnickFilmSchool) February 9, 2019
John Starks throws down in the Slam Dunk Contest.
Despite an impressive showing, he would lose in the semifinals to future-Knick Larry Johnson and eventual winner Cedric Ceballos pic.twitter.com/rJncQIhgGV
- David Fizdale on Vonleh:
David Fizdale said Vonleh “is fighting right now to get back to playing good basketball.” Thought it would benefit him to watch to see where he was pressing, making mistakes.— Chris Iseman (@ChrisIseman) February 9, 2019
My conspiracy theory, which is worth zero Reichsmarks, is that Vonleh thought he was gonna get traded to a playoff team and play meaningful basketball, and he’s having to re-adjust his headspace for another two months of American Horror Story: Gotham Nights.
- An MSG graphic showed 25% of Mitchell Robinson’s blocks have come from 14+ feet from the basket, highest in the league. A perimeter terror in a league that lives more and more on the perimeter. He’s like a shark that’s evolved to hunt on land. There are a lot of moves in play this offseason. Few of us will cry if July rolls around and Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are Knicks. But whatever the Knicks do, I hope Robinson isn’t traded. It’s super exciting imagining what he might develop into. Every now and then I think What if the Knicks found the 21st century Bill Russell? Unlikely. But fun.
- Also exciting: a big man quick enough to stay on the floor against smaller lineups is a big man who can feast on the glass. Post-buyouts, meet New York’s new offensive-rebounds-per-36 maester:
- More M-Rob:
- One guy I’m OK moving on from is Trier, who now officially rivals Howard Eisley as the worst fast-break spearhead I’ve ever seen in blue and orange. My six-year-old, who was in love with him most of the season, put it best last night: “Trier not my boy anymore. He never passes.” What really got me was at the end of the 3rd — he had time to launch a full-court heave, and went through the pretense of dribbling and pretending to wanna shoot, but you knew he had no desire to and hurt his field goal percentage, and I’m just done. I’m done with it.
- And yet, down 17 in the dying seconds, Trier had no qualms shooting a makeable three.
- Drummond and DeAndre Jordan entered the game as the league’s two leading rebounders. 11 for Jordan. 29 and 20 for Drummond, his ninth 20/20 game this season. And yet, I can’t help but get a rich man’s Enes Kanter vibe from him.
- One of the old Sega Genesis NHL games, either ‘93 or ‘94, featured a player on the Tampa Bay Lightning named Shawn Chambers with the lowest player rating in the game. A friend and I used to pick Tampa and another awful team, select the five worst players on each roster, pull the goalies and play empty-net madness with the slowest, least-skilled passers and shooters we could. It was...terrifying and wonderful to watch. I’d love to see a close game, late, where both teams reach a gentlemen’s agreement to just hack Drummond and Jordan ad infinitum and let them decide the game at the free throw line.
- Of the Knicks left after the trade deadline, only Luke Kornet shoots more threes per 36 minutes than Kevin Knox. The rookie did not have a game for the ages last night. We worry about his handle, his playmaking, his defense. I dunno. He’s 19, he shoots a million threes and he’s almost league-average from deep despite being two years removed from bossing high schoolers.
If he comes out of this year with an established three-point game, that’s a positive. Some guys spend their whole careers as “If he ever develops a three-point shot” guys and never do.
- You know young men who go to war straight-laced and clean-cut and when they come back they’re got huge beards and interesting necklaces? I want the Knicks to re-sign Hezonja (to a fair contract) because I think there’s something there, something we’d see more of on a good team. I also have a feeling he’d look like Mike Myers in The Love Guru as the Knicks paraded down the Canyon of Heroes.
- Isaiah Hicks made his season debut.
- No Kornet till three minutes left.
- The thing about Lance Thomas...it’s not that he misses, like, all of his shots. It’s that they’re alllll bricks. Nothing rims in and rims out. Nothing swirls around the basket a few times, agonizingly, before spinning out. Everything is either an assault of the glass or it clangs off the front rim or hits the back rim like a bullet. Maybe Lance will turn out to be our Andy Kaufman, and all the failure is just art we’re not fully appreciating.
- Jose Calderon had some YELLOW-ass shoes on. I think I’d really like to know what Calderon is like after a bottle-and-a-half of pink moscato.
- Clyde Frazier was in full auto-pilot mode tonight, throwing in rhymes every five seconds. Lotta “hustling and muscling,” “believing and achieving” crap, but the context/rhythm felt off. It was like artificial intelligence Clyde. You know James Dolan’s either already investigated this or has it ready to go the day Clyde leaves us.
Quoth always wrong: “Meta-fake comeback.” Tonight the Knicks host Toronto. I have the feeling if the Raptors blow it open early, they won’t let their foot off the gas the way Detroit did. If you missed Marc Gasol owning the Knicks at the start of the week, tonight’s your chance to catch the encore.