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Kings 102, Knicks 94: “It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.”

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A blown lead & a fake comeback. A blake lomeback.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

My first semester at college, I skipped a Philosophy of Logic class for two months. When finals rolled around, I figured I’d read the relatively skinny textbook, teach myself what I needed over a weekend, and ace the final. There was a point fairly early in the cramming when a sickening and unknown feeling arose, one I’ve since come to know well — the feeling of knowing I was in over my head.

Today the Knicks got off to a kick-ass first half of the first quarter, then spent the rest of the game more and more in over their heads before ultimately drowning 102-94 beneath the Kings of Sacramento. The Kings were playing their first game of a four-game East Coast trip, a noon tip-off, at that. If druthers existed and you could have some, you’d have the game be tight at the half and then watch New York put it to ‘em in the third. Keep them sleepy for a while and then POW! The worst time to build a big lead is at the very start, or at least it is when you’re the worst team in the league. Once the Kings knew they were in a game, it felt a matter of time till they’d take over.

It was 12-3 Knicks before you knew it. New York wasn’t just ready at the jump; they looked ready even beforehand. Perhaps...too ready?

Dennis Smith Jr. was molten early, never hotter than a one-man 8-0 run that peaked as a 12-0 team run to give the Knicks some early separation. Soon it was 20-9, and if you were scoring the Knicks vs. the Kings who weren’t DeAaron Fox, it was 20-1.

Sacramento, fighting to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, missed 15 of their first 20 shots, putting their fans in a bad place.

Then the Knicks started turning it over, and Nemanja Bjelica was owning the paint and making a game of it. Bjelica is not a plus-athlete, but match him up with Henry Ellenson and he’s the Serbian Vince Carter. Allonzo Trier finally attempted an unlikely three at the end of a quarter (he missed, but still!). You could smell the ozone in the air. Anything was possible.

Still, Sacramento was cold; Buddy Hield missed nine of his first 10 looks. While the Knicks were cooling too, there were hints of climate change.

At times it was pretty. Oh so pretty.

But what had been a 15-point lead would evaporate altogether. Sacramento needs turnovers like zombies needs brains and the Knicks were a charitable think tank.

After scoring 30 in the first, New York put up just 16 in the second and trailed by two at the break. The third was back-and-forth for a while. Sometimes spectacularly so.

Then, a little more than midway through the quarter, an interesting moment. David Fizdale brought four subs at once: Mitchell Robinson, Emmanuel Mudiay, Allonzo Trier and Luke Kornet. Paired alongside Damyean Dotson, that group immediately forced a turnover, Mudiay hit a three to tie it, and then...and then. Ladies and gentlemen: Buddy Hield.

14 in the third for the man the Kings’ owner looks at and sees Steph Curry. Hield getting hot is like a pitcher having a good change-up going. That’s cool, but what sets up the offspeed is the heat. De’Aaron Fox was hot to trot.

Fox capped a 12-0 run to give the Kings their biggest lead of the game. The Fiz Four were missing something. That something was John Jenkins.

‘Member him? The Knick who can shoot? Kid Dynomite hit three threes, and having a defender locked on him after opened some space. Trier began getting to the rim and drawing fouls; he’d missed his first four free throws but hit the next four to bring New York within one. Normally I try to keep the highlights and recap linear, but before it got down to one it had got to three, and that finessing’s worth witnessing.

Then came another interesting moment. Fizdale brought DSJ back in, which...cool.

But instead of replacing Mudiay, he pulled Trier. Mudiay — whom I still love, even if only I do — promptly committed a turnover and missed a fadeaway. The point guard who ultimately mattered played for the road team, and he wasn’t missing. Fox drew an and-one attacking DeAndre Jordan, another interesting late-game substitution by Fiz, putting the Kings up four. DSJ drove and hit, then hit Bjelica’s midsection with an elbow after taking a Bjelica ‘bow to the brow and as a result got hit with a technical foul.

After that it was always a matter of when. Harrison Barnes hit over Jordan. Lance Thomas*. (*”Lance Thomas” by now should be understood as a euphemism for “Lance Thomas missed.”) Fox drove and drew another and-one. Late in the loss Jenkins settled for and missed a pull-up two over Bjelica. It was such a tonal shift from the hope the fourth opened with. It was one of those moments when you realize there won’t be a happy ending. Like Old Yeller. Only less sad.

Notes:

  • Check out the points scored column in Sacramento’s box score.

If you watched the Knicks in the late 80’s/early 90’s, that’s exactly what a winning box score looked like. Patrick Ewing would have the 30. The 19 was Johnny Newman, Gerald Wilkins or Kiki Vandeweghe. 13 and 11 would be Mark Jackson, Maurice Cheeks, Charles Oakley or, on very special nights, Jerrod Mustaf.

  • Kevin Knox doesn’t just write for us here at P&T — it looks like he’s a faithful reader, too. How else to explain why he was out there posting up early in the action, as was suggested by our own Drew Steele. It didn’t work, but whatever. Nice.

Also pretty positive that after tonight, Knox passed Noah Vonleh (out with a hip bruise) for the team lead in minutes. He’s 500+ minutes over what he played last season at Kentucky.

  • Leadership matters. I know. And 10 and 7 with a +3 today looks fine, just fine. And Lance Thomas is only 12th on the Knicks in minutes. But if he’s back next year, it’s gotta be an end-of-the-bench role. He can’t shoot. Doesn’t create. Struggles sometimes just to hold onto the ball. His defense isn’t what it used to be. You want to complement your youth movement with veteran know-how. But know-how without do-how doesn’t do much. Let Lance be this century’s Herb Williams.
  • Corey Brewer now wears sports glasses and looks like that Best Buy employee who greets you near the door but you know he’s not there to be a door greeter. He’s there to spook shoplifters. You’re not fooling us, narc, and neither is Corey Brewer.
  • Third quarter aside, the good Knick defense of late was good today, too. If this team finishes with what could be the worst record in its history, yet the players stay united despite all the losing and all the interesting rotations, and sustains above-average defense over the final couple months, guess what? That feather goes in the cap of Coach Fizdale. I’m already on the verge of being committed as an inpatient by Shwin and Marceda for arguing LeBron > MJ. I realize any praise of Fiz is a suicide note. Tell my family I love them. My dog, too. Bury me with Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady playing. If there’s any chance I can still catch a snippet of sound when I’m gone, that’ll do.
  • That was written midway through the first quarter, the salad days of this loss. I realize it wilts in light of Fiz’s late game substitutions. I think the prior point remains. But I wouldn’t put a ring on it.
  • Because of his backstory of struggling through injury, I’ve always been inclined to like Harry Giles III. But first came his flagrant elbowing of Kornet in Sacramento, leading to his ejection. Then today Giles was demonstrably irritated with the refs, and not in your typical sense, but with the intensity of a man who just lost his childhood home — where his chronically ill parents and grandparents still live — to a mustache-twirling billionaire wielding eminent domain. I don’t like him anymore. Especially enjoyed Kornet dominating him when he got some run.
  • You don’t know Harry Giles the First or the Second. Neither do I. Can we all agree to scrap titles like “Junior” and “the Third” if there’s no chance of confusing the player with his predecessor? Like, no one in 2019 is gonna read “Tim Hardaway has missed his last 1000 three-pointers for the Mavericks,” remember Hardaway Sr. played for the Mavs in 2002, and think “That use of the present tense seems a tad askew.” I get in this headspace a lot.
  • You know what’s weird and duh? Dennis Smith Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis would be really good together.

Quoth Warren Leight, quoting Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: “It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.” When you’re loyal to a team that’s built to lose, there will be collapses. There will be fake comebacks. The nightmare you don’t expect to manifest as reality is both occurring within the same 48 minutes. The next 48 are tomorrow at Minnesota. May flights of Zion sing thee to thy rest.