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Suns 121, Knicks 98: “I want to like this team. But I’m having a hard time...”

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Maybe stealing signs would help?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New York Knicks Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Describing an alternate reality that comes to supplant the original thing in the short story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Jorge Luis Borges wrote “A book which does not contain its opposite, or ‘counter-book,’ is considered incomplete.” In this tale, a mirror and an encyclopedia lead the characters to discover a new world.

About two weeks ago, the Knicks led most of the way at Phoenix, only to fall behind late and lose. The counter-book to that defeat was last night’s 121-98 sonning vs. the Suns; this time New York led early, only to fall apart and trail most of the last 30 minutes. Some of what went wrong reflects trends that those who survived the David Fizdale era will remember: a casserole of hero-ball iso nonsense on offense, missed free throws as far as the eye can see, and shooting and defending the three-pointer like we’re living in antiquity. Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio and Deandre Ayton put up enough numbers to fill an entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

Marcus Morris & Frank Ntilikina returned to the lineup, and early on it looked like the Knicks had shown up to show out. After a Julius Randle first-quarter trey they were up eight. They did show out, assuming you play bridge and know that “show out” means revealing you have no cards in a certain suit. There was no ace in the hole on this night: once the tide turned it turned out to be a riptide and the Knicks just drifted hopelessly into the L.

But no one is born as who they end up. There are moments fate hangs in the balance. New York was nearly up double-digits after Mitchell Robinson rebounded a Ntilikina miss and went up for what appeared to be a sure putback dunk. But it rimmed out, and then Phoenix scored off a Mikal Bridges transition runner, and then Cameron Johnson hit from deep, and 28 seconds later what looked like a 10-point burgeoning blowout was a three-point anybody’s-game affair.

Rubio was set to elite-level. I wish I could find a clip of a breathtaking backdoor feed he delivered to Dario Šarić, but if you’re a lover of beauty you’ll appreciate Rubio demonstrating what everyone who’s ever been single too long comes to know in their blood, their bones and their naughty bits: sometimes you have to take care of yourself.

The Spaniard nearly put up a triple-double (14/7/7) in the first half. Ayton registered a double-double by the break, his third in four career games vs. New York. The Garden was groaning by the time Bridges finished a breakaway lay-in and was fouled, only to miss the free throw, only for Phoenix to corral the board and find Booker for a lay-up. They entered 21st in rebounding while the Knicks ranked 10th; natch the Suns dominated the glass.

Going from bad to worse seems like the original reality Knick fans are hoping to break free from. You can’t stop reality from being real manifested as RJ Barrett turning his ankle at least 90 degrees on a drive. After a short spell shook up, the rook got up, headed for the locker room, then turned back, went to the line, hit one of two free throws and stayed in the game for a couple possessions. As a team the Knicks yet again struggled at the line; on the bright side, only one other player was visibly banged up in the game, after Bobby Portis’ knee collided with Bridges. There are no small victories, only temporarily meaningless ones.

The Suns feature a playmaking savant at the point, arguably the league’s premier shooter (with the Splash Brothers out of commission) and a legit 20-and-10 center. But even as significant as that trio can be, that doesn’t fully explain the different worlds these teams occupied last night. This isn’t the kind of play you ever see from the Knicks. I mean, the Randle turnover certainly is. But not what followed.

By way of contrast, at one point in the fourth Randle hit a buzzer-beating rainbow to make it 97-83 Suns. It was the kind of glimmer of hope your heart catches on, thinking this may be the run you’ve been dreaming of, one too fragile to weigh down by speaking aloud. On their next possession, Randle missed a pull-up three. On their next possession, Portis missed an open-but-not-in-rhythm three. On their next possession, Dotson missed a quick corner three. On their next possession, Randle missed a pull-up three. Shhhh......

Notes:

  • Regarding RJ:

Seeing RJ confront mortality for the first time reminds me of Clark Kent fighting Superman.

  • In addition to his deadeye perimeter shooting, Booker is third in the league in fast break points per game, trailing only Giannis and LeBron. In his last four games vs. New York he’s scored 146 points in 137 minutes. I cannot for the life of me imagine what he’ll look like as an old man. I think it’ll be something way different, but I don’t know what or how.
  • Booker is 23, in just his fifth season, and is already on his fourth different head coach. Sounds like a Knick in the making.
  • MSG’s trivia question: Booker is one of six NBA players to score 70+ in a game. Who are the others? I was surprised Mike Breen and Clyde both missed the same guy.
  • Props to Ayton for his first career 20-20 game. Most of his baskets were of this variety.

Nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it got me to wondering something touched on in the recap of these teams’ last meeting:

Poll

Who would you rather have on the Knicks?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Deandre Ayton
    (266 votes)
  • 37%
    Mitchell Robinson
    (161 votes)
427 votes total Vote Now
  • In 2002-03, Don Chaney’s first full year at the helm, the Knicks shot 82% from the free throw line as a team, second-best in the NBA. They attempted the second-fewest free throws, so it didn’t mean much. I remember the peculiar feeling of watching a losing team that hit a ridiculous amount of its free throws and thinking it was kind of a waste. Watching this group rank ninth in attempts but hit fewer than 70%, I think I miss the waste.
  • Rubio and Booker: 19-of-35, 54 points. All five Knick guards (Elfrid Payton, RJ, Frank, Kadeem Allen and Dayean Dotson) = 11-of-32, 26 points.
  • Once every game, Taj Gibson gets whistled for an obvious moving screen and is incredulous about it. I don’t know which is more annoying to watch.
  • The most fight the Knicks showed all night came after the final buzzer.
  • Whenever I get comfy thinking the Knicks are a clearly inferior franchise to the Mets, the Mets make a run at them. Jesus Christ.
  • The pride of New Rochelle, Ty Jerome, checked in late. Something in his eyes was very reminiscent of Seth Rosenthal, the One True Serth.

Quoth Cttribe73: “I want to like this team. But I’m having a hard time...” You’re not alone, friend. The defining characteristic of the 2020 Knicks so far might be their ability to always do the opposite of bounce back. What is that? Sink further? Next game is Saturday vs. Philadelphia. Whatever the opposite it, then sounds like more of it.