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Knicks 106, Cavaliers 86: “A win is a win”

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Movin’ on up to the 13-seed

NBA: New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

So here we are, in the thick of winter. With the holiday season long gone and the promise of warmer climes still so very far away, we settle back into old routines. Puerto Rico is suffering, the root causes and secondary symptoms stemming from the same source as always — the conquistadors. The erstwhile paper of record is as full of its stultifying self-importance as ever. Major League Baseball buries itself beneath yet another cheating scandal. In the NBA, the top teams are winning, the middies muddle along, and the dregs stagger toward another lottery, toeing the fine line between respectably losing and playing the youngsters with an ethical eye on the future.

Or do they?

The Knicks snapped their eighth losing streak of 3+ games this season with their 12th win, a cavalier 108-86 romp over the Cleveland franchise that saw six Knicks score in double-figures. A back-and-forth first half did not foreshadow the second-half whupping to follow. Tonight’s second-most striking numbers are the shooting slash lines: while New York put up a Karl-Anthony Towns-like 48/39/88, the Cavs were a collective Dennis Smith Jr. (34/33/65). Cleveland was hot from deep for most of the opening half, but missed 14 of their last 19 three-pointers. Once that river dried up, the whole damn operation went belly-up: the Knicks held them to just 36 second-half points, two days after holding Philadelphia to 38.

Your pièce de résistance? A 15-0 third-quarter run that put the Knicks in the driver’s seat for the rest of the contest, a burst capped by Marcus Morris dribbling for 16 seconds, then swishing a pull-up three and landing on Kevin Love’s foot. The refs reviewed it and upgraded the foul to a flagrant 1, granting us unwashed masses a rare glimpse of a player being awarded two free throws to make one. Morris delivered, then shortly afterward checked out and went to the locker room. Still, a 30-14 third quarter led to New York pushing the lead to 20 in the fourth. The Cavs shot around 20% from the floor for most of the second half. Extensive garbage time was sure to follow. The kids would get substantial run.

Or would they?

With four minutes left and the game a certifiable blowout, the Knicks had Morris, Elfrid Payton, Julius Randle and Reggie Bullock on the floor. The evening’s most striking numbers, for me, were the minutes distributions: Morris (30), Bullock (30), Payton (28), Randle (27), Mitchell Robinson (27), Taj Gibson (21), Bobby Portis (21), Damyean Dotson (21), Frank Ntilikina (20), Kevin Knox (15). Every rose has its thorn, and since the Knicks have now won twice as many games in Mike Miller’s 22 games as they had in David Fizdale’s 22, maybe kvetching over who played what in a win is missing the petals for the poke.

This win reminds me of a time in life when I felt down and stuck in a rut. I was working full-time making minimum wage; I had to be at work by 6 a.m. every day, but wasn’t done until 6:30 every evening. I knew what I wanted/needed to do in my life, but I wasn’t making enough money to make moves. All the while, the work was so consuming there was no time or energy to prioritize what needed to come first. I smoked a lotta weed.

It helped. It slowed down my thoughts and my feelings and helped me appreciate where I was, even if that wasn’t where I wanted to stay. It helped keep me out of my head long enough to keep the big picture in perspective. In these seemingly lost seasons, the wins are like weed: spasms of short-lived ecstasy you won’t remember if/when things turn around. But some nights, it was there for you. It was tonight. That’s all you can ask.

Notes:

  • One more point and Payton would have taken the double-digit club from a sextet to a septet. Still, a well-rounded effort that even earned a “Maestro! Virtuoso!” call from Clyde Frazier after an up-and-under reverse lay-in late in the action.
  • Tristan Thompson had 22 rebounds. Four nights ago Deandre Ayton grabbed 21 against the Knicks. I feel like some teams go all year without anyone getting 20+ boards against them. This would be a good trend to nip in the bud.
  • Good trivia from MSG: Morris is averaging 2.7 three-pointers per game, tied for the most ever by a Knick. Who are the four Knicks to average at least 2.5 threes per game?
  • I understand the logic in trading Morris. I can handle it. But watching him bail out possession after possession this year has brought me much pleasure. God help you soulless pragmatists if we’re stuck watching Frank, Knox and LaMelo Ball all shooting 38% from the floor in 2022.
  • With their first-round pick in the 1983 draft, the Knicks selected Darrell Walker. Two picks later, Portland chose Clyde Drexler. After lucking into Patrick Ewing in 1985, the Knicks’ next four first-round picks were Kenny Walker (five years a Knick, then played in Spain), Mark Jackson (five years, then traded in a deal for a 31-year-old Doc Rivers), Rod Strickland (1.5 seasons in NY, then traded for 33-year-old Maurice Cheeks) and Jerrod Mustaf (one year with the Knicks; out of the NBA after four). In 1996 the Knicks had three first-round picks but drafted three power forwards rather than package picks and move up in a draft where four Hall-of-Famers and at least a half-dozen All-Stars were available. All of this is to say that while my brain realizes it’s still too early to settle on any definitive takes regarding Ntilikina and Knox, I will confess to wondering whether we’ll look back on 2017-18 the way we do other definitive low points in Knicks draft history.
  • With 3:39 left in the second quarter, Kevin Love pulled in a defensive rebound, then immediately whipped a 70-foot chest pass up the floor to Cedi Osman. Morris was back defending and headed toward the basket like a sane person. Osman pulled up from three and nailed it. The whole thing took four seconds. It was pretty cool to see.
  • I have always thought Dante Exum ends up on the Knicks at some point. I still do. What random players in the league do you have similarly strong feelings about ending up in NY?
  • Has Reggie Bullock played his way into a future with the Knicks? What would you offer in years and money?
  • Mitch had Collin Sexton on his back in the paint. But Ntilikina swung it to Portis to pass to Robinson, and by then the Cavs switched a bigger defender onto him. Hoping the Knicks begin to recognize when Robinson has a mismatch in the post is one trend I’m interested in following the rest of the season.
  • Clyde has sounded very slightly drunk/slurred this season. I wonder if/hope he’s doing okay health-wise.
  • Trivia answer: John Starks (2.7); Jamal Crawford (2.6); J.R. Smith (2.6); Tim Hardaway Jr. (2.5).
  • 30 years ago today, Trent Tucker did this:

Which led to the rule change that led to this:

  • Mike Breen told the story of Larry Nance Jr., at 15, wanting to quit basketball, feeling chronically tired and failing to grow. His parents feared he was a brooding, lazy teenager, but after medical tests it turned out Nance had Crohn’s disease. Clyde’s response was to point out Larry Nance Sr.’s jersey up in the rafters. I’ll miss a lot of things about Clyde when he’s gone, maybe none more than the non-sequiturs. It’s a much more elegant “IDGAF about what you’re saying” than my dad, who would always go “Huh...” and then let the topic drop. My version of this is “I can see that.”
  • Asked about the significance of this day, Wayne Ellington said: “It’s very special to be able to play today, on Martin Luther King Day. Just to honor his legacy, and what he’s done for us, as Americans, as African-Americans, to be able to play this amazing game that we love so much, is a privilege. Without him, maybe we wouldn’t even be able to be here today.” I feel MLK couldn’t give two shits about any of that and if he were alive today would be preaching socialism and in cahoots with cats like these:

Quoth GLoco: “A win is a win is a.......I don’t know anymore.” It’s a win! Don’t feel bad about it. The new lottery odds lend a bit of moral clarity to rooting for your team in trying, tanking times. Next game is Wednesday when the Knicks host the Lakers. All y’all who stan Kyle fucking Kuzma for reasons I’ll never get, come holler at your man that night.