Three months after finishing my undergraduate studies, I was arrested for DWAI. I got very drunk, got behind the wheel and drove a half-hour east into the next county. The highway I was on was a westbound road, so for 30 minutes I was driving the wrong way toward oncoming traffic. Luckily this was a sleepy road in a sleep county around four in the morning. Someone spotted me and called the police. Months later in a court-ordered class, I learned something I desperately wish schools would teach to children: the fatal mistake drunk drivers make isn’t getting behind the wheel after they’re drunk. It’s drinking in the first place before determining how much you should. Anytime you’re gonna drink, you should know ahead of time how long you’ll be out and how many drinks you can consume and get out of your system before you get behind the wheel. Once you start drinking, it’s too late to think clearly.
The Knicks lost 97-92 in Charlotte last night. The box score will tell you they lost the game in the second half. No. New York was up 13 in the second against a lousy Hornets team that came in on an eight-game losing streak, playing just their third game in two weeks. They didn’t have their legs under them, they shot 39% from the field and 25% from deep, and they won. The Knicks lost this one because of issues that arose well before they collapsed — some of which were in-game issues, some of which are season-long structural failings.
Julius Randle hit five of his first seven shots. Marcus Morris hit four of his first five. After that, they combined to make just 10 of their last 27. You know which Knick took and made the most shots after those two? Does it even matter? There’s no viable third option on this team. It’s fair to point out a lotta teams struggle to field a viable third option. It’s fair to point out the Knicks’ two best scorers are forwards who maybe overlap at the same position, and that one reason the team struggles is there is no guard who can shoot or create (unless they’re young and glued to the end of the bench). So kudos to Elfrid Payton for his 5-of-11 effort, but when New York’s two big(ger) dogs are more bark than bite, the rest of the lineup is too often a bunch of pound puppies.
In the second quarter, Reggie Bullock grabbed a rebound, dribbled up the floor, saw four Hornets in or around the paint, decided to live his best life and dribbled right into the teeth of the defense, turning it over. My first thought seeing this was “Is Randle contagious?” My second thought was “Right idea; wrong time to try it.” The Hornets fell behind early because they couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, but after opening 4-of-20 from the field and scoring just 15 in the first quarter, Charlotte went to work in the paint via dribble penetration and the offensive glass (they more than doubled the Knicks on offensive rebounds) and netted 32 in the second quarter.
22 seconds into the third, Randle took a wide-open three from the top of the arc. It rimmed out. This felt like a bad omen. It was. The Knick starters combined to make just 27% of their three-point attempts. The bench was a tad hotter at 30%. It is difficult to win when you’re taking a three every 90 seconds but going on average 5+ minutes between makes.
Charlotte’s guards scored 50 points, New York’s just 32. Even if your guards can’t shoot, they need to, at least to compel the defense to a modicum of honesty. But if your guards really can’t shoot, it creates entirely new problems. In the third Payton settled for a pull-up jumper with plenty of time on the shot clock; it bricked so high off the back of the rim it went over the backboard and was ruled out of bounds. That’s not just a missed shot; it’s a miss that the league’s leading offensive-rebounding team has no chance to corral.
On the Knicks’ next possession, Morris tried to find Randle cut off a screen but overthrew him, tossing the ball right out of bounds. I thought of a friend I used to know who was an excellent bowler. He took it mad serious: had his own ball, his own bag, the gloves, the works. Whenever I bowl, I bowl three games: in one I’ll score under 100, in another I’ll score 150, and the third is a crapshoot. This friend’s average was up around 175. I’d talk shit and bet him I could beat him. I learned the only way I could compete was to focus entirely on each throw at a time, block out everything else, not think about the score or how many frames were left. If I narrowed my focus, I had a chance; if not, no chance. A team as bad as the Knicks can’t piss possessions away the way other teams can. They just can’t. It’s like someone with sleep apnea having a pillow pressed over them.
Lastly, the Knicks got to the free-throw line only 11 times (and shot just 64% from there, natch). The Hornets couldn’t hit from the midrange or from deep, either. But they got to the line 27 times. Terry Rozier attempted almost as many free throws (8) as the Knicks. If you can’t shoot from anywhere on the floor, you need to give yourself as many chances as possible. Randle was the only Knick to get to the line more than twice. Where have you gone, RJ Barrett-o? Knick nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
Read other, lesser recaps and you’ll hear about the controversial reversal of a foul call in the last two minutes. With the Knicks down nine, Morris hit a three and was fouled, but James Borrego immediately appealed, arguing Morris kicked his leg out to draw contact. He did; he does that a lot, and more often than not gets away with it. That isn’t why the Knicks lost. They lost because of decisions that were made long before last night.
- Dennis Smith Jr. came in for Payton late in the first. 15 minutes for DSJ, who was feisty on the defensive end, drawing an offensive foul and according himself well when posted by Willy Hernangomez. He was penetrating and probing on the offensive end, too. Those 15 minutes were the most he’s had in over a month.
- Frank Ntilikina sat for the first 45 minutes, then came in, hit a three-pointer and forced a backcourt violation as the Knicks were trying to mount a comeback. Given that brief production and how well he performed in the win over Brooklyn, assume Frank gets a DNP tonight.
- Mitchell Robinson has hit 55-of-69 from the field in January. He’s missed 14 shots all month! Morris missed 11 last night alone. I understand degree of difficulty is a thing. Still...remarkable.
Quoth Marcus Morris after the foul call was reversed: “Are you fucking serious?!” Next game is in about eight hours when the Knicks host the Memphis Grizzlies, a team who was good for years, tore it down quickly and now have Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke and a shot at the playoffs. We may all be sounding like Morris tonight.