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Grizzlies 127, Knicks 106: “SELL THE TEAM!”

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Half-a-game out of last.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New York Knicks Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies beat the New York Knicks 127-106 last night. The Grizzlies have been one of the league’s biggest surprises this year, and don’t I know it, having bet the under on their preseason projection of 25.5 wins.

The Knicks have been surprising in other ways.

That’s really something. If you only count double-digit losses, the Knicks would still only be the 7th-seed. Project those 14 losses of 20+ points over a full season and you get 25, easily besting (worsting?) the two worst Knick teams ever, the 2015 (19) and 2019 (17) editions.

Right from the start there was an ornery energy. The Knicks felt it. The Grizzlies felt it, at least in response to the Knicks. I felt it, too. I was pissed from the start of this game. Maybe I felt jealous watching Memphis stroll in with maybe the two top rookies from the last two drafts. They sucked for two years and are already moving on up. We’ve sucked for 20 and the sky’s as far above as ever. I’ve heard arguments that Memphis’ success is somehow less enviable or earned because they after seven straight playoff appearances they have one losing season and lucked into Jaren Jackson Jr., and last year they jumped six spots to the #2 pick and Ja Morant. Maybe the Grizzlies are like a hitter who gets a 2-0 fastball down the middle and crushes it. The Knicks have been swinging and missing at rebuilds, renovations and rejuvenation for longer than the war in Afghanistan.

Maybe I was scared and confused ‘cuz Frank Ntilikina got a DNP, and deep down I figured he would, though I don’t know why or how I did. I surely don’t (said in a Sheriff Ed Tom Bell voice). Ntilikina didn’t play because Elfrid Payton was hit half his shots en route to 15 points and 11 assists with just two turnovers, yet finished -19 on the night, and yeah plus/minus can mislead, but some roads to hell are paved with brutal honesty and that -19 was earned.

Oh, Ja.

Jajajajaja!

As opposed to Payton, who on one sequence went left around a Mitchell Robinson pick, dribbled into the paint, had no defender within five feet of him in any direction and dribbled horizontally across the lane without ever glancing at the hoop. “Payton, look at the basket!” Clyde Frazier pleaded.

Frank also didn’t play because Dennis Smith Jr. is getting 100% of the backup point guard minutes, either because the Knicks think he deserves them or because they think playing Smith helps his trade value, both of which are ridiculous. Early in his first minutes, DSJ committed a jump-pass turnover. On the next possession, he did it again. In the second quarter, dribbling upcourt after a Grizzlies basket, Smith took three steps and threw a pass to Damyean Dotson that sailed out of bounds. Then he received a technical for needlessly shoving Marko Gudurić. More than once he passed up lay-ups to try passes that resulted in turnovers.

Maybe Marcus Morris has an iron deficiency and showed up hungry for blood. He shoved Jae Crowder twice during the game, including one absurd shove when Crowder was just existing as matter in space. Maybe what he saw from his teammates drove him over the edge. On one third quarter sequence, Morris was behind the elbow arc, having lost his dribble. He passed to Payton, who had one foot in the paint. Literally 1-2 feet behind him in the paint, to his right, was Taj Gibson. Literally 2-3 feet behind him in the paint to his left was Julius Randle. All three were facing away from the basket. It looked like a child’s drawing of an NBA offense. You know how kids get a general approximation of an image, but certain ratios are way out of whack? Like they’ll draw a house and the family happy outside it, only the people are the same height as the house? That.

Maybe everything is everything, and the Knick energy reflected global anxieties that tempt us toward our lesser angels. By the third quarter the Knicks had completely frayed. They were bitching about everything and projecting hopelessness; If they were a nation-state, this was the point when inflation is so high it’s dadaist and unemployment is spiraling, right before the people talk themselves into accepting the brutal demagogue as their leader. Parliament is suspended. Borders are militarized. Identification, please.

The rout took root in the fourth, when even poor Mike Breen was calling for the young players to see more playing time. Jonas Valančiūnas took a Randle knee to the groin and was on the ground in the fetal position for a while. The Grizzlies were playing 4 on 5 for nearly half a possession before this happened.

And yet, the game was looking forgettable until the final minute. With the Grizzlies up 18, Crowder turned the gym class hero to 11 and stole the Knicks’ admittedly lax inbounds; more unforgivably, he dribbled to the corner and put up a three. Maybe Crowder was antagonizing ‘cuz Morris had been a jerk to him. Still, the moment I saw Crowder squaring up, I think Payton had to shove him. It was right. You can lose the game, but don’t lose your self-respect. Crowder deserved what he got. Payton, Valančiūnas and Morris were all ejected.

It never, ever felt like the Knicks could win this game.

Notes:

  • How about a side of WTF to complement your ennui?
  • Didn’t figure it’d take long for some PR flack to tell Morris what he meant to say. It didn’t.
  • Sounds like the Knicks’ chattiness all game long may have triggered Crowder.
  • Et tu, Showergate?
  • Let’s change the subject.

What was the point of drafting Ntilikina, knowing he was a project, to throw in the towel after the equivalent of two seasons? WHY IS HE PLAYING THREE MINUTES AND THEN ZERO MINUTES?

  • Best believe there were “We want Frank!” chants midway through the third.
  • Handel’s Messiah got nothing on this fire.
  • Morris and Randle combined to shoot just 10-of-31. Two nights ago in Charlotte they made 10 of their final 27 shots.
  • Dotson made his first four three-pointers and has made 17 of his last 30 (57%). Dotson’s played 42 games this year. 41 times he’s played fewer than 30 minutes. Maybe that’s a thing that could happen.
  • Dotson’s old Oregon teammate, Dillon Brooks? Nice. Very nice. 27 points for the man who went one pick after Dotson.
  • Breen mentioned Brooks is one of only 16 players to have started all of his team’s games this year. Last year only seven did. Wow. I’m not bothered by that. I want fewer games and I want the players resting more. But also, wow.
  • After Mitch forced a steal to ignite a break that ended with him finishing an alley-oop, Breen said, “One of the things I love about the play is after he made the steal, he immediately looked to get it to the point guard, as opposed to trying to dribble it up himself.” If you also enjoy passive-aggressive Mike Breen than you and I are simpatico.
  • How many years do you think Crowder has been in the NBA? What’s your first guess? He has that timeless vibe to me.
  • Kyle “Slo-Mo” Anderson is someone I’d be cool seeing over 82 games. He seems such a contrast to the pace and push we’re always seeing. He reminds me of the great striker Dimitar Berbatov. They both play like they could be smoking cigarettes in a rainstorm and still be getting buckets and goals.
  • Solomon Hill has an unforgettable face. Somehow I don’t think I’ve ever noticed him before; now I’m sure I can’t forget him.
  • Valančiūnas isn’t the biggest dude I’ve ever seen in the NBA. But he looks like the biggest dude somebody’s seen.
  • Shout out to the Joyous String Ensemble for their rendition of the national anthem. A beautifully harmonized arrangement.

Quoth the Garden crowd last night: “Sell the team!” Next game is Saturday at the re-Oladipo’d Pacers. The Knicks won’t be home again for a week. You can bet between now and then Feudal Jim will be raising the ramparts and booking every puppy act, baby act and puppy-and-baby act in the Tri-State area. Gotta keep the rabble wide-eyed.