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Jazz 128, Knicks 104: “Gotta scrounge for highlights at this point”

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The Jazz put the Knicks out of their misery to close out a predictably shitty road trip

New York Knicks v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Utah’s traditionally one of the toughest road trips for any team in the NBA. For an undermanned Knicks team down its top two scorers, on a back-to-back at the end of a four-game West Coast trip, it’s the closest thing to a schedule loss you could dream up. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t look forward to last night’s game with any great hope beyond “I sure hope the young guys play well.” Of course, this being the Knicks, they failed to even clear that low bar.

Early on, the teams exchanged baskets, but when the Knicks’ riposte to Utah’s endless barrage of screen-and-roll for Rudy Gobert dunks or kick-outs for Bojan Bogdanovic open corner threes are Elfrid Payton floaters and Reggie Bullock mid-range pull-ups, it’s only a matter of time before things get out of hand. Of course, the collective lack of resistance at the point of attack from the Knicks’ perimeter defenders only made the task easier for a Utah team that’s been clicking on all cylinders offensively for a few weeks now.

With just under three minutes left in the first quarter, the Knicks had already fallen behind by 13. The Knicks’ bench was able to turn the tide a bit, as a unit buoyed by a sprightly Frank Ntilikina and the forever inexplicably forgotten man, Damyean Dotson, provided both offensive scoring punch and defensive resistance. In just seven minutes together, the duo helped the Knicks cut the deficit to just six.

Mike Miller then decided that was the moment that he needed to go back to Elfrid Payton to close the final eight minutes of the half. It was in those minutes that a likely loss became a certain one. As the Knicks’ starters cycled back into the game, the Jazz again found zero resistance in either getting to the rim, or, in the instances there was somebody there to stop them, hitting on simple pocket passes to Gobert rolling down the lane with kick-outs to wide open shooters aplenty.

By the time halftime arrived, the Knicks found themselves down 19, having given up 72 first-half points. If they had any hope to turn things around, an unlikely proposition to begin with, they needed to come out quick to start the second half. They did not.

As the Knicks bungled numerous point-blank attempts at the rim out of the break, the Jazz continued to connect on bucket after bucket, quickly hitting the Knicks with a 10-0 run to stretch the lead to 29, thus ending the competitive portion of the game. The rest of the contest was academic as the closest the Knicks would get from that point on was 18, and that was well into extended garbage time late in the fourth.

A frustrating — but fairly predictable — 0-4 road trip has now mercifully concluded.

Notes:

  • Elfrid Payton was absolutely awful last night. Offensively, he seemed to take Julius Randle and Marcus Morris’ absence as a sign for him to shoot frequently while getting nobody else involved. He played 24 minutes and had zero assists. That’s unacceptable for your starting point guard, especially one who is presumably playing because of his ability to create for others off his dribble penetration.
  • His defense was even worse. He refused to fight over even a single screen or recover in timely fashion, not that it even took a screen for several Jazz guards to blow by him with little to no effort or guile. Perhaps the most amusing sequence from Elf came on a play late in the first half when old friend Emmanuel Mudiay drove on him. Rather than hold his ground and play defense straight up, he tried to flop to sell an offensive foul. No dice, and an easy deuce for Mud.
  • I promise I’ll be done with Elf after this, but twice in the second half Payton was on an island defensively against the ball handler and inexplicably turned his head. Both times he got burned and gave up a bucket, once to Mitchell, and another to the speedy Joe Ingles.
  • Payton, however, wasn’t alone in his soft defense. This was a collective failure from the Knicks that was apparent from the jump and simply cascaded from there. Ntilikina and Dotson aside, none of the other guards or wings seemed particularly interested in even pretending to provide resistance. This was a night after the make-LeBron-a-perimeter-shooter strategy played out, with the Knicks nowhere near him, allowing him time to get his feet set and laces lined up before shooting at his leisure. The Knicks’ perimeter defense has dropped off in a big way during this road trip.
  • Of course, that defensive drop-off goes beyond teams adjusting to the Knicks’ now-consistent drop-and-trail pick-and-roll coverage. The balance of minutes in the backcourt continues to confound as two of the team’s best (only?) perimeter defenders — Ntilikina and Dotson — remain playing limited minutes. I guess when they struggle offensively, that’s understandable, but Frank’s offense — which flows game-to-game with all the grace of Manhattan traffic — has shown more consistency of late, and Dotson’s scoring efficiency has creeped up to previous levels. They’re also, you know, kind of young, and since we’re totally about rebuilding and developing our young core, playing them makes sense. But that’s just me!
  • Frank’s minutes have been pretty wonky of late, but this may be his most consistent offensive run since his rookie season. He’s looking to create consistently in pick-and-roll both for himself and others, he’s actually been getting to the free throw line with relative frequency and most importantly he’s demanding the ball to initiate the offense. Some of that is certainly due to a higher comfort level being paired with the younger bench unit. Either way, this level of aggression is what we all want from him, and his percentages have slowly ticked up over the course of the season. Need to keep that going.
  • Frank led the team in scoring, just as we all predicted.
  • Mitchell Robinson had a really poor game, which capped off a subpar road trip from him. Am I worried? Not really. Young players slump, and Mitch was never going to be an exception to that rule. He’s still so raw and playing off of instinct more than not, so the dips in form are to be expect. There have definitely been some improvements in his fundamentals, namely not chasing after blocks constantly and his screening, but there’s still a ways to go. Last night he also just seemed a step slow and lethargic. It happens. Onwards and upwards.
  • If he wants an example to follow, he needn’t look further than his opposition from last night. Gobert is a menace on defense whose combination of presence and positioning makes life hell for opposing offenses. Also, while limited offensively, he excels at both screening and timing his rim runs. He’s not even as physically gifted as Mitch, so if he can ever get his mental understanding and fundamental execution down to that level.....watch out.
  • RJ had a nice start to the game, but in the third quarter he missed what seemed like 48 straight shots at the rim. Gobert is scary. I get it.
  • Let’s talk about Kevin Knox. He’s bad. Really bad right now. The three has deserted him. He seems like he’s not ever quite sure where he’s supposed to be offensively, and while his defensive effort and application has improved, it’s still nowhere near consistent or good enough. On one sequence last night in the first half he drove to the rim, got stripped and slowly jogged back, ending with the Jazz getting a layup on a 5-on-4 possession. In the second half, the same thing happened on a drive that ended in a missed shot. That’s just unacceptable. I think some fans have been way too harsh on the kid this year, but sequences like last night where he just allows Ingles to drive baseline from the corner with his strong hand illuminate why. Low IQ and low motor are an unacceptable combo, and the latter is particularly galling for a young player who should be scrapping for his minutes.
  • Maybe Kev needs a fire lit under his ass. Would sending him to the G-League for a minute achieve that? Perhaps. Can’t hurt much considering how poor he’s playing right now at the NBA level and how devoid of confidence he looks. Let him go down the for a week or two, beat up on lesser competition to get his rhythm back, and call him back up.
  • Emmanuel Mudiay played really well last night, but I don’t think he’s doing anything much different than what he did during his good stretches in New York last year. Anyways, good for him. He was on a fast-track out of the league before getting his shit together last season,
  • Wayne Ellington found his three ball last night. Cool. Hopefully he can do that a few more times and we can trade him for a second rounder or some shit.
  • Bobby Portis’ effort and energy is admirable. His application of it isn’t great. A night after getting a Flagrant 2 for hitting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope upside the head, because he foolishly thinks he has the length and lift to block him from behind, he did the exact same thing on Bogdanovic, this time being assessed a Flagrant 1. He also spent most of the game alligator-arming shots around the rim because he was terrified of getting swatted by Gobert. I don’t despise him like many, but if we can trade him for something, that’d be great.
  • One thing I did like from Mike Miller last night was having Frank check Donovan Mitchell when they were on the floor together.
  • Taj Gibson is basically cooked. I don’t really care, because he’s a good vet and all that jazz, but even if the Knicks want him back for his intangibles they shouldn’t exercise the team option for next season and instead try to get him back at a lower price point. I don’t imagine his market would be robust.
  • I had some thoughts about Iggy that can be summed up with this tweet. At whose expense is up to you, but can’t say I disagree.
  • Kadeem Allen played some. Love you Kadeem!

Quoth Latvian Prankster: “Gotta scrounge for highlights at this point.” It’s getting to be that time of the season. The Knicks’ schedule doesn’t ease up for a few weeks either, at which point hopefully the front office will realize selling off many of the vets for assets to free up playing time for the young core is the most prudent course of action. Then again, Knicks.

The Knicks now head home to face the surging New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night with a Zion Williamson return potentially looming on the horizon. Get ready for that annoying media shit storm if that’s a thing that’s going to happen on Friday. See you then, losers!