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Pistons 99, Knicks 91 'Looks like the Pistons realized we can’t shoot'

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It’s only preseason.

NBA: Preseason-New York Knicks at Detroit Pistons
What it felt like to watch most of this game.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks wobbled out of the gate against the Pistons on Sunday like a foal thrust into the Kentucky Derby, and although they steadied themselves in the third quarter, New York couldn’t overcome a night of wild inconsistency and woeful shooting.

The high of that first victory over Detroit quickly faded as the Knicks opened Sunday night’s rematch against the Pistons with far less polish than they had displayed in the preseason opener on Friday. Harbingers of doom were there from the very beginning, as soon before tip-off it became clear that the evening’s festivities would be called by Kenny Albert and Wally Szczerbiak instead of Mike Breen and Walt Clyde Frazier.

Tom Thibodeau went with the same starting lineup as Friday: Elfrid Payton, Alec Burks, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Nerlens Noel. This time around, they immediately stumbled. Coach was forced to call two quick timeouts in the first few minutes of the opening period — the first came after a lazy attempted entry pass by Elfrid Payton to Julius Randle was stolen, resulting in an easy fast break layup for the Pistons, and the second came about one minute later because the Knicks were completely flummoxed by Detroit’s zone defense.

Thibs didn’t make his first substitution until late in the first with about four minutes left, bringing in Dennis Smith Jr. and Mitchell Robinson, followed by Reggie Bullock. Obi Toppin and Kevin Knox entered the game shortly thereafter. By the end of the first quarter, the Knicks were losing 31-20, and didn’t look fluid on either end of the court.

In the second quarter, the Knicks stopped the bleeding but didn’t make up any ground. The first few minutes were an absolute slop fest for both sides. It was like watching a drove of pigs feasting at the trough, only sloppier. Much like in quarter one, Thibs was so disgusted by his team’s play that he called a timeout less than three minutes into the period. It’s good to call timeouts when the team needs a pep talk, but it’s not good when the team needs a pep talk within the first three minutes of each quarter.

Frank Ntilikina finally got his name called for the first time with just under 8 minutes to go in the first half, and he was soon followed by rookie Immanuel Quickley, who did not get any run in the first game of the preseason. Quickley, the 25th overall pick this year out of Kentucky, is said to be a sharpshooter, but he was timid from outside and instead sought to sneak into the paint for his shots. His first points came on a rebound of his own missed floater, which, good hustle rook!

Weirdly, Quickley often set up the offense while Ntilikina played off the ball, even though Quickley seems like the type of guy who might do well running around the court and launching threes after coming off screens. Shrug emoji.

The Knicks sputtered but were never down by more than 15, and a Julius Randle three at the buzzer made it a 10-point game at the half, 52-42. Coming out of the break, the Knicks began worming their way back into the contest, thanks largely to a barrage of buckets by RJ Barrett and Alec Burks.

Behind Barrett and Burks, the Knicks climbed back into the game, and with three minutes to go in the third had things tied 65-65. As the quarter was winding down, Barrett emphatically slammed it home to give the Knicks a 75-71 lead, although the quarter would end with the game tied at 75-75. Still, the Knicks had won the third quarter 33-23, and it felt like perhaps the Knicks had found their mojo.

Alas, No go. In the fourth quarter, Thibs once again made quick work of using a timeout, calling for one less than a minute into the period after the Knicks fell down 80-77. It was for naught, as the Knicks returned to their first half form for the most part. Barrett missed an absolute gimmie layup with a little over four minutes to go that would have brought the Knicks within two, and for the final few minutes the Pistons simply held onto their lead, finishing with a 99-91 victory.

Notes:

> Despite missing that important bunny, RJ continued to display the abilities of a potential future All-Star.

> Burks posted 15 points and 5 rebounds on 5-9 shooting, including 3-5 from deep. He looked solid.

> Randle finished with 18 points (4-11 from the field), plus 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 turnovers. Sometimes he’s competent. Other times he’s an out of control turnover machine.

> As for Mitch, he’s got a lot of work to do. Sure, he had some tasty slams, but he’s still far too flaily. Robindon picked up 5 fouls in just 19 minutes of action. He’s gotta tighten up those limbs. As Wally said, “this is why it’s hard to start him.” Unfortunately, Wally is right.

> Mitch nearly paralyzed Blake Griffin during the second quarter, and even though he obviously wasn’t intending to hurt his opponent, was correctly called for a flagrant foul one. Not only is Mitch too flaily, he’s too jumpy. Gotta get more disciplined and stop falling for every shot fake.

> Multiple Knicks took Steph Curry/Damian Lillard-esque three-pointers from three feet or more beyond the arc. Each attempt missed. Those who committed this offense include Obi Toppin, Dennis Smith Jr. and Reggie Bullock. Super duper deep threes aren’t for everyone, folks.

> Neither DSJ nor Frank looked like anything special tonight. Payton played pretty poorly as well. It’s only preseason, but early returns aren’t inspiring all that much confidence.

> Toppin was not very good tonight. In fact, you might say he was bad, with just 4 points on 1-9 shooting. He’s a rookie though. He’ll have good games and bad. Nothing to worry about just yet.

> After the first preseason game, Thibs said the Knicks played 36 or 37 good minutes. In his postgame press conference tonight, he said “we regressed.”

> The Knicks shot 8-33 from deep (24.2%) compared to the Pistons 12-35 (34.3%). As a team, the Knicks shot less than 40% from the field and just over 65% from the free throw line, compared to about 42% and 68% for the Pistons. The Knicks hoisted a ton of ugly, gross deep balls. Kevin Knox, that includes you.

As Knick with the Knack aptly noted, “looks like the Pistons realized we can’t shoot.”

The Knicks have a couple of days to shake this one off, as their next game is this Wednesday, Dec. 16 against Damyean Dotson and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Garden.