A fun and furious fourth-quarter comeback gave the New York Knicks a 100-93 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, their first home win since March 8th. Back then the catalysts included Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton and Wayne Ellington. This time the heroes were all 20-22 years old. The haters will point and cluck that this was a preseason win over a hub of scrubs, a Cavs team missing Kevin Love, Collin Sexton and Kevin Porter Jr., to which I cheerfully rejoin the Knicks didn’t play Nerlens Noel, Frank Ntilikina, Alec Burks, Walt Frazier or Patrick Ewing. It’s 10 degrees where I live and has been for days. You can’t take this warmth away from me.
In the early going any hint of sun seemed weak and distant. Andre Drummond was bossing Mitchell Robinson around, drawing two fouls in the first three minutes and prompting our first Omari Spellman sighting. The Knicks put the Cavs in the penalty barely four minutes into the action and trailed for most of the opening quarter, but the defense ratcheted up late in the frame and a 15-2 run gave them a brief lead.
A barrage of threes from
Dwyane Dean Wade helped Cleveland launch an enormous run of their own — 26-10 — to go up double-digits. Drummond, looking very much like someone in a contract year who’s making more money than he ever will again, continued to abuse Mitch, finishing the half with 16 points. In the night’s first hint of foreshadowing, Knick rookie Immanuel Quickley brought a dash of hope to the proceedings with seven quick points off the pine, including a three-ball after his mates had missed eight straight. The Knicks went into the break looking familiar: losing, abominable from deep (3 of 14) and not getting to the free throw line.
The Knicks are now 16-for-71 from deep in the preseason for a conversion rate of 22.5%. This feels like an issue.— Jonathan Macri (@JCMacriNBA) December 17, 2020
The third quarter was more miasma. Mitch picked up his third foul 81 seconds in, then his fourth a minute later, then his fifth two minutes later. His body language was bad enough to be seen from space and it felt like he was set to be pulled and sulk for a spell. Instead, Tom Thibodeau (whose name my daughter could not pronounce: first it was “Tom The-body-oo,” then “Tom Tippytoe”) left him in.
The Cavs kept moving the ball, draining from deep and playing zone, and if “flummoxed” were spelled differently it’d be the Knicks putting the “ick” in “flummicksed.” Dylan Wilder, who sounds like the Palmer Cortlandt to Dean Wade’s Adam Chandler, cut backdoor for a three-point play to put Cleveland up 17. They’d go up as many as 18.
New York continued its Sisyphean struggle to hit a three or get to the line. At times they looked like someone trying to make love without hands or a mouth or any kind of sex organ. Like, there’s still stuff you can do, but beyond a brief momentary curiosity I don’t wanna watch. It was so bad that after one stretch where they missed 16 of 19 (and that truly felt like just one stretch among several), I wanted to kiss Julius Randle to thank him for breaking up the monotony by dribbling into a triple-team and turning it over.
Late in the third Thibodeau had a lineup of Quickley, Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox, Obi Toppin and Randle together, a.k.a. three 4s and two guards who aren’t established as 1s or 2s. On their first sequence, Toppin cut from the frontcourt behind the halfcourt line to get the inbounds pass, incurring a backcourt violation. What if they replaced one of those 4s with an actual center? Foreshadowing...
The Knicks were down 17 early in the fourth when the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds. Mitch blocked Thon Maker, who trails only George Hill for the number of times my fiancee points out how beautiful he is. Robinson threw down a lob from Quickley and started crashing the offensive glass. A Knox three-pointer capped an 8-0 run that cut the lead to single-digits with just under nine minutes left. DSJ hit a longball to cut into it further; then, because apparently one three constitutes Smith getting hot, he launched a heat-check long 3. But the pilot light had kicked out.
Quickley was a revelation late in the game. The scoring outburst in the first half was what we all hope and expect to see from him, but his orchestration and savvy late in the game were illuminating. On two occasions he nearly drew fouls on three-point attempts, and while early in the game he’d drawn criticism from Walt Frazier for avoiding contact after penetrating, here he was getting to the line, where his 92% accuracy is a hell of an asset.
The hits kept coming. An RJ Barrett breakaway dunk pulled the Knicks within three. Knox’s Dr. Jekyll let Mr. Hyde out to play; he was grabbing rebounds and whipped the fastball outlet that led RJ ahead of the field. Knox also started hitting from deep, including the go-ahead shot that gave New York its first lead since the first quarter and the lead for good. His 14 in the fourth were a thing of beauty. The Mitch/Toppin/Knox/RJ/Quickley lineup was fast and fun and getting it done.
If this game were World War 2 the Battle of the Bulge, i.e. Cleveland’s last chance, came with about a minute left. Wade drove to the basket and Mitch, who succeeded in remaining a paint presence while not fouling out, contested and was called for his sixth. But replays showed Wade threw his elbow into Robinson’s nose, to which Tom Thibodeau, channeling Anthony McAuliffe, said “NUTS!” and appealed. The call was reversed to a flagrant one on Wade. It wasn’t V-E day, but as Clyde said on the broadcast, “This is how you change the culture, folks.”
- Here’s how jarring the comeback was: after three quarters the Knicks were 4 of 26 from deep and just 6 of 9 from the foul line. In the fourth they were 4 of 8 on 3s and 10 of 12 at the line.
- 28 assists to just 13 turnovers for the hometown kids. I know we haven’t seen anyone besides Detroit and Cleveland, but in a preseason where 25 turnovers a game has been commonplace, that’s pretty great, especially considering how many minutes featured youngins.
- Mike Breen says Quickley’s mom is “the one who tells him the truth.” Clyde: “Well, now that he’s in New York a lot of people will do that.” Breen cracked up. Man I missed those two. You could tell Clyde was thrilled to be back. As he cracked, his creditors were thrilled he was back at work, too.
Which young trio would you rather have?
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- Toppin showcased quite a bit of his drive-and-kick game, making some nice diagonal strong-side dishes. He also threw a nice cross-court pass to Knox. Toppin has a better passing eye than I heard anyone talk about in the mock drafts. If he can score and distribute that’s a much nicer proposition.
- Toppin also spent a LOT of possessions, especially early on, just kinda standing around the three-point line. I know they want him to work on that and see whether that can become a reliable part of his game, and I know it’s just his third preseason game, but I’d like to stop seeing him looking like Steve Novak so much.
- In the second Toppin turned his ankle stepping on I think Knox’s foot. He went on to play 31 minutes. This morning I nearly wrenched my back turning in bed to get my glasses. I don’t miss the drama of being 22, but membership has its privileges.
- DSJ looks like he has the yips when he shoots. There is just zero flow or confidence. On the other hand, he had some nice defensive moments pressuring Cleveland’s point of attack, picking off an inbounds and jumping the passing lanes. Even blocked a couple shots. He also had some just abominable turnovers. You can see he’s engaged and trying in a way that didn’t appear as evident last year. Wonder which of these trends will mean the most going forward to Thibs.
- MSG’s Knick trivia: last season RJ averaged 14.3 points last year. Who was the last Knick rookie to average that many? Hint: it ain’t KP — he finished at 14.28.
- Most of the back of Reggie Bullock’s head is shaved clean, except for what looked like a cross made of blonde and black hair. Bullock is a stylish cat.
- There was one quick glimpse of Ntilikina in street clothes wearing a mask. Someone recently accused me of objectifying Frank by pointing out how beautiful he is, so let me be clear here: I would love for Dr. Ntilikina to examine me. Anytime. In a strictly professional context, natch.
- No Kevin Porter Jr. for CLE, who will be out until the regular season at least while facing felony weapons charges.
- All the seats behind each basket are gone. That was weird. Plus the stream I watched the game on doesn’t play commercials; instead they showed highlights from last year. It is surreal seeing a packed MSG. We’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a family and every now and then it strikes you that people aren’t wearing masks and it’s...I don’t know what the word is. What the words are. But they exist.
- The pain I feel every time I see Okoro in a Cavs jersey is the worst pain anyone has felt for an Isaac since Abraham raised the knife over his son.
- The MSG P.A. announcer was someone other than Mike Walczewski and when he introduced the teams it sounded like our boys were the “New...York...NARCS!”
- The refs let both teams play, especially down low. It was a good showing by the zebras.
Quoth Herpat: “The Kevin Knox Quarter or the Immanuel Quickley game?” Why not both? There is no obvious alpha on this team. Success will be communal, as all successes are. Next game is the preseason finale Friday when they again host Cleveland. The Knicks bombed their first chance at a follow-up game in Detroit Sunday. Let’s see how it goes this time around.