Playing without either 2020 first round draft pick, a shorthanded Knicks squad hung relatively tough with the Philadelphia 76ers through two quarters Saturday night before breaking down like Four Year Strong, and the bright spots were few and far between.
Prior to the start of the team’s first regular season home game at Madison Square Garden since last March, the Knicks announced that both Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley would not play due to injury. Each rookie sustained their boo-boos in Wednesday’s season opener; Quickley hurt his hip and is day-to-day, while Toppin sustained a strained right calf that required an MRI. He’ll be re-evaluated in 7-10 days, which, bah humbug.
But this is the NBA, where there are no excuses, so the Knicks still had to play the 76ers under normal rules. They did so while wearing their City Edition jerseys for the first time, which, if you weren’t already aware, are available for purchase! Nothing like some good old fashioned capitalism, baby. Here’s hoping any consumers who buy one of the basketball practice pinnies get the right number on both the front and back, unlike Reggie Bullock at the beginning of Saturday’s contest.
Reggie Bullock starts Knicks game with wrong number on back of jersey: https://t.co/pgVylRkQsN— NY Daily News Sports (@NYDNSports) December 27, 2020
The starting five was as follows: Elfrid Payton, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson. It was Randle who carried New York for most of the night, as Barrett struggled mightily and everyone else except for Mitchell Robinson and Alec Burks was downright bad.
Early on, Randle was rocking, hitting each of his first three shots and leading the Knicks to a hot start. But Philly kept calm, and ultimately caused Tom Thibodeau to call his first timeout only four minutes into the first quarter, with the Knicks up 10-8. Thibs loves that quick timeout.
Behind Randle and Burks, who scored 11 and 9 points in the first quarter, respectively, the Knicks played steady basketball through the first 12 minutes. At the end of the period, the score was tied 27-27.
The second quarter represented an opportunity for Dennis Smith Jr. to run the show with fellow benchman Nerlens Noel. It was an opportunity he would squander. DSJ and Noel were like an off, off Broadway show. Sure, it was taking place in New York, but nobody wanted to see it.
Midway through the second quarter, the score was tied 40-40, and Randle was doing stuff like this.
Julius Randle, the playmaker?! pic.twitter.com/Cd2inb67fG— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) December 27, 2020
That play was immediately followed up by a Robinson steal that resulted in a fast break dunk, and suddenly a 9-0 run had the Knicks up by five.
DEFENSE IS YOUR BEST OFFENSE pic.twitter.com/BT7If6YDIm— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) December 27, 2020
Robinson’s first foul of the evening came with 5:45 to play in the first half. He would end the half with three fouls. He’d also end the game with three fouls! Coincidentally, Mitch’s first foul marked the start of a slide for New York. The 76ers soon went on their own 11-0 run to go up by six. At the half, it was 60-55 Philly.
The 76ers came out sharper than the Knicks in the second half, going up 10 after a few minutes. Before long, the lead had ballooned to 16. The Knicks never completely let go of the rope, but their efforts certainly won’t get them into a tug-of-war contest. At one point, Mike Breen noted that the Knicks had as many turnovers as field goals in the third quarter (6 apiece). By the end of the period, the Knicks were down 86-69, RJ Barrett was 1-13 from the floor, and bloggers were beginning to think about which band they should incorporate into the first sentence of their recap.
You can’t sugarcoat a pile of crap and convince someone it’s candy. The Knicks sucked tonight, and in the end this goes down as a 20-point blowout as the team falls to 0-2 on the season. But another year, this might have wound up a 40-point loss. Who says you can’t try to look on the bright side, even when you’re locked in a pitch black room?
> Barrett was bad, but this sort of thing will happen to the 20-year-old sophomore. Overall, he looks much improved this year. Tonight’s stat line was mostly disgusting (10 points on 2-15 shooting, including 0-6 from three, plus 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 turnovers), but he did hit 6 of 8 free throws. Once again, we’re looking at bright sides in the dark.
> The only consistent offense came from Randle and Burks, who scored 25 and 22 points, respectively. Randle was mostly the good version of himself, hitting 11 of 15 shots (including 2-2 from deep) and adding 7 rebounds and 3 assists, plus 4 turnovers. Burks is the only player on the team showing a consistent ability to shoot from the outside. He shot 6-13, including 4-6 from beyond the arc.
> Besides a little flurry of fouls in quarter two, Robinson played quite well. He finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks, and was very active down low.
Mitch not giving up on the play pic.twitter.com/F5nhkT8w1B— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) December 27, 2020
> Let the record show that this Knox dunk happened, even if it didn’t matter at all:
> It was a balanced effort for Philly, led by Joel Embiid (27 points), and followed by Tobias Harris and Seth Curry (17 points each), plus Ben Simmons (15 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks).
> Payton and DSJ were both garbage. Honestly, just look up their numbers for yourself if you must.
> Despite getting absolute trash from the point guard position, Frank Ntilikina was kept chained to the bench until finally coming in with two minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the game already decided. So much for the theory that Thibs was giving DSJ all the minutes tonight and Frank all the minutes tomorrow against Milwaukee to keep everyone’s legs fresh or something.
Whatever’s going on with Ntilikina is weird, but at the same time, it’s up to him to show he deserves time on the floor. In two minutes tonight he recorded no stats, and the one shot he took was ugly.
The entire evening was summed up quite concisely by fomalhaut: ‘This game is not fun to watch.’
The Knicks are back in action against the Bucks at home Sunday night at 7:30. That one might be a schedule loss.