Late one October afternoon many moons ago, I went on my first date since a bad breakup five months earlier. Nothing came of it. I met a girl at a park, we walked and talked for a while, hugged and left. I never saw her again. It was an unseasonably warm day in late autumn, incredibly windy, but pleasant because of the warmth. As I took my last few steps before turning the corner where she was waiting, I told myself “Remember this feeling. The warmth. The wind. Remember breathing again.”
The Knicks blew an eight-point lead in the last 90 seconds of the first overtime and lost in double OT, 140-135 to the Atlanta Hawks. They entered the game on a four-game winning streak, having climbed within five games of the eight-seed. Atlanta is one of just a handful of teams in the Association behind New York in the standings. I wanted this win. Badly.
My fiancee walked out in the first OT because she couldn’t deal with how tense the game was, or my mood swings. The Knicks lost, but feeling those feelings for the first time in years — coming into a game wanting it bad enough to feel robbed rather than resigned; hating the refs because on this night instead of the lottery or the draft or free agency, it’s all about these 48 (or 58) minutes; of pain in your neck ‘cuz for once you’re craning to look up in the standings rather than down — is like breathing again.
I get it: losses equal ping pong balls; ping pong balls impact the game of chance that goes into the game of chance of landing a teenager who teams play a game of chance with waiting to see what they turn into 4-5 years down the road. I’ve seen the Knicks down three going into the fourth quarter of game 7 of the NBA Finals. I can’t even imagine what it’d feel like to see them get back someday and win it all.
If contending for titles was what it’s all about, I’d have found better use of my time a looong time ago than watching this team. Context is queen. I want to care again. To feel. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but if you’re flat on your back and cut off from your senses, it’s not about walking. It’s about getting undead. Mission accomplished, Knicks.
Julius Randle and Reggie Bullock were awesome and awesomer in the opening quarter: JR nearly posted a triple-double and Bullock hit three threes en route to 11 points. The Knicks led by 15 early in the second after consecutive hoops from Bobby Portis. But unlike the insipid Mr. Collins of Hunsford Park, Mr. John Collins of the 30303 was inspired, scoring points like the Knicks were giving them away, which they often were.
2️⃣0️⃣ first half points for JC!— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 10, 2020
Presented by @verizon pic.twitter.com/Lmu5iq6GMV
The Hawks began commanding the offensive glass. Trae Young started making threes from 35 feet out, weaving his way to the basket and firing quick, one-step-ahead passes to teammates. What a gifted offensive player.
❄️Poetry in motion ❄️ pic.twitter.com/bYynGG1xyg— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 10, 2020
We’ll get to why he sucks later. The point is the Hawks scored 20 in the first and 41 in the second. A 7-0 Knicks run to close the half made it a two-point game. It should’ve been closer than that, but somehow the NBA, which practically publicly masturbates to the idea that it’s so progressive and ahead of the times, is still a league where a player can cynically foul a player there’s no way of stopping and the rules reward these troglodytes. Frank wuz robbed.
FRANK NTILIKINA pic.twitter.com/xrNWc7L9V1— Knicks France (@KnicksFrance) February 10, 2020
The zebras called a clear-path foul, erasing the dunk and giving the Knicks two free throws and the ball. Frank missed one, which you could see coming, as he was looking around seemingly discombobulated and not focused. Be like fútbol, baloncesto: award Ntilikina the dunk, then give him two free throws to try and make one and the Knicks retain possession.
In the third Young and Kevin Huerter fueled a 10-0 run to put the Hawks up 83-71. Both teams were guilty of turning the ball over too much, but only one team’s dribble penetration kept breaking down the Knick defense and it wasn’t the Knicks. Atlanta was up 11 entering the fourth and pushed it to 16 after a Dewayne Dedmon three. But the Knick comebacks have been fast and furious of late, and was once more.
Wayne Ellington’s Fourth Quarter Wonder Emporium continued its nationwide tour. The pride of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania was hot AF.
Wayne Ellington this quarter pic.twitter.com/938OI5plVf— The BenchWarmer (@BenchWarmerPost) February 10, 2020
Also known as:
More 3s plz pic.twitter.com/bzw6Wo4XKu— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 10, 2020
Wayne warming up pic.twitter.com/uPcgbybpLD— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 10, 2020
OK WAYNE pic.twitter.com/YVinAMfLhP— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 10, 2020
The Knicks didn’t win, but their comeback was anything but fake. That was real red-in-tooth-and-nail-type shit. The brain spun tsunamis of spreadsheets substantiating the senselessness of hope, but the raw boy heart bled and strained. For one shining moment, Mitch had a much smaller human being on his back in the paint and Elfrid Payton lobbed it in to him for a slam that cut the deficit to two. In the final minute of regulation Randle drew a shooting foul and hit both free throws to tie the game. Care for a glimpse of a possible future where Robinson is free of foul trouble and on the court in late-and-close meaningful actions?
Mitch coming in clutch on defense to prevent the alley oop attempt pic.twitter.com/Q6NdzUhIe7— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 10, 2020
So it was off to overtime, where Ellington forced a turnover on the Hawks’ first possession and Payton took it the other way for a transition two, giving the Knicks their first lead since halftime. Young was drawing fouls pulling up 40+ feet from the basket and rimming shots out from 40+ feet out, but thankfully he wasn’t drawing shooting fouls or not-rimming out any shots.
Ellington hit another three, Payton forced Dedmon into a turnover and dished an Oscar-worthy dime to Bullock, Mitch blocked a Collins three and Payton drew a foul and hit both free throws — 48% free-throw shooter Elfrid Payton did that. Huerter turned it over overthrowing an alley-oop to Dedmon thanks to Robinson’s presence; on the Knicks’ next possession Mitch rebounded a Randle miss and drew a shooting foul, hitting the second free throw. The Knicks were up 126-118 with 1:30 left. All that was left was dotting some eyes and crossing some teas. Standard gumshoe paperwork. Case (virtually) closed. And then we were David Kujan in The Usual Suspects and reality Keyser Söze’d our collective keisters.
Up six with just over a minute left, the Knicks called time and drew up a play. The ball went to Payton, whom the Hawks pressured into passing. With five seconds on the shot clock, Ellington swung the ball all the way across the court against the run of the defense to Bullock, who could not have been more wide open behind the arc yet who swung it to Payton 45 feet from the hoop. The Knicks turned it over and in the blink of an eye Young scored on the other end. 126-122.
On the next possession, Ellington was open with 11 on the shot clock. He had three options:
1) Shoot. You’re a shooter. You’re hot. Shooters shoot.
2) Pass it to Mitch LITERALLY UNGUARDED UNDER THE HOOP.
3) Dribble to the hoop, drawing multiple Hawk defenders and pissing away Robinson’s advantage, then kick it out to Randle, who’ll force a drive late in the clock and get stuffed by Collins.
Door number three led to Young pushing the other way, missing a lay-up that Collins tipped in. 126-124.
The Hawks started pressing the Knick guards, which was probably to be expected, though apparently not by the Knicks. The offense regressed to the point that the Knicks weren’t merely missing shots, but missing in a manner where players tumbled out of bounds, giving the Hawks numbers the other way, like Being John Malkovich only if Malkovich was replaced with Emmanuel Mudiay. No one besides Payton would make a decision and the only decision Payton could settle on was “Randle? Here.” Then again, it’s easy to underestimate the Other’s awareness of their limitations. Payton attempted a scoring drive late in the overtime and literally traveled three times on the same move. Terrifying and wonderful to watch.
When asked recently if the Knicks would miss Marcus Morris “a lot,” Portis answered “Not really.” I miss him already. And yeah, I know, I know. Assets. Maximize value. Build for the future. Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky, little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same. Right now the pick the Knicks will get from the Clippers would be 25th. Here are the last five players picked in that slot: Nassir Little; Moritz Wagner; Anžejs Pasečņiks; Brice Johnson; Jarell Martin. Slow clap.
A pair of Young free throws tied things up and sent the game to double-OT. On the Knicks’ opening possession Payton found Robinson off a pick-and-roll; Mitch dunked and fouled Dedmon out on the play, but missed the free throw. That was the end of the good times. Not long after Mitch was running all over a defensive possession like a chicken with its head cut off, Randle’s carriage turned back into a pumpkin turnover, and Young...ahh, Young.
THAT'S OUR PG pic.twitter.com/Z2GPmutEI9— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 10, 2020
The Knicks couldn’t or wouldn’t run any looks for Ellington or Bullock. The offense flattened to Randle hero-ball or Payton trying to create light out of darkness, but Elfrid is no creator god. More a benevolent trickster.
New York was still in it, down three and defending with 15 seconds left, 10 on the shot clock, when Bullock fouled Young...who had his back to the hoop and was nearly at midcourt...dribbling away from the basket. The Knicks’ fight deserved a better death. But we don’t get to write our endings. All we can do is appreciate the warmth and the wind and being able to feel either.
- I honestly feel if the Knicks and Hawks ever meet in the playoffs Trae Young will be this era’s Reggie MIller for Knick fans. He’s that great a shooter, an infinitely superior dribbler and distributor and cut from a cloth that’s just as annoying. If a defender even glances at him he flops like it’s whiplash. Quoth the fiancee: “He’s an annoying little fucker.” I got pissed at so many calls he got and complained about not getting I had to go to my happy place of imagining how the 1992 Knicks would have addressed him.
- The Knicks entered last night having come back from double-digits three games in a row for the first time since 2010-11. They’ve now done it four games in a row. You wanna know the last time that happened? Then look it up. It’s 3:30 in the morning and this brain is running express. No local stops.
- Classic Frank line tonight: nine points, eight assists, two steals, one turnover, +10, and not enough minutes (26) to keep half the fanbase happy, even if those 26 minutes are the second-most he’s seen in a game under Mike Miller.
- Kevin Knox had some brutal turnovers and butt-ugly misses. That’s 20 of his last 23 games scoring single digits. Brazdeiwha? Brazdeiwho?
- Another tough one for RJ Barrett, thoroughly outplayed by fellow rookie lottery pick De’Andre Hunter.
- Payton’s as good as any Knick guard I’ve seen at just straight picking fools’ pockets. Pablo Prigioni was a master sneak, so his steal percentage was higher than Elf’s now. But Payton is the best I’ve seen at having these little flashes of what Kawhi Leonard projects in larger doses: moments where any ball relinquished anywhere near his person will be gakked.
Picked his pocket pic.twitter.com/Dc7GOWZcff— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) February 10, 2020
- Every time I see a guard pull back and prep to take Randle one-on-one in the void of space, I think “Uh-oh.” But Randle often accords himself well in those spots. In the history of Knick big men defenders, with Anthony Mason at one end of the spectrum and Enes Kanter on the other, Randle is...nowhere near Kanter.
Nothing easy with Julius pic.twitter.com/azrMDcoTmT— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) February 10, 2020
- The yelping “THREE!!!” call the Hawks’ P.A. guy makes gets so grating so quickly, especially with them taking a hundred a game.
- Would you trade Randle, Frank and this year’s first for Trae and Collins?
- Kenny Albert told a story about the time Vince Carter was a Maverick and threw a football 70 yards in the air. Props if you remember Browning Nagle, a quarterback the Jets drafted many moons ago who could throw the ball like 80 yards from his knees.
- When I’m struggling with Trae Young pissing me off, I imagine him with different players’ hairstyles. Picture Trae with Damyean Dotson’s hair. Or Ricky Rubio’s. Try it with retired players, too. Chris Kaman. There’s an imagine you can’t forget.
- Six years ago the 25th pick in the draft was Clint Capela. The year before that it was Reggie Bullock. Anything’s possible, anywhere.
Quoth jacoop: “Worst loss of the season...” Feels like it. But when you lose, don’t lose the lesson. The Knicks have one game left before the All-Star break this Wednesday when they host Washington. They’re either going into the break winners of five of six or on a losing streak. You watch. They decide.