On Super Bowl Eve, the night before the day Americans celebrate fun over sustainability, the Knicks upset the Indiana Pacers 92-85 in Indianapolis. Marcus Morris and Julius Randle combined to take 43% of the team’s shots, higher than the rate LeBron James and Anthony Davis put up for the Lakers. While that level of inequality isn’t sustainable, it worked on this night, with Morris hitting difficult fadeaways after impossible turnarounds and Randle providing just enough of a threat to keep the Pacers from throwing five guys at Mo.
Indiana entered the game third in the league shooting from the field (48%), third from downtown (37%) and seventh from the free throw line (79%). New York held them to 42/33/62. The Knicks didn’t shoot well either, but this was the rare instance of the Knicks winning a game in part because of their free throw acumen, in this case meaning a respectable 74%. The Knicks had two more attempts and four more makes. In a game that was anybody’s late, that qualifies as huge.
The ‘bockers dominated the opening frame, leading by as many as 14 while holding the Pacers to just 11 points, the fewest they’ve allowed in any quarter this season. Randle grabbed nine rebounds in the first quarter alone, more than any player on either team did all night. The lead rose as high as 17 in the second. Considering they were without RJ Barrett, Frank Ntilikina and the suspended Elfrid Payton, even when the lead started shrinking in the third the vibe was still pretty positive. Speaking of pretty:
Indiana was cold all night but got hot from deep in the third to pull to within one, even taking their first (and only) lead at the start of the fourth after a Myles Turner three-ball. On some nights this is where the Knicks go all Glass Joe. They take a punch and slink away. On this night the Knicks took the hit, tasted their own blood, snorted and took the fight to the Pacers, scoring six straight after that Turner trey and never trailing again. Dennis Smith Jr. — yes, that Dennis Smith Jr. — hit a few jumpers to help rebuild a buffer.
New York was up one when Doug McDermott blew past a fake handoff from Domantas Sabonis, used his screen to get a step on Damyean Dotson, took the perfectly placed bounce pass in the paint and went in full-bore for a dunk. But Bobby Portis — yes, Bobby Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo Portis — met McBuckets at the rim for the climactic block. It didn’t erase Hibbert/Melo, but if petty victories are all you can afford, you celebrate the petty like you’re Louis XIV.
The Portis block helped prompt a nearly five-minute scoreless stretch for the home team. With the Knicks up two and in possession, Randle nearly lost the ball but not his wits, finding Reggie Bullock cutting underneath to put New York up 84-80. Indiana called timeout, Malcolm Brogdon missed a jumper, Morris hit a tough fadeaway over Justin Holiday and followed that with a pull-up as the shot clock neared its end. During Indiana’s cold streak the Knicks turned a tie game into an eight-point lead.
It seemed this one was in the bag after Brogdon missed a wiiiide-open corner three with a minute left and the Knicks up six. But Morris missed a jumper and inexplicably fouled Sabonis when Son of Arvydas was ahead of the field for a dunk; with the free throw, the Pacers pulled within three. But then Morris hit another jumper off a curl play. THAT’S RIGHT. THE KNICKS DREW UP A LATE-AND-CLOSE ACTION BESIDES “GIVE IT TO THAT ONE GUY AND LET HIM ISO.” Mike Woodson must be turning over in his grave. Comfortably, though. Tombs is big, man.
- The Knicks dominated the offensive (14-4) and defensive glass (43-30), led by 18 rebounds from Randle.
- Smith’s shot isn’t there. It may never be. Even his makes were clunky rattlers. He did a fine job dribble penetrating and setting up others. Even when he misses, the attention he draws opens up finishes for teammates.
If Dennis could start making his layups that would be sick pic.twitter.com/KOxHxdfHMh— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 2, 2020
After months of watching Elfrid Payton avoid contact and miss or Frank Ntilikina neither drive nor draw fouls, DSJ is a bit of a refreshing change. Imagine a gas station bathroom someone just went #2 in. Now imagine that bathroom with some potpourri in there. That’s Smith right now.
- Over their last eight games, the Knicks have given up 90, 86, 100, 118, 97, 97, 127 and 85. That’s 100 per, 11 points below their season’s average. Take away the Memphis game and that’s 96 per game over their last seven. You tell me what it means.
- Indiana made it a point to pressure Kadeem Allen fullcourt whenever they scored. The kid handled it every time.
- Allen hitting a lefty running floater may be the most surprising moment of the season.
Dotson busting out a Eurostep reverse lay-up that forced the baseline ref into a pirouette is a dark horse contender.
- It was legit laugh-out-loud funny late in the game watching T.J. McConnell dribble at Mitchell Robinson and circle around hopelessly, clearly terrified of even trying to get off a look.
- Good two-part trivia from MSG: who was the last Knick to play 82 games in a season? And who’s the only Knick to appear in every game this season?
- Anytime Sabonis misses a shot against the Knicks, I’m a little shook.
- I don’t know how Clyde Frazier interprets the story of the prodigal son. But Victor Oladipo ain’t it. Being gone for a while and then returning does not a prodigal son make.
- The parabola on Myles Turner’s three-pointers is among the league’s most entrancing visuals. Reminds me of Darryl Strawberry home runs.
- The Knicks won the opening tip. As soon as they got into their first possession, the Pacer fans were chanting “De-fense!” God do I miss the Knicks having rivalries and big games.
- Because of the ‘90s, I’m always desperate to win any game against Indiana. I was more vocal and voluminous than usual in the fourth, and my fiancee did not know what to make of it. If the Knicks ever make the playoffs again, she may leave me.
- Rebecca Harlow broke the news that RJ Barrett will play in the Rising Stars Game during the All-Star weekend.
- I wonder what McConnell’s favorite sandwich is.
- On this date in 2009:
11 years ago.— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 2, 2020
Kobe. 61. MSG. pic.twitter.com/I897sb3Qm6
- Trivia answer: Justin Holiday and Bobby Portis.
- On the subject of Indiana basketball, my favorite actor turned 92 last week. He played Coach Normal Dale in Hoosiers and was consistently brilliant in any number of roles over a half-century, but he’ll always be Lex Luthor to me. Keep on keeping on, Gene.
Quoth HaveATaco: “Just enjoy the moment.” Do that. There may be more moments like this ahead: the Knicks’ next game is tomorrow at Cleveland; their five remaining games before the All-Star break are all against losing teams, whereas six of their first eight afterwards are against playoff teams. You should try to enjoy every moment, but maybe try harder than usual the next 10 days. Peace.