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Hornets 107, Knicks 101 “Nothing Knicksier than a completely unforced turnover on a key possession”

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The Knicks squeaked their way to a loss in Charlotte

New York Knicks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

On the first night of a back-to-back, the Knicks traveled to Charlotte. The Hornets were on the second night of a back-to-back of their own. Advantage Knicks, right? Lol, nah.

These are the Knicks who rarely do what they should or what’s expected of them. As another season inexorably ticks down to its merciful end — allowing us to laugh at the misfortune of other teams, delight in their fans’ schadenfreude and talk ourselves into next season’s surefire turnaround — the Knicks still refuse to deviate from the course they’ve charted, which has led to 17 wins in 58 games.

That means Elfrid Payton was immediately thrust back into the starting lineup and played the entire fourth quarter off of an injury. It means the Knicks fielded a starting lineup with not even one credible shooting threat. It means they always have to play two bigs together in 2020. It means Mitchell Robinson still cannot be entrusted to start games. It means a lot of things, most of which, after 58 games of relative ineptitude, are grating, to say the least.

Oh. The game. Right.

Both teams held serve for most of the first half, as they matched missed punch for missed punch over the first 21 minutes. Then, right before the half, the Knicks took a nap and allowed offensive frustrations to bleed over into their effort on the opposite end, as they conceded an 11-1 run which saw the Hornets open up a 56-46 halftime lead on a spattering of open threes.

The second half played out much the same. The Knicks quickly closed the gap to three, but Charlotte eventually pushed it back out to as much as 13, before the deficit was reduced to 10 by the end of the third quarter. The fourth quarter played out as so many have over the years. The Knicks valiantly attempted to turn the game around, but at critical points they turned the ball over or missed a key shot, and every time they did, Charlotte seemed to stumble into enough competence of their own to push the lead back out.

A missed Allonzo Trier (yes, he played) triple from the corner with a chance to tie the game with just over a minute left felt like a complete killer, but, lo and behold, the Knicks were able to get a stop, as Elf stole the ball from Devonte’ Graham. The Knicks had numbers in their favor as Elf pushed the ball up the floor. He had the chance to either get to the rim or swing to a wide-open Trier for a three; instead, he chose to pull the ball out, give the Hornets a chance to get back on defense, and then got stripped by Terry Rozier.

On the ensuing possession, Scary Terry made a circus reverse layup over the outstretched arms of Mitch, followed by Elf taking inspiration from his BFFL, Julius Randle, and dribbling the ball off his dick foot out of bounds. Ball game.

Notes:

  • RJ Barrett touched the ball for the first time three minutes into the game. In the first nine minutes he touched the ball three times total, and had one shot and assist. When he came back in, he was chucking — poorly. I don’t blame him. For most of the season, the Knicks who have preached a steadfast commitment to development, yet have have empowered Elf-and-Randle buddy ball with RJ asked to space the floor to service that effort. Fuck that noise.
  • Coming out of Duke, one of the primary knocks on Barrett was his perimeter shooting. One of the primary reasons to believe in his upside as a scorer and creator was how improved NBA spacing would benefit him. Almost predictably, the Knicks have leaned on his worst ability to come to the forefront while minimizing his best abilities on-ball. RJ has almost exclusively played as a two-guard and mostly in lineups with, at best, one credible shooting threat on the floor. Payton has been empowered to yo-yo with the ball constantly. Ditto for Randle. This is how we’ve chosen to spend the year “developing” our prized third overall pick. If you think that’s been worth something to his (and the franchise’s) future, well, let’s just agree to disagree.
  • I’m convinced there’s a dick-measuring contest going on between the Elf/Randle duo and RJ, with the former two conspiring to freeze him out. On three occasions in the first quarter, Elf ignored RJ on wide-open swings and instead went elsewhere with the rock. Grundle routinely refuses to kick out to him even when faced with triple teams. For his part, yesterday RJ certainly seemed to have had enough. Twice in a row in the third quarter after he pulled down defensive rebounds he ignored Elf’s pleas to immediately get him the ball and brought it up himself with positive results. Rumble, young man, rumble.
  • Clyde was off the Henny last night. He described Julius Randle as a juggernaut after a block despite a largely uninspired and insipid performance. Additionally, after Dennis Smith Jr. hit a couple of jumpers, he said he had it going despite finishing 4-12 from the field for a grand total of nine points.
  • Speaking of DSJ, it really is nice to see him moving like the elite athlete he is. He showed his burst to get to the rim a few times and even had the type of monster dunk we expected to see much more of this season. I thought he was alright, which is two alright performances in a row for him — a genuine improvement. Still, he really struggles to get the team organized offensively, and too often he chases offensive rebounds, which allows for easy transition buckets the other way when his gamble doesn’t pay off. I don’t know. Keep putting him out there, but I definitely worry for the kid.
  • Count how many times Julius Grendel will pretend to go set a screen, slip it way too early, and duck into the post pleading for the ball. Drink each time. You’ll have a nice buzz going by the end of the first quarter. His refusal to kick out no matter the circumstance once he’s anywhere near the hoop is also infuriating. The Knicks really dumped Enes Kanter to sign the more highlight-friendly version of him for a guaranteed two years.
  • Kevin Knox showed some signs yesterday. His defense genuinely does seem better, even if he still struggles to chase guys around screens with any effectiveness. Offensively he’s still a basket case. He had a nice layup and floater in the first half, but has zero confidence in his 3-point shot at the moment, and he had a truly horrific turnover in the fourth trying to force a pass to Mitch, when he had an open invitation for a layup. It was Frank-esque. Don’t sleep on him throwing the two best Knicks passes of the night to corner three-point shooters, though. It’s something. Let me have it.
  • I’m a known ISO Zo hater, but I’ve never doubted the talent. It’s there. You don’t score like he can score without talent. What I’ve always been skeptical of is whether he’s interested in trying to help the team in any way other than grinding things to a halt every time he gets the ball as a tribute to James Harden. I don’t know if it will sustain, but yesterday was one of the most mature Zo performances we’ve seen to date. Of course, his primary value will always be his scoring ability, but it was channeled appropriately. There weren’t a string of possessions where the ball stuck with him as soon as he touched it. He was engaged defensively. Yes, he almost certainly got away with one of his patented flailing elbows, but the guy who played yesterday is certainly more deserving of minutes than Reggie Bullock, and should be included in the rotation for the time being.
  • This may have been the most disciplined, mature performance of Mitchell Robinson’s career to date. Not his best or most spectacular, but one in which the foundation was the type of excellence that’s sustainable, not just good for House of Highlights videos (R.I.P. Dawkins). Sure, he got stupidly worked on BillyWilly’s pump-fake three and drive in the fourth, but other than that, it was all very sustainable. His blocks weren’t because he was trying to recover for being a half-step late on a rotation, it’s because he was exactly where he should be. He didn’t reach in for no reason when guys drove at him. He boxed out with zeal on the defensive glass, and while his screens weren’t exactly monstrous, he avoided the illegal moving ones which have plagued him. Only one foul in 30 minutes. More of that, please.
  • Bobby Portis had a good game yesterday, mostly because he was on fire from mid-range. Whatever. I’ll take it.
  • If Grundle and Porpoise aren’t going anywhere, then it’s time to start Mitch, and get Taj out of the rotation unless he’s in foul trouble. This would allow the Knicks to experiment with smaller, single big lineups and get more minutes for the younger guys in the perimeter rotation.
  • In that vein, Damyean Dotson getting DNP’d is a fucking clown show.
  • Mike Miller’s done a good job, but this current rotation is a fucking abomination. His reliance on Payton for the entire fourth — right off an injury, where he looked a bit off the pace — was crazy, and at least indirectly led to those crunch time turnovers. I’m happy he holds the young guys accountable for lazy defense and selfish offensive play. I’m less thrilled there’s a tangible difference in the standard he holds rookie-scale contract players to compared to the more expensive vets. If anything, I’d say the defensive effort and offensive togetherness is more consistent with the younger dudes.
  • Frank Ntilikina (48.3 TS%), Elfrid Payton (45.8 TS%) and DSJ (39.9 TS%). That’s all.
  • One thing I truly enjoy is Terry Rozier morphing into Russell Westbrook every time he faces the Knicks. I was worried that after Mike Dunleavy Jr. retired, we didn’t have a consistent non-descript Knick killer in the league, but I can rest easy now.
  • I still can’t get over how fucking awful Elf’s closing stretch was. On top of the two turnovers, he also bizarelly fouled Graham 35 feet from the hoop when they were in the bonus. Just awful.

Quoth No Ds and DNPs “Nothing Knicksier than a completely unforced turnover on a key possession.” No there’s not. We get to do this again tonight! Against a depleted Philadelphia 76ers team that will definitely be without Ben Simmons, and could well be without Joel Embiid also. Get pumped!