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Knicks 105, Magic 103: “Three in a row”

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We don’t need no stinkin’ Morris.

Orlando Magic v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

During one rocky stretch, I lived at five different addresses over nine months, covering more than 1000 miles. I crashed on comically-small couches and broken sofa beds until finally the day came when I could move into my own place. A friend said they’d help me unload the 20-foot moving truck, a godsend with the apartment being on the third floor of a house so high atop a hill you needed oxygen tanks to complete the steep and narrow stairway to the top. I pulled up to the house near midnight, when my friend said he’d be free after work. If you’ve ever moved, you know where this is headed.

The friend flaked. Never heard from him, that night or since. I was looking at unloading the entire truck by myself, one load at a time, up and down the infinite incline. Another, better friend ended up coming by to help. It took us till 5 a.m. to empty the truck; by the end my calves felt god-like. The last thing we moved in was a couch I’d received right before the nine months of madness and immediately had to put in storage. That night I crashed on that couch and nearly wept. It was soft as a cloud. It was my couch in my place. I could exhale. For a little while, I was where I was gonna be.

The Knicks beat the Orlando Magic 105-103 hours after trading Marcus Morris to the L.A. Clippers. While their talent level was lessened, there was an energy to them that may have been tied to most of the remaining roster having survived swirling trade rumors in the days or weeks leading up to the trade deadline. Knowing you’re where you’re gonna be and not having to worry about packing up and starting over somewhere new is a helluva drug. With the win, New York pulled within six games of Orlando for the eighth and final playoff spot. You scoff? There’s 30 games left and no clear-cut franchise player in this June’s draft. I’ll dream postseason dreams as long as I can before my heart strains to pump us up for clips of R.J. Hampton against the Adelaide 36ers.

Like a public park pervert, the Knicks were feeling themselves all over early in the action. Elfrid Payton had four steals in the first quarter; the Knicks were forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. This may be the first time in Mitchell Robinson’s career that he finished a fast break keyed by a shot blocked by someone other than himself.

Soon after Julius Randle also stuffed Aaron Gordon going — or trying to go — strong to the iron. Easy twos negate the need to risk threes, so the Knicks were up 11 entering the second despite only having attempted (and missed) one shot beyond the arc.

Like any survivor of a Texas funeral, Orlando fought and clawed to get out of the hole they’d dug for themselves, and nearly did before the break, cutting the gap to three before it leapt back to seven after an RJ Barrett three-point play and Nikola Vučević tech for punching the stanchion after the foul call. RJ called for the T and applauded the ref after whistling it, part of the rook’s general assisting of others in the opening half. Three dimes in his first game since missing nine with an ankle sprain.

Like any Hollywood blockbuster, our heroes had to get down before they could get up. The Magic re-took the lead midway through the third, led by a Vučević scoring burst that remind you the Magic have a guy putting up better than 20 and 11 the past couple seasons. If Vučević was Shredder, Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross were Bebop and Rocksteady.

Like any good schmear, the Magic’s lead spread: after an Evan Fournier pair of free throws and a three-pointer, they were up 10 with nine minutes left. The Knicks won the two games before this one thanks to coming up clutch. Morris had a lot to do with that. Before this one could be late-and-close, it hadda stop being so outta reach. Cometh the hour, cometh the Wayne.

Taj Gibson scored two of his season-high tying 19 to cut it to 1, then blocked the bigger Vučević’s shot from behind. Gordon gathered a Michael Carter-Williams deflection and went full-court for the stuff. A Payton three tied it at 96 just past the midpoint of the final frame, then he collected his sixth of eight steals after Markelle Fultz picked up his dribble and spent 4-5 seconds pivoting around looking for someone to pass to. Payton-to-Gibson was an unexpectedly rich vein of offense late in this one.

Like a one-time sitcom star doing whatever they can to keep their star alight, Payton’s place has been everywhere of late — the scoring column, the glass, the defensive end — and that again the case. One praiseworthy moment that won’t make the box score came with about two minutes left, with Payton running to close out the wide-open Gordon but not selling out 100%, keeping himself in position to contest after Gordon pumped and then fired from deep. He helped guide the team to a definitive 17-4 run late.

Orlando had the ball in the last 10 seconds down two, but Fournier dribbling up the floor and trying to create something with Payton, Randle and Gibson all around him didn’t work out any better than it sounds like it would. Elfrid was credited with his eighth steal, one off the club record set by Micheal Ray Richardson, and the Knicks were credited with their third straight victory.

Like an American July, the happenings went down during the fourth. The Knicks outscored the Magic 29-20, doubling Orlando’s field goals and three-pointers in the quarter. For the game New York was outscored by 22 on threes and ones, but hit 12 more twos to earn the W. At least eight of the 11 Knicks who played tonight were rumored to be part of some trade(s). Don’t sleep on how energizing it is to know you can lay your head in the same place for a while after being uncertain for a while.

Notes:

  • Six Knicks in double-figures. It was gonna take a group effort to pull this one out. Great job, group.
  • 12 for Ellington, one off his Knick high.
  • If you thought the Morris trade meant the Knick halflings were ready to run free, Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox combining to miss 11 of 12 shots must’ve pinched a little.
  • Smith drew oohs a couple times for his dribbling and had a defiant sendback of a MCW turnaround. He may not be executing like he’s shown he can at his best, but the confidence is definitely more evident from game to game.
  • Terrence Ross with the high-energy performance. Crashing the boards, throwing down baseline, drawing contact while rolling toward the top of the arc for three. That cat’s kinetic.
  • Mike Breen pointed out that after missing 19 straight threes, Randle attempted just one. A good look on Orange Julius.
  • Who is the Knicks’ second-best player?
  • RJ feasting at the free-throw line (nine attempts, one fewer than the rest of the team combined) was sooo nice to see.
  • Would you re-sign Payton this summer? For how much?
  • Mo Bamba grew up two miles from where my grandmother lived in Harlem. Give. At some point in his career, just give.
  • There’s something visually arresting about watching Robinson close out on Bamba shooting a three.
  • Later in the game, Bamba had a chance to post Robinson, but after a few aimless dribbles passed the ball and the moment away. If you were lucky enough to witness Patrick Ewing vs. Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal, and later Shaq vs. Yao Ming — Bamba’s concession was a sad state of affairs.
  • There’s some part of my brain that watches Randle embarking on life without Morris and dreams of fan fiction where Carmelo Anthony never signed his first extension with the Knicks, Amar’e Stoudemire never fell apart, and STAT got to have the Knick run he looked set for those first few fun months of 2011-12.
  • If you’re as tired as I am of the name “Wilpon,” there was joy to be taken from Darry Strawberry and Willie Randolph being at MSG last night. Regarding Strawberry, who he’d seen before the game, Breen said “My hand still hurts from his handshake.” Clyde, admiringly: “Looks like he could still go out and hit a few right now.”
  • Will Scott Perry ever hold a single solitary press conference while working for the Knicks? What’s the record for the longest a general manger in pro sports has gone with hosting a presser?
  • After describing the pace as “kaleidoscopic,” Clyde said: “Hey, Mike, whatever happened to the kaleidoscope, man?” From the laughter and banter that followed I gathered Clyde maybe used to endorese kaleidoscopes. You know, ‘cuz “kaleid-” and “Clyde”? Later in the broadcast MSG created a “Clyde-O-Scope” feature, replete with Clyde-patterns and heads in a kaleidoscope pattern on the TV screen. Grateful to have lived to see that.
  • The Knicks are now 12-18 under Mike Miller, a .400 winning percentage that projects to a 33-win season.

Quoth cctoastt: “Three in a row, two against playoff teams.” The Knicks soar for four Saturday in Detroit. I tried checking to see when they last won three straight road games, and currently the info I have says it was 2014, though that doesn’t seem possible. Best thing to do is beat the Pistons and then we can all agree never to forget the time the Knicks won three straight road games in 2020.