Last night the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards staged a 23-man reenactment of the fight scenes from every Rocky movie: zero defense, haymaker after haymaker, and enough momentum swings to leave the viewer punchdrunk, too.
The Wiz raced out to a 9-0 lead and were up 18-4 in less than four minutes, leading Mike “Mickey” Miller to throw in the towel and pull all five starters. The gambit paid off: led by 22 first-quarter points from Frank Ntilikina and Bobby Portis, the Knicks stormed back. Radicalized Portis is a sight to behold: blocking shots, forcing turnovers, looking to pass, actually passing. Whatever’s the opposite of Waterloo, this was it. This was Bobby’s Oolretaw.
Bobby Portis gets around Bertans and throw down the one-handed HAMMER pic.twitter.com/JEv7Ol8J9G— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 10, 2020
Meanwhile, Mista Ntilikina Mista Frank Ntilikina put up a first half line resembling a decent full game’s output for him. Between those two and Reggie Bullock eschewing the long range for drives and cuts (someone let Wayne Ellington know that’s a thing you can do), the Knicks engineered a 30-point swing before the break, leading by as many as 16. It’s not an exaggeration to say that stretch led by the bench was as good as the team has looked all season.
Alternatively, a not-brief tangent:
My better angels have fallen from grace, and I fear I’ve long-term lost my shit when it comes to Julius Randle. I’ve tried to understand him on a human level all season, but it’s impossible not to watch him play and conclude that this season, this Randle on this roster = incorrigibly selfish. Last night’s Moment of Ignorance (the opposite of Zen, as far as I can tell) came at the 4:20 mark of the second quarter (perhaps the first time I’ve ever associated those numbers with anything negative): Mitchell Robinson blocked a Troy Brown Jr. shot. The ball came down between Randle and Bullock, so naturally Randle, who is not a guard, claimed it and sashayed up the floor. RJ Barrett had sprinted ahead of the field and was open. Seeing as how RJ is not Randle BFF Elfrid Payton, there was either neither recognition or interest in passing it up to him. As Randle got up to the three-point line, Barrett called for the ball on the post; he had Shabazz Napier, a half-foot shorter and 27 pounds lighter, on his back. Randle SWUNG THE BALL AWAY FROM BARRETT TO THE TOP OF THE ARC, to —you guessed it — Payton. A benevolent reader might speculate that Napier was fronting RJ, so perhaps Randle’s pass was meant for Payton to follow with one straight down the lane, where Barrett would have Napier on his back. Nope. Napier was on his back the whole time. Payton did lob it in to RJ, who drew a foul when Napier tried to jump from behind and steal it. Had Napier held his position, Washington had three defenders all in range to swarm Barrett.
OK. Back to our feature presentation.
The Knicks were gloriously unselfish. They had more assists in the first half than the entire Detroit game; the ball was moving like an army brat. New York put up 39 in the second quarter, their highest-scoring 2Q of the season. The refs were the worst kind of activist judges, calling 34 first-half fouls and sending the teams to the line 44 times. But that couldn’t last, right? The Knicks were up 16. The bench was banging. The starters couldn’t possibly repeat their early-game suckitude. Washington is a one-man band. What could go wrong?
The refs kept whistling. The starters opened the second half looking like the 1919 White Sox. And as solo acts go, Bradley Beal is pretty easy on the ears. He scored 15 in the third while the Knicks committed 10 turnovers, creating a 20-point swing within the quarter. With the game tied at the end of the frame, Bullock decided to dribble out the last second rather than take a halfcourt three, reminding the viewers that in addition to coronavirus, Dennis Smith Jr. Disease is also highly contagious.
Davis Bertans was off from deep most of the night, but the Beltway Steve Novak hit one early in the fourth and then drew a foul on Ellington attempting another. New York was subsisting mainly on Mitch dunks by then, making Miller’s decision to bench him with 8:40 left in a one-point game...interesting. On Washington’s first possession after that they got an offensive rebound and scored in the paint. Brown Jr. hit a 3 to push their lead to double-digits. Beal stayed hot, pouring in 11 in the final frame en route to 39. The Knicks’ last stand was no more than the prelude to the fall. Straight outta Clubber Lang.
- Plus/minus is often meaningless. But like a baseball player with 170 RBIs, some numbers can’t be dismissed. Ntilikina was +22 in his first 13 minutes of action, and that +22 was, as the French say, le-GIT. He looked frisky and fancy free, with his dribble, his probing, his shooting — all of it. Check out this sequence: pushing up the floor, he sees Robinson break behind the last defender, Moritz Wagner. Recognizing Wagner will fall back to contest Mitch, Frank pushes all the way to the basket. He saw that space was opening before it had. That’s not a play he makes his first two years.
- In the 18 minutes Ntilikina sat, the Knicks were outscored by 24.
- This was just the second double-double of Frank’s career and his fourth-ever game of 10+ assists. He got the line six times and even drew his first technical foul of the season. Cash that check proudly, zebras.
- The teams finished to combine for 72 combined FTs and 54 fouls. There were three video reviews in the final two minutes. The NBA: it’s fan-tastic.
- Washington outscored New York by 15 from the foul line and 18 beyond the arc. A moral victory for Team Midrange. I’m ready to call it: I don’t think Phil Jackson is the problem.
- After the Wiz were called for a defensive three-second violation. Randle endorsed Frank taking the tech, which was not the case earlier in the year. Natch right as I insisted to my skeptical fiancee that this was right and fair, Ntilikina missed. Still. Sometimes the thought’s what counts.
- Most players shoot better when they have more time to shoot. Most offenses are designed to try and get shooters as much time as they can before launching. The less time Ellington has, the more accurate he seems to be. When Wayne takes a handoff and goes right up with it, I feel good. When he takes a sec to set up, my eyes drift to the paint and who’s there for the rebound.
- Beal used to look a little like a miniature version of Carmelo Anthony. Something Delonte West has been happening to his face this season. You either see this or you don’t.
- Consider the Wizards. They owe John Wall, who’s played 71 games the past three seasons combined, $130M over the next three (the third year includes a player option for a smidge under $47M, when Wall will be 32. He’s picking that up). Beal is owed $100M over that same time, also with a player option in 2022-23 for $37M. They’re ninth in the East, 5.5 games out of the playoffs, likely to draft around #15 in the first round. Would you rather be a Wizards fan or a Knicks fan heading into this summer?
- A fan’s drink spilled on the sideline onto the court. As it was being cleaned, Mike Breen and Clyde Frazier spoke about how much more common that’s become. “[Drinks] should come with the price of a ticket,” Clyde said. After a beat, Breen gave a knowing, “Easy, now,” and both men laughed. It reminded me of an MSG holiday special in the 1990s featuring Marv Albert, John Andariese, Al Trautwig and others, where someone pulled out a knife to carve a turkey and either Albert or Johnny Hoops made a subtle crack about people in the company being knifed in the back. If only you knew, Marv.
- The fiancee wondered why baseline camera people gotta sit all game. Can’t we give them a chair?
Quoth No Ds and DNPs: “Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank Frank (that’s 20 Franks).” I can’t argue with that. If you tried to take anything else from a 20-45 team losing a March road game to a 24-40 team, you’re either deeper or sadder than I. Next game is tonight in Atlanta. Frank vs. Trae. RJ vs. Cam. Mitch vs. Collins. Things are already more exciting.