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Hornets 109, Knicks 88: “Our offense is butthole”

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The ship be afloat, but morale be sinking.

NBA: New York Knicks at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

During the low years of the Isiah Thomas era, the Knicks were often referred to as “Team Titanic.” Today’s Knicks are more Team Lusitania — they have problems, but they’re less about hubris and more about outsiders targeting them. Last night the role of the U-boat was played by the Charlotte Hornets, who defeated the Knicks 109-88. They’ve won four straight while the Knicks are on a three-game slide. If you only have time for a one-sentence recap, here it is: as a team Charlotte put up a Steph Curry slash line (49% from the field, 41% on 3s, 87% at the line) while New York scored fewer than 90 points for the third straight game and the fifth time in 11.

You’ll find no moral philosophizing over this loss. The Knicks are likely a losing team even if they were at full strength all season, and they’re not. Austin Rivers replaced Reggie Bullock in the starting lineup with RB day-to-day with a hip injury. He joins Alec Burks, Frank Ntilikina and Obi Toppin on the injured list. Taj Gibson still hasn’t cleared the COVID protocol. After the Knicks lost to Oklahoma City, Tom Thibodeau warned against guys trying to do too much individually. Good news, and I mean that sincerely: they’re not breaking off into solo acts. Last night they mostly kept turning to each other. The problem was no Knick had the knack.

The Knicks opened by missing nine of their first 10 shots. The Hornets did not, which helped them get out to a 10-0 lead.

By the midpoint of the first it was 19-5. Knicks not named Julius Randle went most of the opening frame shutout from the field, and a lot of those misses came on good looks. The Hornets got up as many as 17, but after consecutive Kevin Knox 3s the game was back to a competitive margin.

Knox was the lone bright spot in a stygian first half, keying a 22-6 run by hitting from deep and getting out in transition, something the team failed to do even once in Sunday’s loss to Denver. Man, his shot is soooo pretty when it’s splashing.

For one moment in time, the Knicks even took the lead, thanks in large part to the bench scoring 21 of their first 42 points.

But then Immanuel Quickley got away with what should have been an eight-second violation, and like an old man trying to send back soup at a deli, the basketball gods were angry, my friends. As was the case Sunday, the Knicks couldn’t force any turnovers while they kept committing them. Charlotte was pressuring them fullcourt and the Knicks didn’t seem okay with it. Plus every time they got close, the Hornets would hit a 3 — or a few 3s. Plus Gordon Hayward scored 28 in the half, including dunking over Nerlens Noel.

Numerically speaking, the Knicks only trailed by seven at the half. But as the game went on it was clear both teams knew the ugly truth: outside of Knox, New York had no outside shooting, period. The Hornets went small, often with the 6’7” P.J. Washington at center, alternating him with the 6’8” Bismack Biyombo. That flustered Randle into his worst game of the year. Look for other teams to start going small(er) against him.

With Julius neutralized and no one cooking from deep, the Knicks’ offense suffocated. No one could drive without running into 4-5 defenders packing the paint; the ball would kick out, but everyone behind the arc was either too contested or too afraid to pull the trigger. Their best possession all night was Knox finding Mitchell Robinson from out of bounds with half a second on the shot clock.

The game slipped away in the fourth, with Charlotte up double-digits throughout. The season hasn’t slipped away yet, but the Knicks need help. Getting back four players who can all contribute would be a good start.

Notes:

  • Are you bugging? Why you bugging? Listen to Austin Rivers. Chill.
  • Knox with a nice game. In addition to five 3s, he had a couple transition scores.
  • RJ Barrett missed two bunnies at the rim in first 90 seconds of the second half. It was a crowded madhouse in the paint, but I really wish he’d look more to pass in those spots, rather than get blocked or try tough shots.
  • My inner monologue keeps repeating in a shaky whisper “It’s because they’re shorthanded...it’s injuries...they’re shorthanded...it’s injuries...”
  • Clyde Frazier was unusually animated late in the game using Elfrid Payton as warning against presuming LaMelo Ball or young players in general just need a little time to figure out how to shoot. Wally Szczerbiak elaborated on this in the postgame, talking about the challenge of changing his mechanics in eighth grade, and how hard it must be for 19-20 year olds to do so that much later in their careers.
  • LaMelo with a few sweet-ass dishes.
  • On more than one Charlotte possession, Ball dribbled from under the basket into the corner, where he’d dump off to a teammate who suddenly had zero space. You could see how guilty Ball felt each time.
  • Clyde with a good lesson for all young players after Quickley took a shot in the eye: “Whenever I got hurt, I was under the basket looking [around].” Never loiter down low, kids!
  • Mike Breen is very much on the “Why didn’t [that player] shoot a halfcourt heave before the buzzer?” and we old-timers are very much happy to welcome him to that bandwagon. We are legion. I still sports-hate Shane Larkin for this.

Quoth Walt Clyde Phraser “Our offense is butthole.” The Knicks better escape to the light soon. Next game is tomorrow versus Brooklyn. New York needs to stop this losing streak STAT. Big losing streaks have torpedoed the last few years for them: in 2020 their first 24 games featured losses in seven of the first eight and a 10-game losing streak; in 2019 their first 18 included both a 5- and 6-game losing streak; and in 2018 there was an eight-game slide going into the All-Star Game, then a nine-game losing streak after. Now’s not the time to abandon ship. Plug the leaks and keep sailing toward the horizon.