Frederick Douglass famously said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
The New York Knicks are currently struggling big time. Friday night’s loss in Cleveland, the fifth straight for New York, drops the Knicks to 5-8 on the season. They would no longer qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. The feelings that existed after that three-game win streak have evaporated, replaced by a familiar sense of doom.
The Knicks can’t beat anyone right now. Their offense is garbage. Their late game execution is trash. Hey Siri, what are more synonyms for the things you throw out?
But think of that phrase: if there is no struggle, there is no progress. The Knicks are struggling right now, but they are mostly a team of inexperienced youngsters who gotta get their reps. There may indeed be brighter days ahead. For now though, we must digest this loss. Only then can it pass through our system and be gone forever.
Both teams were short-handed, but the Cavs were missing three starters, so injuries aren’t an excuse. The Knicks and Cavs played mostly even through the first quarter, with Julius Randle pouring in 6 points and leading a balanced scoring effort for New York that included a couple of buckets from RJ Barrett and Elfrid Payton and individual baskets from a host of others, including Immanuel Quickley and Kevin Knox.
By the end of the period, the Cavs were up 28-25 and Andre Drummond was looking like a world beater with 10 points and 8 boards, but it was anyone’s game.
The second quarter belonged to Quickley, who dropped 9 points (4-4 shooting) and 2 assists to go into the half with 12 points on 5-8 shooting and some serious positive momentum. He had been 2 for his last 24 from the field prior to the previous game against the Brooklyn Nets, in which he had 19 points on 7-15 shooting. He’s got touch on his passes, too.
Quick throws it up, Nerlens does the rest pic.twitter.com/MspHwiKMR2— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 16, 2021
Unfortunately, Drummond continued being an enormous man able to bully his way to the basket. At the half, Drummond had 20 points and 14 rebounds compared to Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel’s combined 10 points and 4 rebounds, and the Cavs were up 57-55.
Barrett opened the third quarter with back to back buckets, including a corner three, to give the Knicks the lead. By midway through the period, however, the Cavs were up double digits, the Knicks were bricking everything or getting shots stuffed, and the game was starting to slip away.
With just under three minutes to go in the third quarter, Quickley splashed a corner three to cut the lead to nine. Shortly thereafter, Randle mimicked Quickley with a corner three of his own to make it six. Ultimately, the Knicks finished the period on a 12-0 run, and heading into the fourth the game was tied 80-80.
Randle scored the first points of the fourth with an elbow jumper to give him 20 points and the Knicks a two-point lead. Then Randle scored on a putback to put the Knicks up 84-80, the Knicks were playing what Walt Clyde Frazier called “swarming” defense, and the idea that New York was going to outlast Cleveland wasn’t out of the question.
Some ugly basketball, including a couple of brutal three attempts from Austin Rivers, resulted in the Cavs grabbing hold of the momentum, but the score remained close as the match entered its final few minutes.
Barrett hit two free throws to make it 95-94 with exactly three minutes remaining. Then Dotson remembered he was seeking revenge on the Knicks for letting him walk in free agency this offseason. He started by nailing his first three of the game after starting the night 0-7 from deep to give the Cavs a 98-93 lead. Quickley drained two clutch free throws on the other end, the Cavs turned it over, and Barrett sank an impossible jumper as the shot clock expired to make it 98-97 Cavs.
But then, with a chance to take the lead, RJ had a costly turnover, and Randle committed a clear path foul on #WholeTeamDot, who sank both free throws to give Cleveland a 100-97 lead. They say whichever team gets to 100 first usually wins, and in this case they were right. Dotson completed a layup to increase the lead to five with 1:05 to play, and despite a ferocious slam from Randle on the other end, the Knicks were unable to complete the comeback, thanks in part to another ugly turnover by Barrett. Ultimately, the Cavs took the game by a score of 106-103.
> Julius Randle had another All-Star caliber evening, with 28 points (11-20 from the field, 2-4 from three), 6 rebounds, 6 assists and just 1 turnover. This man is an All-Star. The last Knicks All-Star? Kristaps Porzingis. He didn’t play in the game because of the whole ACL tear, however.
> Kevin Knox continued to quietly be quite good in a defined role. In 18 minutes, he had 6 points (2-5 from the floor), 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal. He’s shooting 44% from beyond the arc this year.
> Austin Rivers is either a hero or complete zero. On Friday, he was the latter (2 points on 1-6 shooting in 17 minutes of action).
> Both Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel suffered what seemed to be not serious injuries during the game. They both were able to continue, but the brief moments of fear served as a reminder that the Knicks could really use some front court depth. Taj Gibson, where art thou?
> Obi Toppin played 10 minutes and was solid if not spectacular. It’s great to have the rookie back in action.
> RJ Barrett played mostly well for the second straight game, although he did have a couple hiccups late that contributed to the loss. He had 20 points, 4 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks. Over the last two games, RJ has 40 points on 14-27 from the field, including 3-8 from deep. More of this, please!
> The game ball goes to either Drummond or Dotson since the Cavs won (probably Drummond, who finished with a ridiculous 33 points and 23 rebounds), but if the Knicks had a game ball to give out it would go to Quickley. The rook strengthened his case for eventually becoming the starter over Elfrid Payton, dropping 23 points (9-17 from the field, 3-7 from deep), 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 0 turnovers in 28 minutes off the bench.
This one was winnable, but as Frank Knicklikina noted, “We all knew Dot was gonna kill us one day.” It’s good we got that out of the way now.
The Knicks play the Celtics in a Sunday matinee at 1 pm, followed by a 12 pm match against the Magic on Monday. Boston will be tough, but Orland is beatable. Hopefully New York gets back on track with a couple of wins soon. Let’s cut this losing streak off asap.