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Kings 103, Knicks 94: “We can’t score on the team with the worst defense in the league”

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Onto the next.

New York Knicks v Sacramento Kings
Doh.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Playing the second night of a back-to-back in Sacramento, the Knicks had a chance Friday to continue their quest for their first five-game winning streak since 2013-14, back when RJ Barrett was merely a 13-year-old middle schooler.

RJ last time the Knicks won five straight.
https://twitter.com/CP3RisingStars/status/462608037237493761/photo/1

Alas. Unfortunately, we still don’t know what age Barrett will be when the ‘Bockers next rip off five consecutive wins, because the Kings cut New York’s victorious stretch short at four, outlasting the Knicks by nine despite an almost comeback in the fourth quarter. With the loss, the Knicks fall back under .500 with a record of 8-9. The instant reaction from many was to cry about how the Knicks could have drafted Tyrese Haliburton over Obi Toppin, but the more nuanced take is that the Knicks continue to look mostly competent under Tom Thibodeau, even in defeat.

As has become customary, the Knicks were without Frank Ntilikina, who seems to have suffered the worst knee sprain in recorded history. Also not playing was Austin Rivers, who has a sore Achilles. Taj Gibson remains MIA. He won’t be there for Sunday’s game either, as he’s apparently waiting to clear Covid-19 intake testing. (note: the article linked to is from a couple of weeks ago. It’s not totally clear why Gibson hasn’t played yet. Maybe he’s just old!)

West Coast games are weird. They begin at 10 pm for us East Coast folk and don’t end until it’s tomorrow. This one was frustrating to watch, because the Knicks could have pulled it out, only sometimes no one on the team knows how to play offense besides Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

The Knicks looked lethargic from, literally, tip-off.

It’s called the jump ball for a reason, Mitch.

The squad followed in the jump-steps of Robinson by barely putting forth any effort in the early goings, and only a few minutes into the match the Kings had gone on a 13-0 run and were up by 10. The Knicks recovered, however, notching a 13-2 run of their own to finish the period up 26-25 behind, you guessed it, Randle and Barrett.

The Randle-Barrett duo scored 20 of New York’s 26 first quarter points, shooting a combined 7-14 from the field. The rest of the Knicks shot 3-12 from the floor (25%). And if you take out Mitch, who scored on two of his three first quarter shot attempts, the remaining Knicks were 1-9 in Q1. The lack of offensive capabilities for people not named Randle, Barrett or Robinson wasn’t a great sign, especially considering the Kings came into the evening allowing a league worst 123 points per game.

The teams played mostly even throughout the second quarter and the Knicks distributed their scoring more evenly. Eight Knicks had at least one bucket in the second, including six points apiece from Toppin and Robinson.

Sometimes, the second unit’s ball movement belonged in a museum.

Overall, New York won the second quarter by four, taking a 54-49 lead into the break. The Knicks maintained a slight lead until midway through the third, when the Kings grabbed a 68-67 advantage. Then it was 74-69. Then 76-69. The Knicks were looking flat. Despite playing poorly for much of the quarter and only scoring 18 points as a team, New York somehow sneaked into the final period down just four, 76-72. You can thank Barrett, who had 8 points in the period, for making sure the game didn’t get out of hand in the third.

The Kings kicked off the fourth with a three pointer, and for the next few minutes kept their advantage at around 10. With roughly seven minutes to go and the Knicks down by nine, Thibs brought back most of the starters. Randle went to work, including a lovely three-point play on a drive that ended with a nifty left-handed layup to bring the Knicks back within four.

The Kings did not give in, however, and with just under three minutes to go, Haliburton nailed a huge three to make it 96-87. Randle followed with another and-one opportunity, only he missed the free throw. A few plays later, Barrett turned it over on a poor attempt to pass it to Burks in the corner, and the outcome was set.

When all was said and done, it was early Saturday morning in New York, and the Knicks had fallen to the Kings by a score of 103-94. That’s okay. You can’t win ‘em all. The Knicks fought until the very end, even though their offense was mostly abhorrent for the entirety of the evening. Silver linings and such.

Notes:

> Randle’s box scores are becoming cartoonish. He finished with 26 points (8-17 from the field, 0-4 from deep and 10-11 from the free throw line), plus 15 rebounds and 4 assists. That’s totally something Giannis Antetokounmpo would do, minus the impressive free throw shooting. And no, this isn’t meant to suggest that Randle is anywhere near as good as the reigning back-to-back NBA MVP. Instead, it’s meant to illustrate that the Knicks have a bonafide All-Star caliber power forward.

> In 12 minutes of action, Kevin Knox had 5 points on 2-6 shooting, including 1-3 from deep. Yes, he was a lottery pick, but the time for crying over his selection is long over. Unless you can create a time machine, although even then, take a look at the 2018 draft class. It’s not like there’s an obvious star the Knicks could have taken instead of Knox. Maybe Mitchell Robinson.

Anyway, the point of this note was to prove that, sometimes, Knox can do more than just catch and shoot.

> Speaking of draft day decisions, there were many tears shed in the game thread over New York’s selection of Toppin over Haliburton. Haliburton, who has indeed looked quite good this season, had himself a really nice night (16 points on 7-13 from the field, 5 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocks).

First off, Toppin is only seven games into his career and has already had to deal with an injury. Let’s not go freaking out that he’s a bust. And secondly, it’s important to remember that, had the Knicks taken Haliburton, they would have had no reason to also select Immanuel Quickley.

> Did you say Quickley? While IQ didn’t have the best game, he once again looked like an actual NBA player, posting 8 points, 2 assists and 3 blocks in just under 17 minutes. It wasn’t that long ago that the Knicks were fielding a G-League team every single night.

Thibs has said that one of the stats he pays the most attention to is net rating. Quickley’s net rating of 17.6 was the highest of the night for the Knicks. Most of the Knicks had negative net ratings.

> Mitch had himself a nice little night, amassing 12 points and 10 rebounds, plus 1 block. Robinson really shouldn’t have a problem averaging 10 points per contest, yet this was only the second time this season he’s had multiple games in a row with 10 or more points.

Besides RJ, none of the passers on this team seem to have a strong connection with Robinson. Oftentimes, the Knicks appear to be playing as if they don’t have a 7-foot lob threat on the court, which needs to be corrected.

> RJ finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists, and he could have played better. Identical to Randle, he shot 8-17 from the floor. Unlike Randle, who missed each of his four three-point attempts, Barrett was 2-2 from deep. RJ is a stud.

> Someone should do a statistical analysis of whether the Knicks would be better off if Elfrid Payton literally never shot a three, even when he’s completely wide open and no defenders are even considering trying to close out. Someone should definitely do that statistical analysis. Someone with a platform to write about the Knicks.

The Knicks hung tough for most of the night, even though their legs seemed tired and the offense was mostly bad. It’s tough to win when, as Jacoop noted, “we can’t score on the team with the worst defense in the league.”

Dust yourself off, though. A nine-point loss on the second night of a back to back during the first West Coast road trip of the year isn’t something to overreact to. The Knicks have a chance to rebound against Carmleo Anthony and the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday. Make sure to load up on coffee and Red Bull, because the game starts at 10 pm again.