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Jazz 108, Knicks 94 : “That got ugly real fast”

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If only NBA games were three quarters instead of four...

NBA: New York Knicks at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps as we age past a certain point in life, we’ve seen too much nonsense to indulge it anymore. Maybe raising children changes us, as all the excuses, hedging and illogics of our own lost youth come back to haunt us in our own little ones. Maybe technology has connected us too well for too long, and certain big lies are just too blatantly absurd to buy into anymore. All I know is I find myself now more than ever falling back on Occam’s Razor when I try to make sense of something — the simplest explanation is pro’ly the truth.

The Knicks lost 108-94 last night to the Utah Jazz despite leading for the first three quarters. That sounds like something to be bothered by, a collapse worthy of some snarky reference to the opposite of a fake comeback, or a critique of Tom Thibodeau’s minutes distribution or Elfrid Payton’s continued existence. Your feelings are valid, always. But feelings are not facts.

Utah is a much better team than New York. That’s why they’ve won nine straight and have the second-best record in the league, while the Knicks have lost thee in a now to tie their season’s nadir of three games below .500. The Jazz were at home playing in front of actual fans, about 1500 of them. The Knicks were playing the last leg of a four-game West Coast swing, a daunting task for good teams during normal years, to say nothing of one finding its legs and its identity on a COVID road trip that demands they get their meals after a game and retreat to their hotel rooms, alone. It’s never fun to see your team lose. But that doesn’t mean there’s always someone or something to blame. Life is often simpler than that.

It was a cold open for both teams, which just nine points scored between them more than four minutes in. As the Jazz stayed frozen RJ Barrett’s aggressiveness driving and dishing helped thaw the Knick offense out.

Something about the Utah Jazz brings out the Steph Curry in Austin Rivers. Looking more confident since dealing with Achilles pain, Rivers checked in and could. Not. Miss. After scoring just seven points over his last four games, Rivers equaled that in the first quarter. And he was just getting started.

The Knick defense, torched for 37 first-quarter points in their last game in Portland, held the Jazz to just 18 in this one. Utah started to have some success when their bench went to work, but so did the Knicks. And no one was doing more work than Rivers, who hit his first 10 shots, including five from downtown.

What’d you make of it, Steph?

On the other end, Donovan Mitchell’s first half was the wrong side of the tracks: he missed his first seven shots, took a shot in the nose from Rivers that required cotton to stop the bleeding and banged his head on Mitchell Robinson’s knee while falling. The Knicks were lucky the Jazz kept missing open threes, but their defense near the rim deserves recognition, and not just Mitch and Nerlens Noel. Utah drove into the paint a lot, but the Knicks were contesting enough to force misses. Bend but don’t break D, ya dig?

New York led by as many as 15 and was up comfortably thanks to Rivers’ 25 and 11 apiece for RJ and Julius Randle. The Knicks were shooting nearly 60% from the field. The Jazz were very much not. But the times, they were a-changing. Mitchell, Mike Conley and Bogdan Bogdanović remembered what it’s like to put the ball through the hoop. Conley was especially catalytic, scoring 12 points in the first half of the third quarter to lead a 20-8 Jazz run.

The three-ball was the great equalizer: after making only five of 22 attempts in the first half, the home team hit six of 12 in the third. The Knicks were hanging on for dear life, but even when something went right, something went wrong. With a few seconds left in the third, RJ hit a three. But Rivers fouled Conley with 2.4 seconds left, thinking the Knicks had a foul to give. They didn’t. Conley hit both free throws to make it a one-point game entering the fourth, where Jordan Clarkson’s and-one breakaway put the Jazz on top for good.

That bucket was part of an 11-0 Utah run to open the fourth, which mushroomed to 16-3 and 22-5; the second half was one long 62-35 run. Rivers was scoreless after the entr’acte. The better team played like it just enough to win. A lotta nights, c’est la vie.

Notes:

  • Payton and Immanuel Quickley combined to shoot 3-of-18. Frank Ntilikina: zero minutes.
  • Say Rivers has one of these games once a month, but is otherwise meh. Would you take him back next year? How much would you pay a guy who’s nondescript 90% of the time but has 6-7 WTF games a year?
  • Family bragging rights: Austin surpassed his dad Doc’s Knick career-high of 24. My memories of Doc as a Knick: being unable to stop Michael Jordan; being kicked by Isiah Thomas while on the ground; and the injury c/o Vlade Divac that ended Glenn’s Knicks career and paved the way for the Derek Harper trade.
  • Quickley had another one of those fake sideline handoffs that lead into a lovely drive the defense didn’t see coming. He’s the best play-action passer in NY sports since Chad Pennington. I can’t remember if I wrote that before here or on Twitter. Perks of age.
  • Quickley’s floater is legit. But he needs to spend his offseason developing a midrange pull-up. With IQ’s IQ and ability to draw fouls, imagine if defenders didn’t know if he was gonna keep driving to toss up a floater stop and pop?
  • Quickley had two turnovers, giving him 16 in 15 games. That’s kinda cool.
  • I didn’t see the Portland game because I live in Rochester, and that night MSG here aired a Buffalo Sabres game and MSG2 featured Shogun MMA and some World Series of Poker absurdity. From what I read there was an awful lot of griping about the officiating in that game. Maybe it carried over, ‘cuz as soon as Utah went up the Knicks grew demonstrably, repeatedly frustrated with the refs. Even when they got calls, it just riled them up about the calls they didn’t get. It’s not why they lost — the reffing or the griping. But it was conspicuous.
  • MSG graphic: not only has Mitch not fouled out this season, he hasn’t committed more than four in any game. Yay, Mitch!
  • Gonna date myself as ancient with this one, but I was glad to see Obi Toppin step in front of the arc and hit a long 2 before the shot clock expired. What was once shouted as dogma from the pulpit has become a heresy whispered only in darkest night...but sometimes that line on the court does a real number, even on professionals. 3 > 2, but a two you’re confident in > a three you’re not.
  • Obi tried sneaking a beautiful pass out of the post to Noel under the rim. Noel fumbled it. Did you ever hear the great line about Hank Aaron? “Sneaking a fastball past Henry Aaron is like sneaking the sunrise past a rooster.” Sneaking an unexpected pass to Nerlens Noel is the opposite.
  • Do you know who leads all NBA bench players in scoring? Jordan Clarkson, with 17 a game. What a world.
  • MSG trivia: Quickley’s 31 in Portland made him the 20th Knick rook to score 30+. Which Knick has the most 30-point games their rookie year?
  • A two-piece bucket late for Theo Pinson.
  • My fiancee was watching Ozark on her laptop with her headphones on. There was a play where Mitch blocked Conley, only to have it reversed to a goaltend. You could see and hear Mitch cry out “What the f***?!” At that exact moment, someone in her show was yelling that, too. I burst out laughing at Mitch, she did at her show, and we both briefly thought the other person had somehow heard/seen what we did.
  • We got cable last month so I didn’t have to rely on streams to cover games. I thought it’d be easier, and it generally is. However, our company, Spectrum, sold us an Apple TV instead of giving us the usual cable box set-up. In addition to large chunks of the game pixilating to a 4-bit Monet, there’s this: I always tape the game and watch it on DVR, so I can rewind if I need to and skip the commercials. With the Apple TV remote, you rewind or fast-forward with a track pad. Not only is that agonizingly inexact, but for some reason half the time you rewind or fast-forward the screen brings you to the live feed for 5-10 seconds before going where you selected. That’s how I’ve had half these games ruined by seeing the final score during Knicks postgame when I’m trying to see the second quarter. Last night I was fine up until halftime, at which point I fast-forwarded to the start of the third, only to see Alan Hahn on my screen with “108-94” plastered across the bottom. Maybe I was unfair to the streams.
  • Trivia answer: Bill Cartwright, with 12.

Quoth knickotime: “That got ugly real fast.” It did. It really did. The level of competition drops a bit in the Knicks’ next game. They host Cleveland Friday in the teams’ 63rd matchup of the season. Will the Knicks avoid falling four games under .500? Will they have an answer for the Cavs’ Sexland backcourt? If Payton and Quickley are cold again, will Ntilikina even enter Thibodeau’s subconscious? Tune in and find out.