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Knicks 112, Jazz 100: “Austin 3:16, bitches”

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An aggressively awesome reprieve from an oppressively horrible day

Yesterday sucked. It really did. The United States honestly just experienced arguably its darkest day of the 21st century.

I’m not going to regurgitate any of the pictures and videos that accompanied the day, but what should have been a relatively mundane day of Congress certifying the results of the 2020 election turned into one of the most performative acts of domestic terrorism that I can remember in my lifetime. There have been some memorably dark moments in the US over the years (9/11 especially so in the New York area, obviously), but never has there been an outright attempt at a coup on US soil by US citizens (with minimal law enforcement/military resistance) in the modern era.

Suffice to say, I spent most of my day glued to Twitter and my TV for all the wrong reasons, and covering the Knicks last night felt like a total chore going in.

And, for the first half of the Knicks’ game against the Jazz, it most definitely was a chore — for the Knicks too, apparently. New York went down by as many as 18 against the Jazz. Their shots weren’t really falling, Julius Randle was getting bottled up by Rudy Gobert, Immanuel Quickley was playing just OK, RJ Barrett once again couldn’t hit a shot. It was not a fun time.

Still, though the Knicks rallied a tiny bit before the half, narrowing that 18-point lead for the Jazz into just a 12-point advantage at half. And what was most crazy was, I looked at that at the time and said, “OK, I would’ve preferred if they could’ve gotten it to single digits at half, but this team definitely has a chance.” That’s SO different from years past.

And go figure, the Knicks proved my confidence to be well-founded once again. The Knicks started playing good D, and Randle got going:

RJ Barrett overall had one of his horrendous efficiency nights (nine points, 4-14 shooting, 0-3 from deep, 1-3 from the line) but had a few spark plug plays in the third to really get the Knicks’ momentum going:

Kevin Knox played one of his best games of the season on both ends, despite a modest stat line of seven points (3-3 shooting) in 16 minutes:

After having a so-so first half, Mitchell Robinson came up with tons of second-chance opportunities and defensive gems in the second half. I honestly couldn’t believe he only had nine points when I checked the box score (to go with 13 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks).

Elfrid Payton was even cooking in the second half, playing the entire 24 minutes and notching 12 points and four assists on the most quiet 6-9 shooting you’ll ever see. In the first half he forced the issue a bit and missed some kinda annoying shots in the paint. In the second half, they all made sense to me.

But, of course, you’ve seen the image at the top. You probably watched the game or have seen the highlights by now. You know what happened next: Austin Rivers put his balls on the scorer’s table, morphed into a nuclear bomb, and detonated right on the MSG floor, scoring 14 straight points to propel the Knicks to victory. And the way he scored them was by no means easy.

First, he iso’d and sauced up Rudy Gobert for a three with inches of space at the end of the shot clock:

Next, he once again beat the shot clock with a floater in heavy traffic:

Next would probably be his easiest attempt, a spot-up three with a really lovely screen by Randle to trap Royce O’Neale and give Austin a perfectly clean look:

Then, another triple, this time a pull-up, with yet another good screen (and slight hip-check — thanks for not ruining the moment, refs) by Randle to free him up:

And finally, Rivers just said, “Screens? Where we’re going, we don’t need screens,” iso’d, and splashed another three for good measure right in O’Neale’s grill to ice the game:

Let me tell you right now: after everything that I mentioned at the top of the article that went on yesterday, Austin Rivers gave me a moment to grin like an idiot for about 10 straight minutes of game time, and about two hours after the game of occasionally stopping, shaking my head, and smiling to myself about what I had just witnessed. I probably won’t be forgetting that feeling of euphoria for a while, mostly because of the stark contrast it was against the backdrop of an especially shitty day.

So said commenter foiegrastyle, “Austin 3:16, bitches.” Give me a hell yeah!

Notes

— I know this was Austin’s night, but the relative ease with which Julius Randle is putting up Nikola Jokic-esque performances these days is staggering. Maybe even more impressive is the in-game adjustments that Randle is making to overcome his tough stretches.

For example, in this game, he spent most of the first half getting bottled up by Rudy Gobert inside, unable to really do much other than shooting threes and long twos, which just weren’t going down for him today. This was probably the possession that made me go, “Shit, it’s not Julius’ day today, and it’s not gonna be the Knicks’, either”:

But then in the second half, Randle started using his craftiness a little more, realizing he couldn’t just barrel into Gobert and expect it to go well. And it worked! Randle actually shot an identical line in the second half to the first (5-13), but managed to draw nine free throw attempts, compared to just three in the first half. It probably also helped that Mitch was demanding a lot more of Gobert’s attention, freeing Randle up — so much so one time that it bordered on comedy:

The most ho-hum, day-at-the-office 30-point, 16-rebound, seven-assist game from Randle in this one.

— Reggie Bullock managed 12 points on 5-8 shooting (2-3 from deep) in this one, which has kinda been the frustrating part of the Reggie Bullock experience so far this year. He shows just enough heat from the field to justify playing time, but he seems to only run super hot or super cold. Once Alec Burks and Frank Ntilikina get back, I’d honestly prefer to see both of them get more minutes than Bullock. Burks because he’s just flat out better. Frank because I think he has a chance to be better, and isn’t completely useless with the ball in his hands in non-cut or spot-up situations. Bullocks defense has been solid, too, but again — I think both of those other two players can defend at least as well, while offering more in other areas.

— Mitch was awesome in this game. Just like Randle, he had his struggles to begin with, but really found himself in the second half. It probably helped that Rudy Gobert sat for what felt like 10 straight minutes in the second half, but even once Gobert checked back in,

— Speaking of Gobert, it seems like Shaq isn’t the only one salty about him getting a $205 million contract extension:

Kinda hard to blame Clyde there though — he recounted on-air that he had talked with Donovan Mitchell when the Knicks had played the Jazz right before Gobert was revealed to be the NBA’s COVID patient zero. Mitchell would of course also test positive for the virus shortly after Gobert. The lesson: Don’t fuck with Clyde’s body! It’s a temple! He’s also a national (or at least regional) treasure and needs to be protected at all costs.

— I wish there was more to say about Austin, but the highlights kind of speak for themselves. Instead, I’ll share another thing that made me smile, which was Thibs recounting a high school-age Rivers coming to Celtics practice back in the day and challenging Kevin Garnett to a 1-on-1:

— Two other things from that video: 1) Has Thibs ever looked this happy in his coaching career? and 2) Is it just me, or is he being way more open with the media during his postgame pressers, to the point of being downright affable? Maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention during his previous stops, but when he was being considered for the Knicks job over the summer, I talked to a few people on Locked On Knicks that had covered Thibs’ past teams, and the general consensus was that he was kind of a gruff “none of your business” type that would do the bare minimum in interviews. Maybe Thibs wasn’t bluffing when he said coaching the Knicks was his dream job.

— I’ll just shout out Elf again. This game was like the polar opposite of the last game for him. Against Atlanta, he played good for one quarter and then sucked for the rest of the game. In this game, I thought he started off forcing things, but played great throughout the rest of the game (other than the obvious caveat that he still can’t shoot).

— Speaking of shooting, the Knicks went 8-22 from three in this game (bad percentage, low-ish total attempts) yet still won handily. Obviously Rivers going insane was the driver there, but it just goes to show how much the Knicks owned the paint in this game too.


And that’s all for this one, folks. Three straight wins for the Knicks, and it doesn’t even really feel unsustainable. If anything, these last three wins have felt like they’ve won in spite of some off shooting nights from various players. Here’s hoping they can keep it rolling Friday against the Thunder.

Also, make sure to check out Miranda’s recap over at The Strickland, who remains the GOAT of game recaps.