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Bucks 112. Knicks 100: ‘No. One. Misses. Threes. Against. Us.’

Please miss, Knick opponents.

Milwaukee Bucks v New York Knicks Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Hey everyone, Abe here. So I’m more of a plodding and deliberate thinker/writer. I tend towards longform pieces that take me a few weeks to ponder and put together. But we’re blogging in the content bloated cavity of the internet in the death throes of capitalism, and part of the deal here at P&T is over the course of an 82 game season, everyone lends a hand.

So I caught recap duties tonight, but am concerned I’m not going to be able to fill an entire piece with my reactionary wit and alarmist takes alone, so I’ll be padding out word count with the book I’m currently reading, Ron Chernow’s biography of the general who swung the Civil War, the 18th President of the United States, and a true American original, Ulysses S. Grant. I’ve only read up to page 80, so we’ll be focusing primarily on the exploits of the Hero of the Appomatox as a boy growing up in rural Ohio. I’ll try to make my references to Grant as graceful and seamless as humanly possible. My wife and I are enjoying the game with some halal cart lamb griddled extra crispy, dressed with hot sauce and white sauce over McDonalds French fries (a demonic disco fry iteration that came to me in a fever dream years ago), along with a bottle of Lambrusco as an homage to Grant, an infamous alcoholic.

As the headline should’ve suggested, the Knicks lost tonight. It was a pretty brutal and miserable loss. A lot of blame to go around on our side, a lot of heroes as well, several villains across the aisle, let’s break it all down.

It was military appreciation night. A showtunes army guy did the national anthem. Just a thought, can we track down that viral GOOD FUCKIN MORNIN kid from the Cypress Hills Train Station? Maybe he can just shout the star spangled banner, or “Dipset Anthem” at the crowd or something for every game. Better than this enlisted theater kid copaganda.

Coming into this game, the Knicks were a stellar 5-1 on the road, and a pretty shocking 2-3 at home. This is not unlike the man born Hiram Ulysses Grant, on April 27, 1822, who was bad with money and restless at home, but loved the challenge and adventure of war.

The story of this game was, the first half was annoying, the third quarter was miserable, and the first ten minutes of the fourth quarter was probably the best stretch of basketball, from a pure entertainment perspective, of this early season.

As is a recurring theme, the Knicks had little going early besides Julius Randle. He made nearly every shot, scored 11 of the first 13 points on 66.7% from the field, both inside and beyond the arc. He and RJ combined for 18 of the first 20. The Knicks were making the effort plays early, but the Bucks were hitting every shot. We had to work much harder than they did, and that narrative never really shifted.

On the 50 year anniversary of the Knicks acquiring the great Earl The Pearl Monroe, one of the best Knicks point guards ever, one of the best point guards who ever lived, Kemba Walker played the worst basketball game ever in the history of basketball, including third graders playing pick up at recess on makeshift milk crate hoops in countries where everyone predominately plays futbol.

Kemba continues to be a timid presence who lives above the arc. His efficacy is based on his pull up jumper being on. Early on, he was a washed, proto ball caretaking 90s point guard, a Charlie Ward type if you will, ushering the ball to midcourt then passing off for RJ or Randle to create offense, and bricking open looks from all over when they fell in his lap.

He was an even less eventful than it sounds 0-3 with 3 to play in the first quarter when Thibs justifiably pulled him for Rose. Tonight, Kemba exactly matched the schoolyard description of Ulysses S. Grant, remembered as well liked and affable, but stocky, with a rustic air, who seemed slow in speech, sluggish in movement, and careless in appearance.

Bobby Portis was active early. I never liked the guy, his attitude, his game, he had that one crazy performance for us early in 2019, then went back to being who he’s always been, an eternally surprised, gumby Romany Malco looking goofball. But with both Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton out, the Bucks had to lean on him, and he was sturdy, at least early on. He led the Bucks in scoring in the first half with 16 points. To quote one of Grant’s rare emotional boyhood outbursts when he visited a house that had been occupied by Revolutionary War snake Benedict Arnold, the former Knick was a “base and heartless traitor to his country and his God.”

The Bucks blew it open towards the end of the first, with a 16-2 run. At one point, Clyde remarked how disorienting it was seeing Clorox advertised on the digital billboard in front of the scorer’s table, and at that moment I wouldn’t have minded having some to pour in my eyes.

Throughout the game, the Knicks were active with tipped passes and blocked shots…….that all seemed to land in the hands of a Bucks player set up in the perfect position for a crazy shot clock beating three or layup. On the other hand, the Knicks kept blowing layups and oops and wide open shots. The Knicks looked smaller and less skilled, which is remarkable when you consider how much size and skill Milwaukee was playing without. It was a cursed game.

The Bucks were red hot, 7-9 from 3 at one point, typified by a completely absurd possession in which we almost got two turnovers and a shot clock violation, but instead Pat Connaughton got off a well defended, fade away three with two seconds left on the shot clock and nailed it. But it wasn’t just incredible shot making. Mitch played 23 minutes, leaving Taj with the lion’s share of the time at center with Nerlens Noel, who had done such great work against Giannis last week, out with a knee injury.

Taj fought admirably. I’m reminded of a piece contributed by Ulysses’ father Jesse Grant, to a 19th century local Ohio paper called The Castigator, in which he described himself as “a little dog…. Generally disposed to be peaceable, but when a BIG DOG snarls at me, I will at least show my teeth.” Fort Green’s finest was the support beam that allowed the Knicks to build the wall in front of Giannis, who was very much in November Wednesday night on the road mode (for MOST of the game). But look at this play:

What you see at a glance is two incredible defensive efforts by Taj, blocking Giannis point blank, then chasing him to the perimeter and forcing him to throw up a shitty contested brick at the nail. But watch again to see how much pressure Giannis is putting on the defense, even here with handcuffs on. The whole team collapses on him, and if he’d gone through progressions immediately after the block, he would’ve seen that bastard Pat Connaughton all alone with a whole quadrant of the floor to himself. Giannis missed it, so it makes for a nice highlight here, but that’s precisely how the Bucks sniped us to death, and why even on a night we hold him to 15/5, Giannis is so devastating. It takes a nation of millions to hold him back.

In the third quarter it got grotesque. Every loose ball found Milwaukee hands. They went on a 16-0 run to seemingly put the game away early. The Knicks looked horrific. They had 50 points with five minutes to play in the third. They were lethargic on defense, sloppy with the ball, missing every shot, it was really fucking gross, and for a while I was mortified to have this serve as my first recap. But like Ulysses S. Grant, I’m tranquil in warfare. My metabolism slows down. I’m curiously cool under fire. And so I stuck around, anxious for the Bucks to put us out of our misery, but resigned to my fate.

But then something miraculous happened. Almost entirely sparked by Derrick Rose, starting at the end of the third and continuing into the fourth along with Burks and IQ, the Knicks immediately cut the Bucks margin to 11. The comeback was almost as astonishing as the collapse. The Knicks erased 14 points of an 18 point lead in four minutes. Then both offenses exploded with five to play. The teams started bombing threes back and forth, it was a barrage.

I just want to jump out for a second to give praise to the absolutely great Obi Toppin, who I am more excited to have on this team every night. We can quibble with his shot, his tendency to get over excited at the rim (I think he bricked three or four tap-ins point blank at the cup) the great sin that he’s not yet as good as the #5 League MVP finishing player last season who starts at his position. The Knicks simply are a different team when he’s on the floor.

It’s a lame cop out, but he does things that don’t always translate to the box score, but just change the energy and tenor of the game. He’s a havoc sewing chaos agent. His explosiveness rotating and closing out on defense, flying in to contest on plays he seems entirely out of, his motor is incredible. Then on offense, he’s such a problem in the open floor obviously, but also on the roll. Any erant bounce off the rim is a tip in threat with his legs. And the synchronicity he’s established with IQ is such a beautiful thing to behold.

We just need Thibs to throw out position and situation, and use these early season games as a petri dish. Come with some unorthodox lineups, cut some starter minutes, give Julius some healthy scratch rest days, do whatever you need to for Obi to have more time on the floor. We’re a better and more interesting team when he plays. Ulysses Grant’s mother Hannah Grant was a remote matriarch, unemotional and withholding. She never showed affection and kept her son at arm’s length. Don’t be like Hannah Thibs!

So, it’s too early in the season for us to start going nuts on Thibs with the rotations. I lived through the Elfrid Payton wars of last season, and we were right, but it was not fun. I want to give this coach a chance, I want to give Kemba a chance. It’s a small sample size, and who knows, maybe we’ll figure something out. It’s better than throwing our phones against the wall every night for the next six months, at the mercy of a deaf and merciless deity who won’t answer our pleas (And to give credit where credit is due, Thibs did stick with the hot hands tonight till the bitter end, when many feared he’d revert to his starters. Having said this, am I concerned the Knicks starters were responsible for a combined minus -113, and in a first for the +/- statistic, in spite of four other people being on the floor, Kemba was responsible for all -113 points? Yes. Yes I am).

So the bench mob of IQ, Rose, Burks, Obi and Taj were electric. Let’s quickly touch on the biggest play of the game. It was an unconscionable call by the refs. Giannis swatted Obi’s arm on a dunk. Refs correctly called a foul. Giannis immediately whines for a challenge, and of course the Bucks win the challenge. I got serious Roy Hibbert flashbacks, when they claimed “verticality” meant you could bounce your elbows off Melo’s forehead. But the call constituted a huge 5 point swing. The review on the challenge took forever, which I’m sure sapped the energy out of the building as well as the team, who had to be running on pure adrenaline at that point. This was followed immediately by two Connaughton 3s. No moral victories in basketball, but at least the fourth quarter salvaged a miserable game, and just may have given our fearless leader something to think about.

Notes-

  • I more or less said everything I needed to in the recap, but it’s worth mentioning the Knicks gave up 26 3s, the most the franchise has ever allowed. Ever. In the 75 year history of the team. As Freddie Fionopolis said, “No. One. Misses. Threes. Against. Us.” Never more true than it was tonight.
  • The Knicks bench scored 68 points. Each one was a tiny miracle.
  • I really hate gritty white guys. In every sport. In life. Tonight was a nightmare for me. Backbreaker after backbreaker from Grayson Allen and Pat Connauton, both of whom would play second base for the Red Sox if they didn’t play basketball. I just thank God Divencenzo is still out, because I wouldn’t have been able to handle all three of them.
  • Far from a glass half full guy, but it’s worth nothing, via Marc Berman of all people:

It’s a fair point. We should be mad about not beating a depleted team we’ve already beaten on the road, but record wise we’re still in good shape, much better than last season when we secured home court advantage in the playoffs. At least we’re not Atlanta! Anyone who watched tonight’s game probably came away with justifiable concerns, but I just have to believe we can’t keep being the victims of these historic performances from every team’s back of the bench asshole. Unless we’re entering a new era of basketball and 3 PT %s are going to start creeping above 50 for every role playing jerkoff, the math doesn’t bear out us being on the short end of the stick over and over and over again. That’s also called the gambler’s fallacy, but logic dictates we won’t give up the most 3s we’ve given up as a team in 75 years again anytime soon, or that Ricky Rubio and Pat Cannaughton will continue to play like angry Jordan in his prime in every single weeknight game for the rest of the season.

  • Anyways, that’s it. Depending on how Joe feels about this, it may have been my lone experiment as a game recapper. If you get to read this, and you’ve made it this far, thanks for humoring me. In the words of the great Hiram Ulysses Grant, I’m going to polish off this bottle of Lambrusco and go to sleep.