Evan was in his baguette tonight pic.twitter.com/G1bBdYWfFL— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) November 24, 2021
4:30 into the game, RJ Barrett hits a contested 3, his second of the game, right in Anthony Davis’ face to give the Knicks a 20-7 lead. Knicks fans had to have been smirking and sighing at the same time as the third-year player has been struggling mightily with his shooting in recent weeks. But seeing him get a shot to go early, especially as Kevin Harlan talked about his struggles on air, felt like a great omen. The Knicks had looked good at that point in the game. Julius Randle was being aggressive against another former Kentucky Wildcat in AD, Evan Fournier had knocked down a few 3s of his own and Kemba Walker had a blow-by layup as well. The Garden crowd was on their feet and were hoping that maybe, just maybe, they could watch a stress-free game. And for 2.5 quarters, it looked like the Knicks would grant their fans that wish.
For much of the first half, the ball was moving around more than it had last week, and even when Randle leaned on the isolation game his decisions were quicker, which led to some really nice looks. He had a really nice one dribble pullup against Dwight Howard at the 11:32 mark of the 2nd quarter. Less than a minute later, he quickly and decisively dribbled into a pull-up 3, and when two defenders bit on his fake he found Immanuel Quickley, who swung the ball to the corner for an athletic Obi Toppin finish.
The defense that had opponents frustrated last year but has been a weakness for the team this year was holding its own and even showed flashes of last year’s energy. With the LeBron-less Lakers looking out of sorts on offense, the Knicks took advantage by running out in transition a bit more as well and, as has been the case all year, the team looked pretty good when they did. The interesting part was unlike most of the season so far, it was actually the starters, not the bench, who were carrying the team. The bench was playing fine even without their veteran leader Derrick Rose, to be fair, but it was the starters really flourishing and that was a great sight for Knicks fans who have had to watch that group be the one of the worst in the league through the first 17 games.
When it was all set and done, this first half was one of the better ones the Knicks had put together all year, and you could tell the team was starting to feel themselves as well, evident by Toppin’s half court alley-oop in the early goings of the second quarter.
But even then, in a game that felt like the Knicks were rolling for a good part of the 1st half, the Lakers still found themselves down only by 12. Davis, and Russell Westbrook both had decent first halves, and as is customary for the Knicks they picked one random role player to go off — Malik Monk poured in 12 in the first half.
And in true Knicks fashion, they blew what was a 25-point lead and allowed the Lakers to storm back in the second half. After a few bad turnovers, Westbrook led a few fast breaks that eventually led to an Avery Bradley 3 and a pair of dunks for Russ and Davis. After just three and a half minutes, the Lakers had cut the lead to three and there was a sense of impending doom. We’ve all seen this movie before. The Knicks look solid in the first half and the starters come out in the 3rd quarter and just stink it up and they go on to lose the game. Well, luckily for us and the Knicks, Evan Fournier knocked down a pair of downtown bombs within a two-minute span to give the Knicks some breathing room. It is important to note that both of these 3s came off of the Lakers double teaming Randle and him making a quick decision to trust his teammates and get the ball swinging.
Eventually though, the Lakers did storm all the way back, tying it up at 79 with 1:22 left in the third on a rare Carmelo Anthony dunk. For much of the next few minutes there was a lot of back and forth, but the sophomore pair of Quickley and Toppin took over and brought the game home. Toppin had a a pair of dunks off of corner cuts; the former Dayton star even knocked down a mid range elbow jump shot of his own which was assisted by none other than IQ. Quickley started to heat up from 3, scoring 12 of his 14 in the fourth, and the Knicks were able to secure a big win at home, something they have not been able to do often this season. The backup guard still has a lot to work on but he showed why fans are so in love with him and his game.
The young guard is very confident and when he gets it going, he can heat up quickly (no pun intended). We’ve heard over and over about how he spends more time in the gym than anybody on the team and it shows in just how much he has improved this season. It doesn’t always show up in the stats, but if you have watched these games, you can tell that he isn’t just a 3-point shooter who has a floater. His game has become more well-rounded and his passing and defense have also taken a step as well.
These improvements are great but also start to pose the question of whether he deserves more playing time. If the answer is yes, which seems like the consensus among most fans, then Walker seems like the likely candidate to lose playing time. At this point, it’s hard to find what Walker does better than Quickley. Quickley is just as good, if not better at this point in the isolation game, the shooting is there and Quickley is a better defender even though that isn’t necessarily saying much. The Knicks did win, but with a very hard schedule coming up and the team still not playing great enough consistently, these questions need to be brought up.
While the team has played better over their last few games and a win is a win, the Knicks still aren’t where they need to be. Not all wins or losses are created equally. The loss to the Bulls, for instance, was tough, but there were a lot of positives for the team to take. And in tonight’s case, while this was a win and still possibly a step in the right direction, there was still a lot to nitpick. The ball movement fell off a bit to start the third quarter, there were some unforced turnovers, the defense in the fourth wasn’t necessarily great and Kemba and RJ — the latter of which the Knicks will eventually need to step up — were pretty much nonexistent in the second half. This was a game that the Knicks should have won by more, but if the Lakers shooters had been even average, especially in the fourth, this could have easily been a loss.
Fournier played a great game. He got into a rhythm and scored 26 points on a very efficient 8 of 14. But let’s also not forget the Lakers players that contributed to the win. We can thank the aforementioned Monk, who accumulated 0 points in the second half; Talen Horton-Tucker, for going 0-8 from the field; and the one and only Carmelo Anthony, who struggled in his Garden return, going just 3 of 14 for 12 points. With the way the season has been going, the Knicks and us fans will take any win we can, but the upcoming stretch of games could potentially have a large impact on the season as a whole, especially with how close and unpredictable the Eastern conference has been this season. Hopefully they can learn from the negatives, build on the positives and use this as momentum for their next game. It won’t be easy but here’s hoping for a win on Friday night Knicks against the hottest team in the league, the Phoenix Suns, led by Leon Rose’s former client, Chris Paul.