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Knicks 103, 76ers 96: “W is a W”

A seven-point win is the seventh-seeded Knicks’ seventh victory this season.

New York Knicks v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Beatrice Straight won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for a single scene in “Network.”

After her husband, played by William Holden, admits to being “infatuated” and “obsessed” with Faye Dunaway — which is fair — he eventually admits he’s in love with her. As Straight explodes at her philandering husband, listing his marital violations — “building a home, raising a family” — she includes an oft-unspoken quality of long-term love: “all the senseless violence that we have inflicted on each other.” Love hurts. The longer it lasts, the easier it ain’t.

Early last season the Knicks lost five games in a row. The rest of the way they never dropped more than three straight. One of the hallmarks of the Tom Thibodeau Knicks is that they might take a punch, but they don’t go down; even when they do, they don’t stay down. After years of seasons sunk by long losing streaks, the 2021 Knicks were better than that, and easy to love as a result. The 2022 Knicks bear the burden of building something. The fans know it; the fans have suffered decades of false starts and empty promises. With New York having lost three of four, some of the faithful have grown restless. Unspoken fears become whispered curses. Kemba Walker’s cooked. Tom Thibodeau can’t coach. Julius Randle isn’t who we saw last year. RJ Barrett’s inconsistent. Etcetera, etcetera.

You know the truth behind the fears. In Kemba the cynic sees every former All-Star the Knicks have imported past their prime. In Thibs they see every big-name head coach with a sterling resume who came to the Mecca and left a failure. In Randle we see the accumulated angst of years of quicksand culture, where nothing good is sustainable. In RJ we see the echoes of a quarter-century of failure to turn first-round picks into second-contract Knicks.

But one hallmark of the Thibodeau Knicks is they don’t let the bad times fester. So after dropping three of four, the Knicks we’ve grown to know and love of late were due for a win. Cue a 103-96 victory in Philadelphia over the Joel Embiid- and Tobias Harris-less 76ers.

In the first half New York pretty much couldn’t miss. It helps to get some easy buckets, which they did, with Randle and Barrett feasting and releasing.

Even when the push failed, it paid off.

The lead grew as high as 19 after Randle found RJ for a corner 3. This was a more satisfying 19-point lead than usual, as it wasn’t really built on bombing away from deep. The Knicks were bossing the paint; this was an old-school 19-point lead, built to last. Or so it seemed.

In the third Nerlens Noel was lost for the night, having suffered a right knee injury after Danny Green fell into it.

The Knicks went to Taj Gibson, but with their depleted big men rotation (Mitchell Robinson also missed the game) Andre Drummond had 17 points and 25 rebounds. The Knicks went over the foul limit with 8:30 left in the third. Emboldened, the home team rose to the challenge, holding the visitors to just 14 in the quarter while pulling with one on several occasions.

The Knicks went Mike Teavee small to open the fourth, playing Obi Toppin at center. Again the Sixers cut the gap to one. Again the Thibodeau Knicks did what it took to close out the win. The devil’s in the details: Derrick Rose hitting a pull-up jumper; a Furkan Korkmaz 3-ball rimming out; the Knicks’ two second-year men combining for a first-rate result.

The Sixers continued to try, bless their hearts. But the Knicks were a boa, slowly squeezing until only one result was possible. Game.

Set.

Match.

Notes

  • 10 of Randle’s 31 came in the fourth. He also hauled in 12 rebounds and led the Knicks with five 3s made. Even got MVP chants on the road. What a mensch.
  • Randle repeatedly feeding RJ on the block with a mismatch on Curry was nice to see. The Knicks do a lot of things well; giving Barrett the chance to exploit mismatches down low isn’t one of them.
  • Barrett and Fournier combining to shoot 11-of-28 was not ideal. But on a night the Knicks were shorthanded and, well, just plain shorter than usual, their 16 combined rebounds were most welcome.
  • Last year’s criticism: the Knicks beat up on bad teams. This year: the Knicks lose to bad teams. I’ll have my glass half-full and focus on the Knicks beating so many teams at or above their level — five of their seven wins came against Milwaukee, Philadelphia (twice), Boston and Chicago.
  • Noel holding his knee after Green fell into it looked scary, like could-be-out-a-while scary. Sad but expected: the Sixers kept playing, trying to exploit the Knick defense being a man down. After the Sixers missed, the Knicks grabbed the rebound, then instead of calling time the Knicks went into their offense. Noel actually hobbled up and called for the ball seconds before leaving the game for good. Even defensive specialists always feel better whenever there’s a chance for easy points.

Quoth Jaybugkit: a “W is a W.” Word. The Knicks can’t control who they play, or those teams’ injury statuses or anything about those teams. They can’t beat them so badly they get credit for two wins. All the Knicks can control is themselves and hope to keep building on success. They’re 7-4 headed into a home rematch tomorrow vs. Milwaukee. The tests just keep on coming. See ya then, Ace.