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Knicks 105, Pistons 91: “The Mitch is back”

New York’s force multiplier with the dunks, D & desire.

Detroit Pistons v New York Knicks Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

At first glance, he New York Knicks’ 105-91 win over the Detroit Pistons last night appears insignificant. A 13-17 team beating a 5-24 team? Seven Knicks out with illness or injury, including many of the most fun to watch? A win that still leaves them 12th in the East? Who cares?

I do. I needed this game. I’ve been struggling for weeks. Health stuff. Relationship stuff. Big world stuff. World inside me stuff. The getting-harder-to-remember-life-before-the-pandemic-or-hope-for-a-world-after-it stuff. It feels like I’m a bell someone rung and the sound keeps getting louder and scratchier.

The Knicks took control early and were never seriously threatened after. These lower-the-blood-pressure games are a rare warm bath in this season of choppy seas. New York ended the quarter on a 15-3 run punctuated by a Mitchell Robinson dunk, the first of many. Robinson was the most dominant player in this game in what was pro’ly his best outing of the season as well as a reminder that the Knicks getting anywhere near their ceiling requires Mitch reaching his.

The ‘90s Knicks would’ve been proud of these Knicks giving up only 37 at the half. The Pistons shooting slash was a wintry 36/18/50. Pat Riley used to talk about “thunderbolts” — significant events that come from out of nowhere. That was Robinson on this night: Zeus raining thunderbolts down on the heads of a village of very tall people. As much as anyone on the team besides Julius Randle, Mitch at his best brings out the best in others.

On the Knicks’ next possession the recently revitalized Evan Fournier drilled a 3 to put them up 22. Detroit was bound by the laws of god and man to mount a fake comeback, which they did, but the closest they got was five. And unless Robinson decided to quit basketball mid-game, the best player on the floor all night wasn’t having it. Spoiler: he didn’t, thus it was not had.

Beyond Mitch’s masterclass, a number of Knicks impressed. Evan Fournier led a balanced attack with 22, with Randle and Kemba Walker each adding 21. Alec Burks struggled with his shooting but contributed seven rebounds and six assists. Taj Gibson played well. The Pistons are truly wretched, which certainly gave the Knicks the edge. You know what? No apologies. My nervous system needed an easy win. A quiet couple hours. A happy place. It’s only a quick hit of happy, warmth without light. But it’s been cold for a while. I’ll take it.


  • The pandemic pro’ly plays some role in this, but it’s rare for the top pick in the draft to make their Madison Square Garden debut with less fanfare than Cade Cunningham. Seven points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Motor City messiah. The shooting was blech, but the vision, the intelligence — they’re there. And then some.
  • Good Mitch is soooo much better than Good Taj or even Good Noel.
  • Robinson missed an easy dunk right as the announcers gushed about his improved conditioning and Wally Szczerbiak flipped on a dime to how fatigued Mitch clearly was.
  • The Kemba layup package was all on display tonight. One reason I love Emmanuel Mudiay to an irrational degree was his simple athleticism. For years the Knicks not only had bad point guards, they had boring point guards, below-the-rim flavorless point guards. Mudiay could finish at the rim in ways many of his predecessors couldn’t. Kemba is a whole other level — the changes-of-pace at the end of his drives, especially with a big on him; the quick kinesthetic calculation of speed, size and angles — is something to behold
  • Speaking of, Kemba’s gotta keep playing once everyone’s back. i don’t care how many lineup configurations are needed to get him and Miles McBride minutes. Platoon ‘em if you got ‘em. They both bring things no one else on the team does.
  • Perhaps relatedly: there are any number of reasons the Knicks are struggling this year. One is that neither Randle nor Burks are great ball-handlers, and for point guards they’re not even good ball-handlers, and yet they handle the ball sooo much. Perimeter turnovers led to at least four Piston breakaway dunks.
  • Burks is this generation’s Hubert Davis, in terms of most egregious giveaway of and-one fouls to opponents.
  • On one sequence Randle took a take foul on Hamidou Diallo, who after the whistle tossed up a halfcourt shot that went in. That should always be celebrated, always. The patron saint of this celebration = Allen Iverson.
  • One Piston who impressed was Saben Lee, who scored 16 in his first 16 minutes. It took me awhile to accept that I wasn’t hearing “David Lee” every time Mike Breen said his name. - -
  • Speaking of Breen, he said Clyde is feeling better and should be back on the mic Thursday. That’s good news.
  • Let’s say I’m a fan of a baseball team that’s not very good. However, they do have a guy hitting .240 who’s tied for the league lead in home runs. The two blokes he’s tied with are both hitting .340. You know your guy isn’t on their level, but you take pride in him, to the point of delusion, just to have fun being a fan.

I remember so many of these hitters with fondness. I didn’t see Dave Kingman, but the back of his baseball card was craaazy. Rob Deer. Adam Dunn. You know the specific, exquisite delight of summer nights at the carnival? Imagine how much more fun it was in 1889, when carnivals were such bigger deals. That’s the joy I get whenever a big dude goes for broke.

There are only three players league-wide averaging at least 19 points, nine rebounds and five assists per game. One is last year’s Finals MVP. One is last year’s regular-season MVP. The other is Randle. This game was very 2022 Randle, so more prolific than 2020 Randle but not as efficient as 2021 Randle. There were cringeworthy turnovers — the Fournier handoffs need some work. The shot wasn’t there, again. What was, again, was the cognitive dissonance of watching Randle make the same nice moves he did all last season, when I grew to expect the shots to go in and they mostly did, whereas this time around I find myself expecting them to miss — and often, they do.

I know he’s not Antetokounmpo or Jokić. I keep reading awful things being said about him. He’s young. His play last year was historic for this franchise, not only in its production but in changing the perception of the Knicks around the league. He signed an extension for less than a lot of people thought he’d look for. Has any Knick starter been better than expected this year? They’ve all disappointed. What crime has Randle committed? Besides struggling?

  • Randle has seen way more teams using smaller defenders against him initiating at the free-throw line extended. I wonder how much of that has impacted his play thus far. He didn’t get a lot of that look last year, at least in the regular season.
  • Randle will literally rip a defender’s eyes out of their sockets as he drives, get whistled for the offensive foul and complain. Truly terrific endurance, to play the minutes he does and still have energy to kvetch.
  • A well-rounded show of scoring from Fournier, who had his third straight strong showing after a slow start from the field.
  • After signing a 10-day contract, Damyean Dotson played four minutes. All I had to do was see his face and now I want Dotson to re-sign. I don’t even care if he plays. On a human level, I just want things to work out for him in life.
  • The Knicks led after the first quarter 24-17. Few opening-quarter scores are as satisfying as 24-17. It’s a healthy lead after 12 minutes; the 17 allowed is a good show by the defense; the 24 scored suggests some level of competence, with slight improvement pushing them near a 30-point quarter. I love 24-17.
  • Per a reader’s suggestions, I’m gonna try to include a OAKAAKUYOAK feature in recaps, a look at how one or more Knicks alum fared around the league that night. The Lakers and Suns featured four former ‘bockers: Wayne Ellington and Carmelo Anthony both struggled from the field, combining to shoot just 3-of-11. In just his second game back this year, Ariza made all four of his shots, including three from deep. Elfrid Payton was a DNP for the Suns.
  • Wayne Selden has STUNNING eyes. Stunning.
  • Palindrome lovers: did you catch when the score was 43-34?
  • I’m so over analysts overreacting whenever a 20-point lead is halved. In the break between the third and fourth quarters, Alan Hahn said “The Knicks scored 32 [in the 3rd]. The bad news: they gave up 32.” It’s not bad news if the team up 11 at the half is up that many 12 minutes later. Games are fractal, imperfect organisms. You don’t generally see a team be up seven after the first, 14 at the half, 21 after three and win by 28. Shit undulates.

Quoth me paraphrasing Elton John: “The [M]itch is back.” I hope reading this recap brought you some of the joy I felt writing it. I needed this. I need more than this, but it helps. The Knicks needed this. They need more than this, too, but it’s a start. The Knicks haven’t won consecutive games since they were 5-1. Their next chance to do so is tomorrow when they welcome Washington to MSG. Don’t stress about holiday shopping. Connection means more and lasts longer. Give something of yourself; you’re the best thing you’ve got.