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Pacers 122, Knicks 102: “Yet another sub-.500 team dominates us”

Sub-optimal.

New York Knicks v Indiana Pacers Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

And so, after having a rare, uncomplicated, feel good win against the Spurs in San Antonio, the Knicks piled into a bus, then a plane, flying through the night to Indiana, landing at their hotel at 5 AM. For some reason, in 2021, in the wake of everything we know about athletic performance, with a league schedule that’s been allegedly tweaked and stretched, we still have bullshit like this to contend with, what’s known as “schedule losses”, games seemingly designed to illicit lackluster and perfunctory performances from the team who has to schlep around the country like we’re back in the barn storming days.

The Pacers, on the other hand, were home with a full day of rest in their tanks. They won their last game, Monday, against a suddenly scuffling Wizards squad, but had lost their previous four games. Their front office has been publicly shopping the talent, beginning to lean into full “Blow It Up Mode,” with one of their primary suitors being the Knicks. Yes, the Knicks began with circumstances falling against them, but this game was by no means unwinnable. I was in the Garden for the last Knicks Pacers tilt, a game the Knicks managed to actually pull out late, a bizarro iteration of how they’ve played much of this season, and they had some luck, but played tough defense and executed on offense down the stretch, when it mattered.

And this is the NBA. You have to be up for the challenge every night, and this Pacers team shouldn’t have presented a serious one. They were 10-16, and with the brutality awaiting the Knicks on the schedule, this would’ve been a nice one to steal. It didn’t just not go that way, this was, arguably, the worst and most frustrating loss of the season. What makes it worse is it felt like a poorly managed game, a poorly conceived strategy, in that there wasn’t one really. Thibs played the exact same lineup, the exact same minutes, in the exact same style. There didn’t even really seem to be a tacit acknowledgement that the team was gassed and there were adjustments to be made. It was just another game to Thibs. He gesticulated and worked the refs and scowled and did all his usual bullshit, but he didn’t change a thing. I watched the game with my wife, with delivery from Bombay Kebab on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, and a bottle of Portuguese orange wine from Bojo Do Luar. It was the only good part of my two hour slog through this garbage event.

A few weeks ago we put Kemba Walker on ice, a player whose best days are behind him, but still may have some good offense left in him, as we’ve seen on nights when his shot is falling. The logic behind taking the extreme measure of taking him entirely out of the rotation after 20 games was he can’t stay on the floor defensively. Too small, too slow goes the conventional thinking, and it’s not wrong. But then you see a Godforsaken game like tonight, and you wonder if whatever he’s lacking on defense could potentially be offset with offensive contributions, because it’s hard to do worse than the Knicks backcourt did tonight defensively.

The team was cooked by the Pacers potent guard trio of Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, and the world’s oldest rookie (hilariously referred to over and over again as a “Neophyte” by Clyde, I have to assume as a bit), Chris Duarte (Who lead the Pacers in scoring with 23 and looked every bit the player the Knicks had considered trading up for). You would think, with Taj Gibson back into the lineup after weeks away, Noel actually out, and Mitch Robinson, who has openly admitted to having conditioning issues on the back end of a back to back, the Pacers front court would’ve done the most damage, but a lot of the scoring from Turner and Sabonis came from the perimeter. Indiana’s starting five landed in double digits.

But Thibs did nothing. Fournier was allegedly battling food poisoning via a steak in Texas, 22 minutes, scoring 7 on 2-6 from the field with some ghastly turnovers and complete lackluster defense. Mitch was sleep walking through what looked like a game that should’ve been scheduled rest. 19 minutes. Brogdon had the locks on AB early, picking him up at midcourt, mucking up the offense, resulting in more contested Randle iso fades than I’d like to remember, and exposing the fact that Alec Burks is ... not a point guard, 30 minutes. Randle exerted more effort yelling at the refs than playing basketball. 18 points in 31 minutes. Even RJ Barrett, who whatever your thoughts may be on his game, always brings A effort, was a solid C on both ends. 35 minutes.

If there was a night to try things, to shake up the rotation, to fuck with the minutes allotment, this was it. You have fresh legs in Deuce McBride, an actual point guard who is also a dog on the perimeter. Any thought of giving him a chance as Duarte went nuts in the first half, scoring ten straight Pacers points at one juncture? No. We got a brief look at the Obi/Randle front court, which wasn’t bullied, but the Knicks lost a few possessions, so Thibs quickly pulled the plug. About the only proactive coaching decision he made the entire game. Shit, even a Jericho Sims sighting could’ve been nice anytime before the game was out of reach, but no such luck.

As is the case far too often these days, Obi was the only bright spot. The shot was spotty, but back to back be damned, he was active and busy as ever, scored 13 in 20 minutes, and of course, threw down an in game Isaiah Rider on one such breakaway, a play that will live on in Knicks highlight packages for all eternity.

The Knicks went on a few half hearted runs in the third and fourth quarters, but never really mounted even a fake comeback, which I guess we should be grateful for? Grimes, McBride, Sims, and the garbage God himself Kevin Knox III finally hit the floor with the game out of reach for the last four minutes. They were plus five.

Tonight, if you came into this game blind, and you had to pick which team was rudderless, and on the verge of blowing it up because of limp stagnation, you’d be wrong. The Knicks sunk back below .500, and now have an imminently losable game to look forward to in Toronto on Friday. Good night, good riddance.

Notes:

  • Like many of us, I have Succession on the brain this week, and tonight while watching Thibs, I couldn’t help thinking back to the great, possibly late Kendall Roy, who once said of Logan Roy: “The truth is, (Tom Thibodeau) is a malignant presence. A bully and a liar ... He had a twisted sense of loyalty to bad actors like (Evan Fournier).”
  • Rick Carlisle still looks like a dickhead boss. Meanwhile, everyday Thibs looks more like Colin Farrell as the Penguin in the upcoming Batman reboot.
  • My kingdom for Julius Randle to stop shooting fadeaway baseline jumpers. We should have an award for what’s happened to Randle. Biggest Regression? Least Improved Player?
  • I like McBride and Grimes just fine (and who knows what we even have with them yet!), but sometimes I wish we made the move for Duarte. He’s just a winning player, he had fingerprints on nearly every positive possession for the Pacers in the first. He is both polished immediately as a rookie, and looks like a player who is just going to get better and be in this league for a decade. Then again, perhaps a blessing we didn’t get him because Thibs would never play him.
  • Former Knicks Ron Artest and Antonio Davis were courtside. St. John’s finest shouted out Queensbridge, and dropped knowledge during a courtside interview, revealing the secret history of Queensbridge bred players who had ended up in Indiana. Fully decked out in Pacers garb, he manifested a championship for the Knicks and said he bleeds orange and blue. He referred to himself in the third person as Ron Artest and Metta World Peace, Clyde just called him Artest, which is comedy. Artest still got it after all these years.
  • I was confused as to why Caesars Sportsbook was advertising on MSG, but a quick Google search revealed they’re a new sponsor for MSG, and will be at least one of the legal sports betting sites rolling out in New York, allegedly some time before the Super Bowl in Q1 next year. So that’s something I’ll be losing money on in February.
  • In the game thread commenter ParzLou said it: “Yet another sub .500 team dominates us.” The Knicks have this incredibly tough schedule, but what will be the death of this team is the plethora of horrible games we lost to the bad teams. This was yet another.