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Knicks 123, Hawks 112: “Julius Curry”

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Three in a row? Three in a row!

Atlanta Hawks v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

New York’s 123-112 win over Atlanta ended in the last minute of the third quarter, for me, anyway. Julius Randle launched a three-point attempt and mid-flight my screen froze.

It’s after midnight and it’s still frozen. I can’t play anything before or after the moment Randle took that 3. The ball stays there, afloat without care for time or gravity, high atop the action like the sun over us all.

Do you know the fable of the sun and the wind? One day someone walking through the woods overhears an argument. They follow the sound until they come upon the sun and the wind, arguing over which of them is stronger. The human proposes a contest: whichever of them can make the person remove their coat is the winner. The wind huffs and puffs, gusting till the human is knocked off their feet. Still, they hold onto their coat. Once the wind is exhausted, the sun takes its turn. It glows, warming slowly but steadily, until it’s so hot the person has to take the coat off.

This was a potential playoff preview, with the Knicks coming into the night seventh in the East and the Hawks 10th; if those seeds hold the teams would meet in the inaugural play-in tournament. The two teams have been headed in opposite directions: the Knicks just blew out Washington and Houston while the Hawks entered having lost six of seven.

Continue they did. The Knicks came out like the heat of 1000 suns, and the blue heart of that flame was Julius Randle, hitting for 17 in the first on 7-of-8 shooting. New York was up double-digits for a goodly sum of time, but it didn’t feel like too much of a cushion. Maybe that’s just life in today’s three-happy NBA: even when you’re shooting “hot as July,” as Clyde Frazier described their form of late, five- or six-point swings are always looming, especially with Trae Young out there embodying the cynicism of all the worst elements of sports — the New Jersey Devil’s neutral-zone trap; PED baseball; Jose Mourinho clubs; the James Harden/Chris Paul Rockets, who preferred drawing a whistle to winning. Young had his hand out all night begging for fouls and the refs were in a giving mood. By halftime the lead was down to three; more foreboding, Nerlens Noel had three fouls and Taj Gibson four.

Atlanta ripped off the first nine points of the second half. New York responded with yet another Randle flurry. Midway through the third, a medley of miracles: Noel hit a jump shot (not a typo), the Knicks’ first basket from a center all night. Then he forced a turnover, leading to an RJ Barrett three-point play. Then he stonewalled consecutive attempts at the rim by Kevin Huerter and Skylar Mays, resulting in a pretty Payton reverse that tied it at 81. Huerter tested his luck and was twice denied, so when he again drove and found himself two feet from the basket with Noel there, he didn’t dare try to get off a shot. After denying Mays, Noel battled to keep the offensive rebound away from Clint Capela and into the hands of RJ. An inspiring spell of play from the Nerlen Wall (it cracks me up that one of Noel’s nicknames is from a Cold War symbol that was destroyed five years before he was born).

Some people will struggle with this, but Elfrid Payton was energized and integral during a 15-2 run. Then my screen froze. So I never saw how it turned out.

Or this rather lovely finish from Derrick Rose.

Or more late-and-close clutch play care of Immanuel Quickley.

Or Quickley driving and dishing to RJ, who had a Good RJ night.

Or RJ providing breathing room in the closing minutes.

Or Randle pouring in a Knick career-high 44 to go with nine rebounds and five assists.

I bet that fourth quarter was a lotta fun. Knicks win! Knicks win! Knicks win! This season of positives just keeps on glowing. Bask in the warmth, friends.

Notes:

  • Randle drained a career-high seven 3s. I don’t think he’ll make the All-Star team this year. Given what a dumb idea the ASG is right now, they’d be doing him a favor. But he is undoubtedly in All-Star form.
  • Randle was one rebound shy of his 19th double-double this season. MSG trivia: Patrick Ewing had 58 double-doubles in 1993. Who is the only Knick since then w/50+ double-doubles in a season?
  • I really like Barrett. Dude’s just a good basketball player. Period.
  • Rose was a very mindful distributor. He only finished with three assists, but he cooking and looking for his teammates all night.
  • So why did Atlanta draft Onyeka Okongwu seven months after trading away a first-round pick in the four-team deal that netted Capela? Who had three years and $51M left on his deal after last year?
  • Clyde after the Hawks scored a bucket: “And that silenced the crowd.” Did I miss something? Aren’t there no fans at MSG till Golden State visits next week? I’ll grant Clyde this: at several points It sounded like a live crowd was reacting to swings in the action. Either James Dolan snuck in 2000 of his closest friends or the fake crowd noise is evolving like Derrick from The Good Place.
  • Listening to Clyde crack up Mike Breen this season...what a blessing those two are.
  • Trivia answer: David Lee, who had 65 and 53 double-doubles in 2009 & 2010.
  • If there’s any room in your pod hole, tune in to this week’s Jacobin Sports Show. We’ll be talking all things NBA in our next episode, which means I get to gab and gab about the Knicks with my co-host and open Celtics fan Jonah Birch. The way the C’s have looked of late, I imagine I’ll enjoy the entire conversation.

Quoth Walt Clyde Phraser: “Julius Curry.” He was curry in all the ways — spicy, Seth and Steph. Next game is Wednesday at Orlando. Make sure you catch it ‘cuz after that one you won’t see the Knicks for four days. Saturday’s game vs. San Antonio is not happening.

Please stay safe, people.