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Knicks 103, Timberwolves 99: “A win is a win”

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The Knick finished on the right end of a fake comeback.

Minnesota Timberwolves v New York Knicks Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

In sixth grade gym we had to run a mile. The teacher lined us all up at the starting line, preached the importance of pacing ourselves and told us our times would be recorded. We braced. The whistle blew. And I took off as fast as I could. I was good for a half a mile. Then, exhausted, I slumped to a sorry finish.

The Knicks were good for three quarters last night versus Minnesota, then collapsed. Unlike me, they still had something left in the tank. The 103-99 victory was their fourth in five games and kicked off a four-game homestand on the right note — even if that note did turn awfully blue the last 12 minutes.

New York rode a couple of runs — 9-3 and 9-1 — to an early lead. The most satisfying bucket, in the manner of a refreshing sneeze after a long build-up, belonged to RJ Barrett, as did much of the night.

Minnesota, like sixth-grade moi, tried to do the hard work the easy way, putting up more three-pointers than twos in the first quarter. Of course, “3>2” is often a gross over-simplification. The quality of the shot attempts can sometimes tilt the balance to 2>3. While the Knicks were thoroughly out-gunned from deep, they dominated at the charity stripe and had no trouble finding soft spots in the Timberwolves’ zone.

That’s not to say the Knicks were only swishing easy stuff inside the arc. Barrett hit a number of highlight-worthy twos and this girl’s gonna give them all some shine.

If you blinked you might’ve missed this quicksilver spin and finish from Julius Randle to put New York up double-digits.

Minnesota was led much of the first half by Ricky Rubio, who looked a sure bet to best the season-high 20 he scored four days ago against Indiana. He’d fall two points short of that, but the 15 he put up before the half kept the Wolves from total annihilation. Speaking of the half, here’s how it ended.

The charmed life continued in the third. Even with Nerlens Noel picking up his third and fourth fouls early in the frame, the Knicks just kept coming up tops.

Elfrid Payton pulled my favorite fullcourt move, where you dribble up quick, slow down like you’re settling to set-up halfcourt, then speed up and blow by your poor trusting defender. RJ hit a straightaway three, then Payton found him for the difficult lay-oop.

Late in the third Randle free throws saw New York go up 21. Normally that’s the nail in the coffin, but this time it was the stake that missed the vampire’s heart and instead pissed it off and woke it up. An Hermano Hernangomez (a.k.a. Juancho) four-point play kicked off what would mushroom into a 25-7 Wolves’ run four minutes into the fourth. The role of Wilt Chamberlain was played by Karl-Anthony Towns, who was serving Minnesota hot dish from deep and steaming bowls of post-ups and spin moves down low.

Et tu, Rowan?

RJ and KAT kept with the “can you top this?”

That divine look saw Minnesota pull within a single point. Moments later, Noel and Randle each picked up their fifth fouls. Towns went off for 15 in the fourth; this baseline spin put the Wolves up 96-95, their first lead since 13-11.

The Knicks missed and Anthony Edwards pushed up the floor, but Barrett was able to impede without fouling and knock the ball out of bounds. That effort led to Noel rejecting KAT with extreme prejudice.

That effort led Towns to settle for a tougher, longer look, which he missed. RJ went hiiiigh off-glass to put the Knicks up one with two minutes left. Towns fouled out Noel and hit a pair of free throws to put the Wolves back on top. Derrick Rose missed a shorty. Barrett insisted on testing KAT and did not pass that test.

Even so, on nights RJ plays this well, the Knicks have an advantage over any team with one All-Star, because Randle is so consistently brilliant the Knicks’ nightly baseline is one All-Star. He drove on Towns, drew the foul and hit both free throws to put the Knicks up one. The Timberwolves called time and drew up a play for guess who, who spun on Taj Gibson and took a good shot that was on the way down before suddenly remembering its prerogative and popping out. Four straight Alec Burks foul shots salted the game away.

You know how when you’re hungry you want certain foods, but when you’re starving you just want food, period? I’m not hungry for meaningful Knicks basketball; I am fucking famished. After this win they’re 15-16 and a game out of the four-seed. You think I care about the size of a lead they didn’t blow? In the 1990s, whenever the Knicks were up 20 (which was often) and saw the lead cut to single-digits, the announcers would cluck and tsk tsk about how they had to put teams away when they were up big. And in the 2000s, whenever the Knicks were down 20 (which was often) and cut it to single-digits, the announcers would praise them for losing by less, then once the comeback failed they’d lament the impossible holes the team was putting itself in. Nobody knows anything and a win is a win is a win.

Notes:

  • Seems the Timberwolves took this loss harder than most.
  • I hate corporate PR speech. If an artificial intelligence came up with this tweet, it’d raise serious questions about whether A.I. is possible. That a wet gray human brain concluded Ryan Saunders or the general public would confuse this B.S. tweet as having any thread of a grip in reality makes the inevitability of climate change reasonable.
  • Three-pointers: Minnesota 16-of-35, New York 6-of-18. Free throws made: MIN 17, NY 31.
  • RJ was so poised in this one. Anyone getting the shakes from him not playing 40 minutes a game for a week or two is feeling better after his 34 minutes, 21 points and the sense of assurance he displayed. You gotta be cool.
  • Always exciting when the top pick in the prior draft comes to town. Anthony Edwards looked like what we everyone said he would: physical talent that can’t be taught or earned, intriguing but erratic shooting prowess, and a crunch-time energy reminiscent of when it’s three in the morning and you’re sobering up — or the opposite — and realize you’re at a party where you don’t know anybody in a house or apartment you don’t recognize.
  • Tom Thibodeau attempted and won his first first-half coach’s challenge this year in order to keep Noel from a second foul early in the first quarter. Thibs is on a four-challenge winning streak.
  • Very quiet night for Rose and Immanuel Quickley, following their 2-of-22 stinker from last game with a 2-of-14 stinkette.
  • I love the green North Star at the zenith of the Wolves’ alternate jerseys. It’d look delicious atop all their unis.
  • I wish Rubio would’ve spent some time as a Knick. He’s just fun to watch play. If you dig androgyny like I do, that beard/bun combination is very easy on the eyes and the soul.
  • Pointing out a righty is impressive going to his right sounds like damning with ain’t praise, but I really do enjoy watching Payton drive to the basket when he has room to go right.
  • On MSG Kenny Albert said the Knicks average 26 fouls per game. 26! That’s crazy.
  • Albert also reported the Knicks and Wolves didn’t play last year because of Covid. The last time they met before tonight, the Wolves’ leading scorer was Taj Gibson. The Knicks’? Damyean Dotson.
  • Minnesota’s Jordan McLaughlin looks like a prophet.
  • Theo Pinson’s bench histrionics game is strong. I appreciate him for that.
  • Did you know Pat Riley’s dad played baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies and his older brother played football with the New York Giants? A father-and-sons trio who each succeeded as professional athletes in three different sports. Nice.

Quoth Disappointment: “A win is a win.” A win tomorrow over the Warriors would see the Knicks reach .500 for the first time in a month, since beating Golden State in January. As the U.S. nears a half-million deaths from a virus that’s spawning more transmissible strains around the world and the NBA decides now’s a good time to brings people from all over the country together for a game so meaningless it makes a preseason scrimmage look like the playoffs, even after dozens of games have been cancelled due to that virus, the Golden State game will have 2000 fans in attendance. As often as we exceed our dreams, it’s the worst of ourselves we can’t outrun.