Last night, 1235 miles west of Manhattan, something strange happened at Memorial Park Cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas. The locals reported rumbling and wailing coming from underneath the earth. The noises began at 6:30 p.m. Central time and persisted until nearly 9 p.m. Authorities are dumbounded as to what was happening or why it stopped. Knicks fans know better.
James Naismith invented basketball after his boss gave him two weeks to come up with an indoor sport that would keep athletes occupied and active during winters in Springfield, Massachusetts. Last night’s 140-121 Knicks win over the Sacramento Kings must have had J-Nais turning in his Memorial Park Cemetery grave. The Kings put up one of the worst defensive efforts I’ve seen in 30 years. There was no evidence of them being occupied or active for that half of the game. At all. Not when the outcome was in the balance and not in garbage time. Their rotations were late or non-existent, as were their closeouts. They showed no care for denying space. Look at these two clips of the Kings’ D.
Marvin Bagley III has the worst defensive rating in the league among players averaging 20+ minutes. Only Kristaps Porzingis ranks lower. https://t.co/dfG0yk9o1f— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) February 26, 2021
A lineup of zombies and mannequins would have been tougher to score on.
Still, when God gifts you a skinny mirror you don’t question it. You turn every which way and enjoy all the angles, all the reflections, and the Knicks saw plenty to like. Elfrid Payton was out with a sore hamstring, so Derrick Rose started and started hot, hitting all five of his shots in the first quarter and his first seven overall. With Payton out and Kirk Hinrich retired since 2016, Tom Thibodeau had no choice but to give Frank Ntilikina his first minutes in two months. Frank, to his credit, looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, contributing on both ends. After one the Knicks were shooting 70% behind Rose’s 11, nine from Julius Randle, All-Star, and eight from the resurrected Immanuel Quickley, including this four-point play at the end of the frame.
While Quickley continued the scoring onslaught in the second, draining his first four shots, Ntilikina’s night was a charcuterie of tastes and textures: drilling a 3 from the elbow, stripping Tyrese Haliburton, drawing a charge on Harrison Barnes, playing such smothering off-ball D on Buddy Hield it forced De’Aaron Fox into a turnover, and stifling Fox to spark a Quickley transition 3.
Would love for the Raptors to offer Ntilikina a contract this summer, masterful POA defender. pic.twitter.com/JLNFzRIIpK— Robel (@robeltussin) February 26, 2021
Quickley duped Cory Joseph into another three-point foul on his way to 16 in his first seven minutes. The floodgates were open: the Knicks had 55 points just five minutes into the second. The late ‘90s Knicks would have 55 going into the fourth.
New York’s bench, even with Rose starting, was a force of nature, outscoring Sacramento’s and even the Knick starters. When they returned to action the three-point barrage escalated. Reggie Bullock hit three 3s. Randle nailed another. The Knicks’ slash line was a ridiculous 66/53/100 at the half. It would have been even better if this beauty had counted.
Man, would've been dope if this counted pic.twitter.com/l36zHSLf5F— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 26, 2021
In the third the Knicks pulled a Pedro Martinez vs. the Yankees in 2004’s Game 7. You’ll recall (fondly, as a Mets fan) that the Red Sox had come back from down 3-1 to push the ALCS to a seventh game, where they led 8-1 in the seventh inning. Pedro, who a year earlier was on the mound in the eighth with a three-run lead and blown it, wanted revenge, wanted to kick the Yanks while they were down. And he did, though it was less a Chun Li Spinning Bird kick and more what Office Space’s Michael Bolton looked like when he kicks the printer.
An 18-point lead whittled down to five. After 15 first-half assists the Knicks tallied just three in the third, echoing their last game against Golden State, when they had 16 in the first half but only six after that X in 2nd. After entering the third with 77 points, New York scored just 24 in the third. Were the wheels coming off? No. Not with this opponent. The Knick who’s been here the longest ensured the new Knicks kept on keeping on.
How has Frank not played for so long???? ANSWER FOR YOUR CRIMES THIBS pic.twitter.com/Bdpd4zyyoT— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 26, 2021
A Quickley 3 pushed the lead back into double-digits for good, but the fourth belonged to Alec Burks. He hit three straight treys to make it a 20-point margin, then hit back-to-back 3s later en route to 19 in the quarter and a season-high 24. There was even a Burks behind-the-back dish to Taj Gibson for another 3.
Look at Randle and Gibson’s joy there. I’m not sure we ever saw them look that happy a year ago. Kevin Knox came on late and hit his only shot, another 3, to hit the 140 mark. If the Kings’ atrocious D woke James Naismith from his eternal rest, the Knicks’ shooting tucked him back in and sang him sweetly to sleep.
- What a fun group this team is.
Julius just trying to get home— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) February 26, 2021
- RJ looks sooo smooth of late. He looks like he’s leveled-up his court awareness and his self-awareness. He was in the zone on his corner 3s and made a few sublime passes. Yay, RJ!
- I think I asked this last time these teams played — if Barrett ends up having a Harrison Barnes career, would you sign up for that?
- The Knick bench outscored the Kings’ 71-33. Even on fast breaks, New York’s bête noire, they held the edge 12-4.
- Don’t let the scoreboard or Thibodeau’s infinite angst fool you. Despite giving up 121, there was a lot of bright, brave Knick defense. They must’ve drawn a half-dozen charges.
- The crowd’s chants included a “We Want Quickley!” 7:00 in, an “Obi!” chant and MVP chants for both Randle and IQ. Frank also got a warm welcome back.
- MSG trivia: Nerlens Noel entered the game averaging 1.98 blocks per game. Since blocks became an official stat in 1973, only 4 Knicks have averaged 2+ over a full season. Whom be they?
- Haliburton is sooo smart and hurts in a way that feels good. On one play after he picked up his dribble at the free throw line and looked stranded, he threw it off the glass to himself and drew a foul. He also gives me an excuse to post one of my favorite scenes from 30 Rock, one my fiancee reminded me about during the game.
- Marvin Bagley plays like he’s 6’11” on offense and 5’11” on defense.
- Clyde Frazier after Sacramento sent out Kyle Guy late in the fourth: “I thought he was a ballboy.”
- Trivia answer: Patrick Ewing (13 times!), Marcus Camby, Mitch and...well, I’ll let Mike Breen take it from there.
"Porzingis... ah, forgot about him"— The Strickland (@TheStrickland) February 26, 2021
Haven't we all, Mike pic.twitter.com/5fsCodRSAc
You can tell Breen’s kids never got spanked or yelled at. He was one of those dads who just says “I’m disappointed in you” in a measured tone and it hurts all the more.
Quoth cctoastt: “All these fun young Knicks.” These Knicks are fun and young! Next game is an 8:00 tip-off Saturday against Indiana, who are not zombies and mannequins. Say goodbye to the skinny mirror and hello to the East’s 4-seed, whom the Knicks trail by just a half-game. Meaningful games in February? My heart!