Pablo Prigioni wouldn’t have coughed up a couple costly turnovers at the end of a close game in the middle of a playoff race, that’s for sure.
It wasn’t all Elfrid Payton’s fault, however, although there’s no question his performance in the fourth quarter (including two late turnovers) contributed to Wednesday’s embarrassing 102-101 loss to the Timberwolves in Minnesota.
Elf’s defense on a crucial possession also led to the quote of the night from T-Wolves rookie Anthony Edwards.
Edwards on the play: "I was about to turn and fade until I saw Payton came and doubled. I was like, ‘He crazy.’ I saw Beas in the slot and I kicked it.— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) April 1, 2021
"And when I kicked it you can see I just held my hands up. I knew it was good." https://t.co/a8j48209lZ
For most of the evening’s festivities, the Knicks were clumsily in control, building a lead as large at 18 at one point and holding multiple double-digit advantages. But as the contest came to a close, New York looked like a toddler trying to ride a bike without training wheels. When the buzzer sounded after RJ Barrett’s last gasp of a launch failed to reach the rim, the Knicks fell back to .500, standing at 24-24 and tied with the Miami Heat for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Live look at Thibs in the locker room after the game:
The loss is highly disappointing, and not just because it means the Knicks failed to ‘win one for the Gipper’ by defeating Thibs’ former team on their home court. The Knicks started strong, despite being without Derrick Rose, who sat with a sore left ankle, and Mitchell Robinson, who’s out for the foreseeable future after fracturing his foot.
A lot of New York’s early success started on the defensive end. Thanks to swarming defense, mixed with a splash of good old fashioned poor shooting from the opponent, the Timberwolves shot only 27% from the field in the first quarter. The Knicks, meanwhile, shot 46% as a team. Each starter scored in the opening period. Julius Randle led the way with 8 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists, followed by Elf (7 points, 2 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals) and RJ (5 points, 2 glass cleanings, 1 dime, 1 steal).
Defense igniting the break (x2) pic.twitter.com/n5r5vQwrOU— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 1, 2021
By the end of the first, the Knicks were up 26-19. New York looked like the better team. The question was whether the bench could sustain it. Soon into the second, the Knicks found themselves up 17 after having gone on a 10-0 run.
Alec Burks was casually making it rain (he had 9 points in the second, 13 for the game), and ball movement was resulting in wide open threes for fellas like Reggie Bullock.
Things you love to see: This ball movement. pic.twitter.com/rB9vHT6f1Q— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 1, 2021
Still, there was a sense of foreboding. It may have stemmed from Immanuel Quickley’s inability to buy a bucket (he was 0-4 in the quarter and didn’t take another shot all night). Or perhaps it had something to do with Minnesota slicing the lead all the way down until it merely a one-point game at halftime, 51-50.
Randle, Barrett and Payton steadied the Knicks in the third, collectively carrying the team on their shoulders with a combined 27 points in the period. Things were so loosey goosey that, at one point, Randle paid homage to Dirk Nowitzki.
To celebrate the All-Star’s smooth moves the Knicks threw a block party.
Nerlens is having none of that ☝ pic.twitter.com/mdFFtRSoJu— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 1, 2021
Heading into the fourth, the Knicks led 81-70. But after shooting horrifically the whole night, Minnesota caught fire, and the lead slowly and painfully whittled away. The Timberwolves hit 61% of their field goals in the period (while also shooting 7-8 on free throws), and although Randle hit a couple clutch buckets, he eventually went ice cold, the Knicks didn’t have firepower down the stretch, and Elf and RJ made costly turnovers in key moments.
Tough loss. The Knicks have been winning the games they should win, and this was one of those games. Sure, they have number one overall pick Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, but the Timberwolves have been downright disastrous this season. Even with the victory over New York, they are the worst team in the NBA at 12-36. Let’s all agree to pretend we never witnessed the last few minutes of this one and move on.
> Elf is getting a lot of flack for this one, and it’s true he played really poorly in the fourth. Prior to that, however, he was really solid, as reflected in his overall box score of 17 points 5 boards 3 assists and 2 steals. But still. Those brutal turnovers and hairbrained defense? They hurt.
> Speaking of Elf, why has Frank Ntilikina been banished to the bench for three straight games? He could have been useful tonight, especially without Rose. Heck, Burks assumed the role of floor general at one point. Is there some kind of organizational policy where Frank must be yanked in and out of the lineup as much as possible every season?
> Quick props to Randle, who bounced back from an off night for another All-Star performance. He finished with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists.
> Walt Clyde Frazier said on the broadcast that he expects RJ Barrett to be an All-Star next season. Fingers crossed, Clyde.
> Pablo Prigioni, now an assistant coach for the Timberwolves, could be clearly seen on the MSG broadcast near the end of the game, and goodness gracious was it great to see him.
As Rice2012 noted, “wish we could put Pablo out there at PG.”
The Knicks next play on Friday. It’s against the Dallas Mavericks, which have former Knicks including Tim Hardway Jr. and Trey Burke. Always nice to see old friends!