Do you know who has the best record in Major League Baseball? I bet a lot of you guessed correctly: the Los Angeles Dodgers. You know who’s next-best? Maybe not as many get this one right — it’s the Oakland A’s, the hottest team in baseball, winners of 14 of 15.
The hottest team in the NBA is the New York Knicks, who share a connection with the A’s. Oakland lost their first six games this year before finally getting in the win column against the Dodgers. That day, April 7, was the last time the Knicks lost. Nine wins in a row for the Big 15 after a 120-103 grape-stomping of the Toronto Raptors.
On the seventh day God rested. On the eighth God decided that in 2021 Julius Randle was going to open games straight torching fools. Intelligent design never shot so sweet.
Job got tested and so did the Knicks. Toronto ran off an 11-1 run; their first 10 baskets were assisted. The Knicks response came from Randle raining 3s and Derrick Rose twice just beating the shot clock and Tajkeem Olajubson.
The Knicks finished the first hitting seven of their last eight shots. RJ Barrett picked up his third foul shortly after picking up this sweet sweet bucket.
Does Reggie Bullock ever miss two 3s in a row anymore? Doesn’t seem like it. The game was tied and then three Reggies later the Knicks were up nine.
Back-to-back Fred Van Vleet 3s pulled the Raptors back within two, but Julius Randle is not one with whom to fuck, as he informed OG Anunoby.
Oh yeah, Jules is in his bag again. pic.twitter.com/BhFecnMwbY— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 24, 2021
The Knicks’ hot shooting from the Atlanta game was still hitting pure, but while these Raptors are a long way down from their teams of recent years, enough of those players remain that the team remains dangerous. Imagine one night Charles Oakley showed up at your house and offered you a top hat filled with 30 slips of paper. Each slip has an NBA team written on it. If the team you draw loses that night, Oak shares a nightcap with you and leaves in good spirits. If the team you draw wins, he punches you square in the throat. How comfortable would you feel if you drew the Raptors? I would be pissing myself bracing for my death.
The opening minutes of the second half featured Elfrid Payton looking like Patrick Ewing. The Ewing who has his skills stolen by aliens in Space Jam.
The weight of Payton’s non-threateningness from outside can be a burden, but one the Knick offense can bear. When he’s bleeding turnovers it’s too much to withstand. Toronto took the lead for the first time since the first quarter, continuing a share-the-wealth approach that kept the Knick defense off-balance. With the game up for grabs, the headlines usually go to a scorer, and the ease with which Randle regularly buries hop-step 3s is terrifying and wonderful to watch. But the knife’s edge this game turned on was Nerlens Noel blocking Van Vleet and Pascal Siakam on consecutive possessions, the former springing Bullock for the transition 2.
The bench has been a major part of the Knicks’ success and it was again, outscoring their counterparts 43-11, led, as always by Rose. The OG schooled OG late in the third.
Toronto opened the fourth in a zone and Immanuel Quickley opened with a 3. Barrett slow-roasted Yuta Watanabe while Obi Toppin hit a couple from deep. The star of subs, as is often the case, was Rose.
The Knicks were too hot for too long from too many places for Toronto to get close again. One of the nice things about your team winning a bunch of games in a row is it never stops feeling better. Six in a row is great, but seven is that much better, and eight leaves seven in the dust, and nine puts us squarely in sunset territory, a.k.a. prettier the longer it lasts. The end of this win featured streaks of Noel finding Siakam’s challenge...lacking.
Nerlens is not new to this. HE'S TRUE TO THIS. pic.twitter.com/j9N7RhOExn— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) April 24, 2021
Per Kenny Albert on MSG, only two teams this season have won nine straight: Utah has an 11-game winning streak and two nine-game runs, and now the Knicks. By law, those two teams advance straight to the Finals.
- Randle will pro’ly get a few down-ballot MVP votes. He has a better shot at Most Improved Player. What does it say about our society that we celebrated the MIP award but no crowd would ever serenade a player with “Most Im-proved! Most Im-proved!”?
- I imagine last year most fans would have ranked Siakam > Randle. Given how fast and how far that’s flipped, does that mean at this point next season we could all be like “I can’t believe how good John Collins has become. He’s unquestionably better than Randle”? Can you imagine?
- Randle has played 41 minutes a game during the winning streak. When the playoffs start he’ll already have played more than 300 more minutes than any other year in his career. If he didn’t play again this year and you averaged his total minutes over 82 games, he’d still be at 27 minutes a game, more than any other active Knicks besides RJ and Bullock. These are all different sides of the same “Randle plays a LOT” coin.
- RJ had five points and three rebounds in the first half, 20 and nine in the second. I kept trying to craft a Big Domini Energy joke here, but it’s beyond me. In the meantime, enjoy Barrett powering through Watanabe.
- Noel did a nice job shading over from Khem Birch to help Randle defend Siakam.
- In the game’s final minute Noel found Bullock ahead of the field for an uncontested basket that never should’ve counted ‘cuz it should’ve been an eight-second count. I’m obsessed with eight-second counts and I literally called it out loud as it happened, then rewound it and made my poor fiancee watch it with me because...why? I don’t know. Eight-second counts mean a lot to me.
- The Knicks are now 18-7 when Rose plays.
- Ewing. Amar’e Stoudemire. Mitchell Robinson. And now Noel. Those are the only Knicks to record 2+ blocks in at least 11 straight games. Remember blocks weren’t tracked before 1974, so someone like Willis Reed might have been on the list too.
- This is only the Knicks’ second win streak of nine or more games since 1995.
- Thibs won another coach’s challenge, this one earning Taj Gibson two points. Thibs is 16-9 in challenges this year. I wonder if voters give that sort of thing any consideration when they consider Coach of the Year candidates.
- MSG trivia: in the prior game vs. the Hawks, Randle had his 16th 20/10/5 game of the season. Who holds the Knicks’ single-season record for such games?
- As the first half ended FVV fouled IQ at halfcourt as time expired; Quickley, naturally, was right on it and went into his shooting motion. “What a stupid foul!” Clyde called out. The refs ruled it wasn’t a shooting foul and Toronto had one to give. It was close, though. That was strong as I can ever remember hearing Clyde sound.
- Siakam to Anunoby underneath for the reverse slam. Always have a soft spot for reverse dunks thanks to John Starks in the 1992 Dunk Contest.
- Imagine Alec Burks, Trey Burke and Khem Birch were all involved in a collision, and for whatever reason you had to report the fact five times fast.
- Trivia answer: Bob McAdoo, with 17 in 1977-78.
- Here’s how much I’m enjoying these Knicks this season: when you click on basketball-reference.com, the home screen lists the standings in each conference, 1-16. Since I started using the site years ago, the Knicks have always been bad. If I wanna find them on that screen I instinctively drop my eyes, knowing they’ll be toward the bottom. Today, lifting my eyes knowing the Knicks are closer to the top of the East than the bottom was physically delicious.
Quoth King Henry: “It’s like clockwork.” The relentless Knick defense which gave up just 44 second-half points meets one of the league’s best teams and best offenses Monday when they host Phoenix. Time is relative, some say. I figure that’s not true, though; if it were, someone would have come back from the future once time travel became a thing to trash-talk everyone now who says it’s not, and they haven’t. Merry Sunday, loves.