Evan Fournier has been infuriating throughout most of this season. He has the talent. Scott Perry has been a solid talent evaluator with the Knicks. Fournier was with Perry during his tenure with the Orlando Magic. So he knew what Fournier was possible as an offensive upgrade over Reggie Bullock. But the Knicks and their fan base haven’t seen anything worthy of the four-year, $73 million contract he signed with the Knicks last summer. Instead, he’s caught most of the fanbase’s ire this season, after Julius Randle, for his lackadaisical play and atrocious defense.
Knicks fans are typically divided over the most polarizing players but have mostly united around their Fournier frustrations. And rightly so — with the Knicks, he is recording below his career, averaging in almost every statistical category. Add those numbers plus his pitiful effort on defense, and you have a whole damn mess. When you’re getting paid nearly $19 million this year to average 12.8 points, the fan base will turn on you quickly.
Fournier had 12 points on 4-6 shooting in the first quarter and an impressive 3-4 from the perimeter, apparently his bread and butter before joining the Knicks. The result? Knicks down 25-18 after the first quarter. It got worse from there — not for Fournier, but the Knicks as a whole. Jayson Tatum was on fire in the first, racking up 11 points and four assists by the 8:30 mark in the second, and the Knicks were down by 17. Woof.
By this time, both Randle and RJ Barrett — who had been on fire lately — were scoreless. The Knicks need Fournier to be better, but not the best player on the team. It seems unlikely the team can beat anyone with Fournier as the leading scorer. The Frenchman can’t win for losing.
The Celtics continued to ramrod the Knicks with a combination of hot three-point shooting and easy lay-ups. At the 4:38 mark, Randle gets his first bucket of the game. Rumored Knicks off-season target Dennis Schroder answered with a three. LOL. Randle hit back with another pull-up jumper. Then another score for a quick six points.
The battle between Robinson and Robert Williams of the Celtics was fun to watch. Both are athletic, shot-altering bigs. For example, Robinson got a great lock at the minute before the half. The ball ended up in Barrett’s hands, who then kicked it out to Fournier on a drive. Bang! Fournier for three. Knicks still ended the half trailing by 16. They trailed by 25 at one point, so it was an improvement.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, Williams had six blocks by the 8:00 mark of the third. He is so active on defense, and when the effort’s there and the offense is complimenting his defense, everything becomes infectious.
Randle was not to be deterred, however. He continued his hot shooting from the previous match against Indiana, doing his best to regain last season’s form from mid-range and three. But it wasn’t enough. Halfway through the quarter, the Knicks continued their third-quarter misery, down by 20. With four minutes left to go, Randle found Fournier (as per usual this season) for a before-dribble hand-off, Fournier nailed the three. Knicks down by 17. Then he hit another to cut it to 14.
Hearing the TNT color commentator make numerous “Freedom” jokes was nauseating. It’s a harsh reminder of how much attention Enes Freedom makes as a FOX News icon while stinking it up on the court. He’s still the black hole on defense he was with the Knicks back in the day.
Perhaps lost in the play of the Knicks’ stars (and Fournier) in this one was the play of Immanuel Quickley knocks down a three and an and-1 on a floater to cut the lead to single digits. Quickley has been one of the best revelations this season. He has worked on his shot, handles, and defense and came into this season as a better player, perhaps one of their most important players.
Behind a Randle resurgence, the Knicks ended the third quarter on a 16-3 run, cutting the Celtics lead to seven, giving Knicks fans reason for optimism.
The Knicks started the fourth with a gallant defensive effort, swiping through passing lanes and crowding the Celtics to force turnovers. Taj Gibson knocked down a smooth mid-range shot and then set a gorgeous screen for Quickley, who knocked down a three. Knicks down by two. The Knicks offense runs off defensive effort. Shit is infectious.
Then Marcus Smart and Fournier traded three-pointers to keep the game at a two-point deficit for the Knicks. Smart knocked down another three-pointer to extend the lead to five. Another suave assist from Tatum, who had a brilliant all-around game. Knicks exercised a full-timeout.
Tatum would then knock down a three and extend the lead to eight. Fournier came through huge with a monster shot to cut the lead to six. Then another three from Fournier to cut the lead to three. What the hell was happening? Fournier had feasted on the Celtics this season, scoring 32 in both previous games, but this was on another level.
Fournier sticks another three to give them their first lead of the game, at 99-98. Tatum answered right back with an and-one on the other end. Knicks down by two. Fournier would finish with a career-high 41 points, including a Knicks record-tying 10 threes. That record is also held by J.R. Smith. It wouldn’t be the last time Earl’s history with the Knicks would come into play on this night.
As P&T’er allzingers said, it might be worth it just to keep Fournier on the roster just to humiliate the Celtics four times a year.
Fournier drew the double team on the perimeter, getting in the air, before handing off to Randle, who missed a wide-open three. Barrett makes up for it by lobbying his favorite passing partner, Robinson, for a ferocious dunk. Tie game.
Quickley would give the Knicks a two-point lead, knocking down a runner out of a broken play. Hell of a game for the youngster. Nice to have options outside of a Randle isolation play.
Barrett drove it to the hoop but only made one of two. Knicks were up by three. I applaud Barrett for going after the foul in that situation. He’s not afraid to take big shots. He has to continue to work on his free throw shooting.
The Knick's defensive effort was back on track in the second half. It helped them initiate offense and get into the teeth of the defense going downhill. Smart hit two free throws and cut the lead to one. Kudos to Randle for not throwing the ball away or earning a turnover in any regard on the catch out of the dead-ball situation. He got fouled and, as usual with Randle in crunch time, only made one out of two.
Barrett played tight defense on Tatum on a pull-up jumper at the elbow, but Tatum is too good. Nevertheless, he created enough room between him and Barrett to allow him to knock down a clutch jumper. Tim Thibodeau will have Barrett watching his reaction to the screen on repeat tomorrow.
On the ensuing out-of-bounds play with 1.5 seconds to go, all the defensive effort and team ball would come back to gift the Knicks on a prayer MSG hasn’t seen in damn near a decade. Barrett catches, Barrett shoots...
Barrett was 3-14 before this shot. Whatever. The kid doesn’t lack for confidence.
Did RJ Barrett think his buzzer beater was going in tonight when the ball left his fingertips?— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) January 7, 2022
"Of course" pic.twitter.com/xFpyCfgvms
It was the first Knicks buzzer-beater since the aforementioned J.R. hit one against the Suns on Dec. 26, 2012.
The Knicks play the Celtics again in Boston on Saturday. They’ll surely be out for revenge. Good. Screw them. As Clyde likes to say, don’t like anything green except money.