You know the Knicks have a unique fanbase because after Thursday, we should all be soaring off what was a jubilant, miracle comeback victory, capped in dramatic fashion by RJ’s incredible game winner, and yet going into the game tonight we were all suffering from an air of collective inevitability that we were walking into a buzzsaw at the racism and funny accent factory in Massachusetts.
Perhaps it’s because we were facing the team we just stole a game from on the second half of a home and home? A team you could argue has more talent pound for pound. Perhaps because pre-knee injury Bernard King, A.K.A. Evan Fournier vs. the Celtics, was out with a thigh contusion? Perhaps because we were down nearly our entire backcourt with Kemba and Rose also on the shelf. The Knicks had won two incredible games vs. the Celtics this season, and lost one that included what might’ve been their best quarter of the season. You got the sense this couldn’t possibly continue, and it didn’t.
Some subplots: What’s up with Julius? Did he unlock a new pissed off form of the former all star and MVP candidate (Answer: Nope!)? Is thumbs down gate evidence of the good or bad kind of petty? Will the bank heard round the world rejuvenate RJ, or become a memorable curio from this underwhelming season (Answer: probably the latter!)? Can IQ make himself into a viable starting point guard option for the Knicks (Answer: Kind of! He was wildly efficient on 7-11 shooting with no turnovers in 37 minutes, but only 4 assists)?
Working on this intro pre-game, my great hope, on this first evening of sports betting in New York, was the Knicks would at least lose by less than seven (I lost a dime), but I tried to stay hopeful for the win, on the cusp of re-attaining a .500 record, because this season’s iteration of the Celtics are yet again soft and as frustrating as the Knicks have been at times. I watched the game on my couch with my wife, a wheel of spruce wrapped Rush Creek Reserve, crackers, and a bottle of Domaine Delalex Marin Clos du Pont Vin de Savoie 2015. After the first half, it was just about the only positive aspect of the evening.
It seems so obvious, yet something we never talk about, that Julius is a different player and the Knicks are a different team when he’s looking pass first, and you can kind of read his approach to every game immediately. In the first half, despite IQ getting the start at point, the offense ran through Juelz. He was setting up his teammates, particularly RJ and IQ, who kept the Knicks close, and inspired this idiotic Tweet after the first:
"Jules" not off to the kind of start he would've hoped - 1 of 6 with a sloppy turnover. But IQ and RJ carrying Knicks to 22-17 lead with 1:54 left in first quarter.— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) January 9, 2022
Another person keeping us close was Jayson Tatum, who was chucking early and often but was off. He seems like no fun to play with, there was no continuity to the Celtic offense in the first half, it was a lot clearing out and letting Tatum attempt to cook, which he didn’t. Unfortunately, Robert Williams AKA the Time Lord was everywhere, playing garbage man, cleaning up every mess, and generally spit roasting us with a lot of Mitch looking on, flat footed and constantly in the wrong place. Thibs spelled him with Taj, and on a night we were severely undermanned, only played Obi Toppin 9 minutes (The Celtics bench, powered by bizarro Evan Fournier, Josh Richardson, who only plays well against the Knicks, outscored ours 33-6) which I can only assume was his way of obeying the mandate of at least one baffling decision every night.
This was an ugly, muddy game for the Knicks in which they put up their season low point total, and the refs allowed it to be that. I just read Chris Herring’s masterful Blood in the Garden (More on that soon), and in terms of the officiating, this was a game Pat Riley would have approved of. The final score would’ve fit right into a John Tesh themed NBC Saturday triple header in the 90s.
But you just knew it couldn’t last. New York’s favorite quarter was Death Valley again. The Celtics opened the half on a 10-2 run (5-9 from 3 in a quarter in which they outscored the Knicks 32-18, eventually 55-33 for the half), and the Knicks never competed again.
Especially coming off the heels of Thursday, when we got the platonic ideal of a Fournier performance, a night like this reminds you of why the Knicks felt it was necessary to go out and get him. When the shot is falling for the free-firing Frenchman, he adds a necessary dynamism to the offense that can get bogged down and sticky when it’s running through Randle, and RJ and AB are throwing up bricks (a combined 15-51 for the trio).
The Knicks survived so many nights last season with defense, which masked a plodding offense that relied heavily on Randle (and Derrick Rose) pulling an array of shots out of his ass. Tonight was the worst of both worlds, and as irritating as Fournier can be when he doesn’t have it, I found myself wishing he was on the floor to at least attempt to provide a spark.
Monday we get the Spurs, one in a dwindling number of games on our merciless coming schedule that look plausibly winnable on paper, but we’ve already lost plenty of those. Let’s hope it plays out better than tonight did.
- We’ve spent a lot of energy the last few weeks coming up with lists of players and assets we wouldn’t trade for De’Aaron Fox, but maybe it’s time to consider what we would be willing to part with. I love Quickley, but I get the feeling when I watch him that his offense is mostly self generating. He’ll make a pass on a drive and kick, but it’s all simple reads, reflexive response. His numbers looked good tonight, and RJ and AB did him no favors, and this could change with reps if Thibs is actually willing to, you know, dedicate some court time to trying shit out in situations that aren’t completely desperate, but for now I like Quick better as a 2, a microwave bench scorer. Would love to see him in a backcourt with an unguardable fucking demon who could potentially operate an offense in a cohesive system, like Fox.
- Grimey wasn’t it tonight despite getting 28 minutes of work. Still love watching him shoot. His form is almost as good as that Asian kid who won’t take his coat off.
- I’ve seen some zagging on here lately, people saying “Hey Wally, actually not that bad!” But I can’t stand games I have to watch with him doing color.
- The Post is really dragging this thumbs down thing. My take is: who fucking cares? Jules is frustrated. He’s having a frustrating season, and Knick fans are great, passionate, and knowledgeable, but we’re also gaping assholes and I have zero problems with him lashing out. Good. Get mad. Better than passively wallowing in self pity and despair with that blank look he has had on his face from time to time this year as the ship sinks slowly.
- As commenter Mets.Derk astutely noted in the game thread: “75 points in an NBA game. That’s Sad.” As I mentioned above, a season low, but also the Knicks’ lowest point total since the banner year of 2017-2018, when they scored 73 twice. Once was against Orlando on April 3rd, 2018. The other was January 31st, at The Douche Bag Garden in Boston.
- Since I brought him up earlier, and I think we could all use a smile, here’s the immortal Tim Robinson, as Dave Tesh, performing the original version of “Roundball Rock”. Goodnight folks.