As the Knicks took turns hoisting up shots pre-game, Julius Randle was in his usual spot on the bench, eyes closed, taking deep breaths as an assistant coach talked shit into his ear. Randle has taken up meditation to ease tension and channel anxieties around being the team’s go-to guy. He works with an assistant coach who, as Knicks sideline reporter Rebecca Haarlow said, whispers a different message each time into his ear.
Anyone beyond a casual could discern this was MSG propaganda. The channel has been singing Randle’s praises since the start of the season. And some of it's warranted. Yes, Randle has played with more joy this season. Yes, he has displayed a more efficient and complete all-around game. Yes, most Knicks fans would prefer he did so with another team’s jersey on his back.
As the team solidifies more and more as the definition of “mid” basketball, Knicks fans know the only path forward is a proper rebuild. Meaning Randle must be traded, and head coach Tom Thibodeau, his biggest enabler, must be fired. Speaking of Obi Toppin, between him, Mitchell Robinson, and Jericho Sims, we have three guys you can toss it up to way high up in the air and wait for a vicious slam. It has been a while since we could say that.
This morning provided a rare matinee game, allowing Knicks Nation to enjoy a cup of coffee with the game, before the diuretic bubbled back up, sending us to the toilet by the fourth. Today’s opponent was the Oklahoma City Thunder, who represent, at least for this Knicks fan, what I wish the Knicks were: one of the best young cores in the NBA, zero bad contracts, plus a historical trove of draft picks.
The first quarter featured the best first-quarter scoring performance in Knick history: 48 points while shooting 64% from the field. More beautiful was how much of a team affair it was. All the Knicks who saw the floor were on the board, save for Even Fournier. Cam Reddish was especially nifty, escaping his recent scoring drought with a combination of Euro steps, three-balls, and interior drives for seven points, two rebounds, and two assists. For his effort, Immanuel Quickley came into the game for Jalen Brunson and scored eight points in six minutes, only to be yanked out by Thibodeau. Thibs be Thibbin.
What might be uncomfortable to admit was how the Thunder were equally on fire, scoring a blistering 36 points, showing again how deficient the Knicks’ defense has been this season. They have desperately missed Robinson. Especially given how much Thibodeau over-emphasizes rim protection, relying on slow-footed centers to recover on perimeter switches, leading to their league-worst perimeter defense. The Thunder are led by my personal number-one trade target, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. SGA would be the ultimate backcourt mate for the undersized Jalen Brunson, with either capable of playing on- or off-ball.
This game was worth watching just for the premier of Raekwon and Ghostface Killa’s KITH commercial. Good on the Knicks to hire Ronnie Fieg as Creative Director for the team. Based on his reaction, Clyde approves.
By halftime, the Thunder led 79-73. How quickly things change. New York’s disgusting defense outdid its hot shooting. The Thunder shot 67% from the field and 12/20 from three. Double disgusting. RJ Barrett’s defense was especially atrocious, with the Canuck losing the battle against his countryman, Alexander, who routinely burnt him in forcing Barrett into three first-half fouls.
- Can Toppin get more than seven effing minutes in the half? What does he have to do to average at least 20?
- While Barrett’s three-point shooting has been improved to start the season, the kid is struggling his ass off in his efficiency in the mid-range, especially driving to the basket. He finished the half 2 of 9 with three turnovers. I think it’s time to reconsider how “untouchable” we consider him.
- Is Thibodeau on the hot seat yet? How can this man lose leads at a David Fizdale pace and not be considered for firing? I know he and Leon Rose go way back, but nepotism is killing this team, inside and out.
- Reddish deserves the starting spot, even when Quentin Grimes returns to form. Reddish is the only starter who gives high-energy and high-IQ defense on the perimeter. He is also a Pandora’s box on offense, with a skill set capable of being unleashed with the right matchups. He’s earned the start. Give Grimes Fournier’s minutes off the bench.
- Speaking of Fournier: he blows. It’s going to cost attaching two second-round picks to move his contract. But it needs to be done. He’s lost confidence in every facet of his game on offense.
- With the Thunder not employing traditional bigs, their spacing forwards provided tough assignments on the perimeter. The Knicks were already dogshit on defending the three, hence OKC hitting 12 in the first half. It can't be that difficult to guard the most lethal shot in basketball. Enough with the drop coverage and interior help defense. Stay on the shooters!
As the boos rang down on the Knicks halfway through the third quarter, all eyes were on Thibodeau. Against a team with no true center, why the hell did he continue to employ a rim protector? SGA continued to get whatever he wanted in the paint. With the coach's game plan failing, at the bare minimum, it was the perfect opportunity to have Randle and Toppin out there together. Yet, Thibs be Thibbin. The time has come to fire this man.
The Thunder played us straight up on drives, while the Knicks collapsed on Aleksej Pokuševski’s penetration, leaving lethal shooters wide open. It’s pretty simple. Why did Thibodeau bench Brunson for the entire fourth quarter when he’d played well, scoring 17? Thibodeau has to go no matter the respect and history between Rose and Thibodeau. Pack up all his loyal acolytes and send them packing. Elevate Johnnie Bryant and trade Randle. It’s that's simple. Surrendering 122 after three quarters to the Thunder is a disgusting showing for Thibs as a coach and leader of men. Losing by 10, 145-135, doubles down on this as truth. This appalling attempt at professional basketball cannot be solved by meditation. The only thing we have to ponder, with deep breaths and clenched eyes, is how much worse can it get.