clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Knicks 116, Kings 96: “ON FIRE Let’s Go Evan”

A nice, tidy W.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at New York Knicks Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier came to America as a 19-year-old in 1777. The Frenchman, who lost his father to the British Empire during the Seven Year War, always hated the English, so as a teen, enchanted by what he saw as a noble cause, he came to our shores to fight by the side of General George Washington, where he was a resource, contributing men, tactical brilliance, and courage. He was commonly known as the Marquis de La Fayette, or Lafayette. Lafayette was a key figure in the American Revolution, and he appears prominently in several key moments of our war for liberation against the forces of colonial British tyranny. He was close with several of our founding fathers, including Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and Alexander Hamilton.

The fate of America in our war of liberation seemed to eerily mirror the fate of Lafayette, who became something of a folk hero. Good things happened when he was around. Lafayette was involved in several crucial early junctures of the war, with miraculous maneuvers preserving our cause in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. The low point in the war for the Continental Army came when he was on leave in France between 1779-1780, and Lafayette’s role in the Revolution culminated with him leading a division at the Siege of Yorktown, which was the final significant land battle of the war.

On Monday night, the Knicks hosted a Sacramento team that has been struggling badly without their Cornwallis, De’Aaron Fox, a point guard that suddenly has become one of the league’s major trade pieces, as his team grapples with his limitations as a player and considers aging down, relying on what may be their battery of the future in Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell. The Knicks have had struggles of their own and are on a shortlist of teams around the NBA potentially panicking. They are all looking at one another’s imperfect solutions and damaged assets, considering swaps. Wondering if Sacramento, or Los Angeles, or Boston, or Philly’s problems just might provide the bandage the Knicks need to stem the hemorrhaging.

The Knicks had lost three straight and six of their last seven, dropping their record to 23-27, 12th in the East and one and a half games out of a longshot play in spot. The Knicks had found every conceivable way to lose over this stretch, grizzly blowout defeats to injured decent teams or injured very bad ones, blowouts against much better teams, and excruciating, gut punch last second losses. At the moment, most Knick fans would be eager to ship their All-Star, the league’s reigning Most Improved Player, and top five MVP finisher from 2021, Julius Randle, who has been suffering from a season long gestating bout of “Asshole Face” for a role player, a gently protected first round pick, and a sack of magic beans.

The schedule is about to turn even worse for the Knicks, failing to feast on a slate of winnable games and now staring down the barrel of a 10 game stretch that includes LeBron, Ja Morant, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, James Harden, and the great Lu Dort. So coming into this evening, the big question looked to be, “Which of these shitty, disappointing teams have bigger problems?” The answer presented itself in the form of our mercurial, aggravating, magnificent, French artilleryman. Appropriately, I watched the game with a bottle of Domaine Des Amiel — A Yvonn. A vermentino hailing from — where else? — France.

Last week, in conversation with my young colleague Jayson Buford, I posited that the Knicks should consider utilizing Evan Fournier in a bench role, bringing him into the game early as the sixth man. He’s so unbelievably hot and cold, it would be simple enough to evaluate off a few shots whether or not he has the touch on any particular evening. If he’s hitting, ride him for all he’s worth, if it’s not his night, send him to the showers. Tonight would’ve appeared to be a rebut to that proposed strategy. To put it simply, Fournier set the tone for the evening.

He was brilliant, or brilliant in the way a guy with a hot hand in a dice game is brilliant, hitting on four of five from distance in the first quarter to power the Knicks to a lead that they never really looked back from. And when Fournier is hitting, everything just looks easier, flows smoother. This is a make or miss league for nearly every team, but that is true for the Knicks in particular, as a team can go cold as a unit frequently and brick open shot after open shot. It feels like a revelation when everything is suddenly dropping, and Fournier was the tide that lifted all boats. The Knicks found the loose balls off broken plays, for once their miraculous shots fell, they won every 50/50 ball, and I was reminded of how mental and tonal this game is, the fluidity of abstract concepts like team identity erased with a few rhythm 3s.

I want to push back on the slim sample size that is Fournier’s performance in regards to how the team uses him and consider Alec Burks’ night. Like Fournier, I’ve been arguing that for some time, since Kemba Walker’s benching late last year, AB has been playing out of position as a point guard, putting too much pressure and responsibility on his game and transforming him from a useful and loveable veteran weapon to an aggravating, minute gobbling hindrance to younger and perhaps better equipped players who could be growing into “his” position. Tonight, we got to see the old AB, and it was glorious. Kemba started, and AB got to be the complimentary offensive weapon the team needs him to be. He led the Knicks with 21 (+25). He and Fournier pretty decisively won the game.

Mitch was an entire planet and continues his resurgence as a high FG% hammer and a squeegee on the glass. RJ took a brief respite from his 2022 rejuvenation tour, picking the right night to be off, as did Kemba. Obi nearly got 20 whole minutes and used them to commit casual, electrifying acts of magic. Even our old friend Juelz wasn’t ass, chipping in an efficient 17.

Let’s briefly jump out and discuss my current second favorite player on the team behind Obi, Quentin Grimes, who continues to campaign for a starting spot on the team, and in my heart. How the fuck does Leon Rose keep doing this? We keep finding these preternaturally mature players with grapefruit sized testes, and very early on in the tenure of this front office, Grimes may be the masterpiece. Understand I take this statement very seriously when I say he may have one of the top five most beautiful shots I’ve ever seen in my life, just to look at. So fucking fluid and natural. I love watching this guy shoot, even when he misses. He’s on his way to Novak levels of dangerous, and just as an aesthetic enterprise, I think I like watching him better.

We spend enough time burying Thibs, so let’s take this opportunity to praise him: His embrace of the rookie Grimes has been nothing short of awe inspiring. But the reason why Thibs probably loves him, and why I think he has the potential to be more than a specialist, is he has the makings of a truly great defensive player. This isn’t breaking news or anything but there are the physical gifts, his size, his footwork, how fast he moves laterally. And beyond the sweat equity he puts in, when it comes to that extra sensory anticipatory shit, he’s a truly gifted help defender. He’s young and imperfect, but more often than not, he makes the right decision when you have to think and move very quickly, and increasingly makes these special reads that lead to turnovers, or perimeter reactions that prevent the offense from going where they want to go and doing what they want to do, that makes you think one of the Bridges guys isn’t the ceiling for this kid, they might be the floor (I don’t want to say the name, but I really want to say the name...OK fuck it, poor man’s Kl*y).

So now let’s take a beat and also acknowledge the Knicks fucked up a uniquely terrible team they were supposed to fuck up. Without Fox, at the moment they might be the worst in the league, which can help make a lot of a team’s problems seem small, and a lot of the things they’re ok at seem great. The Kings offense is sludgy, wooden and disjointed. None of the parts seem to fit together. They just looked bad and out of sorts, young and on the road for a night in Manhattan. Not to be a Debby Downer, but would any of us be surprised if on Wednesday, Ja and Desmond Bane cram a bus tub full of ice water on the heads of any fans getting the idea that this win means anything?

On Mondays, I take my son to the Third Street Music School, counterintuitively on East 11th between Second and Third Avenue, where he goes to a weekly extracurricular guitar lesson. While he was in class, before heading back to Brooklyn, I had to make a stop to pick up a bottle of wine for my wife and I at Astor Wine and Liquors. And so I drove a few blocks South, and a few blocks West, and eventually found myself double parked on Lafayette Street, still named in honor of our great French American hero.

The Marquis himself once said “I gave my heart to the Americans and thought of nothing else but raising my banner and adding my colors to theirs.” For tonight, perhaps just for tonight, Evan Fournier bled blue and orange.

Notes:

  • Every single Knicks player got onto the court tonight, including the great Cam Reddish, albeit for five minutes of garbage time. Free Killa Cam!
  • Tonight, somehow, Mitch Robinson has already passed Marcus Camby for the fifth most blocks in Knicks history. Camby was at the game, possibly in an effort to promote his Marcus Camby IPA, a joint venture with a Massachusetts Brewery, suspiciously named White Lion, that Camby made sound more like a wheat beer than an IPA.
  • Something some Knicks fans have done all year is point to the middling record the team had through x number of games in 2021 as cause to preach caution and not panic. Blessedly, the team is rapidly leaving that security blanket of last season’s record behind (The Knicks were 25-25 through 50 games of a shortened season last year in April). There doesn’t appear to be a nine-game winning streak on the near horizon, and that’s a good thing. It may be time to accept the Knicks are the mediocre to bad team they’ve appeared to be, that our eyes have told us they are. It’s time to assess this team, and this coach with clear eyes, rather than pointing to last year’s squad as some kind of magic balm that gives a certain stripe of incrementalist fan license to hope against hope and ignore what they’re seeing as we approach what could be a crucial trade deadline. It’s time to live in the now, folks.
  • In the game thread, commenter JayBugkit put it succinctly, “ON FIRE let’s go Evan.” He was our lodestar this evening, and we briefly got to see the platonic ideal the front office had in mind when the Knicks signed him. Enjoy your game ball, mon frere.