What a time to be alive, isn’t it? Ah, feels good waking up like this on Sunday. Not just that, but Super Bowl Sunday, even! It’s phenomenal these days around these bright and sunny places.
Yesterday was one of those lucky days. One of those in which you don’t work—weekend!—and on top of that, one of those in which you get to enjoy some distilled New York basketball. And even though Saturday’s affair with Portland was taking place on the West Coast, hey, they scheduled for an early tip-off at 5pm EST, and 11pm wherever the hell I’m based. Those chances you don’t pass, do you? Not me, at least, because I’m old and grumpy and I’m always looking for a good night's sweet sleep and NBA games often fall in the 1am-to-5am timespan, which I’m sorry but... nope.
That’s why I’m glad we got to enjoy some Knicks hoops early on Saturday. And on top of everything, the team was incredibly neat. I got to watch nearly three full quarters before my head started banging the keyboard. You know, it’s past midnight over here already, so that’s reasonable. Plus, hey, New York was leading by some double-digit margin so it’s not that I was going to miss a thing. All left to be done was closing the game, or rather waste time for 12 or 15 more minutes of playing time, and that’d be a wrap. Another W in the bag, and two more days, at the very least, dreaming about that play-in place and keeping this now-very-possible chase alive. Ah, can’t hate this squad.
Until you wake up with reality blasting you in the goddam face with a senior-coffin-sized sledgehammer. Until you realize there is no solution. Until a bucket full of the coldest water to ever grace your chest hits you square when you’re least expecting it. Until stubbornness gets in the way. Until a good-for-three-quarters bunch of overperformers turns into a wasted walking mob worth throwing away.
I should have known better, though. Randle starting oh-for-two and Portland hitting a couple—from the hands of newcomer Josh Hart (he of the no-playbook-learned status) and second-year man CJ Elleby (he of the floater against Fournier in the paint two minutes into the game). Three minutes in, timeout Thibs, Knicks down 0-7. No bueno, not improving either. You tell me this was about to end in a 134-63 blowout, I’d have believed you. But at the end of the day, hey, New York has some guys. New York has some grit. And New York has the most gotta-win coach in the history of the Association.
That’s why Evan Fournier got a good look from beyond the arc with 6:30 left in the first, hit a trey... and called it a day. Literally.
As Jaybugkit typed it in the comment section, “[...] wait until we go down”.
I could be here talking about how good the first three quarters were, but does that even matter at this point? Do we really think this team has anything even remotely lively inside of it? Is this Front Office vs. Coach going to clash (clash for real, I mean) at some point, realizing how opposite the approaches are (or that’s what it looks like) and proceeding to make the ultimate, doomed, inevitable decision down the road? At least we can hope.
This was a winnable game before we got to tip-off. This was a won game before the start of the fourth. This was, also, an utter, blatant, disrespectful, nonsensical, and satanic malfunctioning to insurmountable and indescribable extents by a team that is, simply put and much to Tom Thibodeau’s disgust, cooked. Play-in? Yes, of course. The Knicks just surrendered a 23-point lead to a team kickstarting a late tank. To a team which calls Anfernee Simons—who is good, don’t get me wrong—his best player and has his second fiddle in... Jusuf Nurkic? Josh Hart? Justise Winslow!? Ben McLemore !?!?!? Jesus Christ.
Quentin Grimes is so young he’s still got heavier acne than he’s got a sizable volume of shots in his baby NBA career. Yet there he was, one of the leaders of the team in scoring and shooting lights-out from three (5-8) only to see his supply entirely cut come fourth-quarter time. Kemba Walker is so old his skeleton is probably origami-like now. Yet there he was, hitting triples and bagging four-point plays like these was his UConn days.
Then, of course, there was Evan Fournier. Fournier, who finished the day going 1-13, scoring one of two freebies, and logging 36 minutes (the third-most of the game among Knicks players only behind Julius Randle and, surprisingly, Quentin Grimes). There was Alec Burks coming off the pine for a neat minus-10 plus-minus contribution in his 21 rounds of the clock. There was Taj Gibson for 27 minutes, but not Obi Toppin for more than eight, because that’s how this coach operates—even with Mitchell Robinson getting his ankle screwed and done for the day not even two minutes past halftime getting only 14 minutes of playing time. Mitch, because of some incomprehensible and reckless head coaching behavior, went to the bench at the end of the third—right after earning his first points of the game—literally struggling to walk that way.
It’s been 57 games, with just 25 to go. This is not some reactionary bullshit. And I’m not talking about me, you, or your pal next door. Peep at the comments. Go check your Twitter timeline. You don’t even need to go explore the deepest, hardcore-fan-populated corners out there. The Knicks are a joke as currently managed, and that’s the nationwide consensus opinion, not one coming from a bunch of frustrated, blind-to-reality, ignorant blue-pill-eating guys out there.
The Knicks Mob looked menacing for 30 minutes. It was dancing over Portland Corpses. It was forcing timeouts to be called from the home-bench part of the Rose Garden. Until it wasn’t. Because of course, you get a once-in-a-lifetime outing from Kemba, and you most definitively have to waste it. You get a game-winning effort from a rookie, and you have to bury it so it goes for nothing. You get the chance to wrap it all up deploying some remotely capable unit that can handle defensive assignments, but instead, you opt to close the game with washed Furnier and his G League D and a bunch of second-unit players in a day in which the bench was stinky at best. To try and hold onto a lead that turned from +23 to minus-nine. To play 12 minutes of 11-35 basketball against a team that, to the best of my knowledge, was barren of talent on a random Saturday.
Coach of the Year? Give me a break.
Quickley, Cam, and Burks starting the fourth fostered Portland’s resurrection. The starters, coming back later, couldn’t help revive the patient, rather watching it bleed out slowly but surely until reaching its foretold, aberrant death. Not the day to shit on Kemba after he performed to his 2015 levels of play, but when the head coach drops the starting PG for downsized wing masquerading as a point guard late, something is glaringly wrong, not with the pawns, but with the puppet master. Just saying. And it is something to find me saying all that, as I wasn’t that mad at the franchise standing pat a half a week back. But this is just short-, mid-, and long-term unsustainable.
It is easy to understand the crowds flooding timelines and forums and comment sections with chitchat about Donovan Mitchell potentially ditching Salt Lake City and forcing a trade out of Utah next summer—aptly, to his native New York. It is reasonable to find them clamoring for a full tank job from now on. But no. It’s much more realistic, though, to acknowledge the fact that the Knicks brought a coach whose recipe book only includes appetizing Ws. Of course, when it comes to cooking, he should have already realized he is entirely intolerant of all of the ingredients that have to get properly prepared before baking them and ultimately getting the tasty outcomes. Alas, the shit sandwich. And a trip to purgatory come May, and a good-not-great lottery pick, and another run at a—sadly—never-ending cycle.
I could write 600 more words about the fourth, but I don’t think that’d be good for my mental health.
Our own Jayson Buford wrote word-by-word in the last recap we dropped. I don’t even need to rewrite it myself, because he described the state of affairs very well. And hey, it is not that this team’s efforts make me feel bad about not putting in some proper creative work.
The pain of being a Knicks fan this year is having a solid roster that falls apart at the end of games. Thibs somehow started running the late-game offense through Fournier and not shockingly, things fell apart and players started to sulk. Basketball wasn’t supposed to be this unsatisfying.
Talk about a self-fulfilling addendum. Wash, rinse, repeat.
At least we’ll be back at the MSG confines tomorrow. Stay safe. Enjoy the Super Bowl. Let’s Go Knicks.