The description of stubbornness isn’t only about doing the same thing every single time but also doing it when they’re other feasible options that are possible. When it was announced that Kemba Walker wasn’t going to play Monday night against the Utah Jazz, the next report was that Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau was debating who was going to start. What was Thibs debating? Who knows? This year, every move has been telegraphed from the jump. You can guess what Thibs is going to do during the game before the opening tip. The only thing he needs to decide is when his stubbornness is going to impact the team: Right from the beginning or late in the game when the team needs more creativity.
Like Saturday night against the Lakers, the Knicks started the first quarter flowing well. Mitchell Robinson scored eight of the team’s first fifteen points, including a sweet put-back that could have only been made sweeter if Utah’s bumbling All-Star Center Rudy Gobert was playing tonight. The Knicks big man put up an absurd stat line: 19 points, 21 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 blocks. He also played a season-high 36 minutes in the high altitude of Utah. To say that his backup, Nerlens Noel, didn’t pick up the slack would be an understatement. As P&T’er Glen Sather’s Cigar Case noted, Mitch came damn close to carrying the Knicks to victory on his own.
Sadly, though, it was not to be. The Knicks shooting got cold, as it is known to do. Alec Burks missed five of six shots. Cam Reddish got a shot to play with mixed results. He flashed a pair of solid hands defensively but he missed some shots and couldn’t quite finish on some drives to the baskets. If Reddish is going to crack into the rotation with grouchy Red Auerbach as our coach, he’ll need to convert on some of those plays.
Utah’s star guard Donovan Mitchell started to heat up against the Knicks (he finished with 21 first-half points), who coincidently (or not!) employ Mitchell’s former coach, Johnnie Bryant. Mitchell is an interesting talent. He is a guard that fits the mold of a 2000’s bruiser that attacks the paint and splits double teams. His anachronistic approach to offense makes him a tough cover even if his jumper doesn’t always fall. After the flurry of Mitchell buckets, the Jazz held a two-point lead at the half.
The Jazz got out to a 10-point lead the first few minutes through the third quarter with the Knicks’ Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley, who has really struggled the past few weeks, putting together a disaster class of a game. Then, Julius Randle started to show why we had great expectations coming into the season. Randle (team-high 30 points) made a three-pointer, a pull-up, and a hustle tip-in that put the Knicks up 12 with 3:14 to go in the third. It was the antithesis to what has made Randle so frustrating to watch this season. His jumper was good, he made quick decisions with the ball, and he was playing with his held up high. A swagger that has been missing all season somehow came alive for Julius Randle in the third quarter of this game.
The cliché of basketball being a game of runs is real, though. The Jazz fought back late in the third quarter to cut the Knicks’ lead to four by the end of the quarter. They were helped by the play of Udoka Azubuike, who is filling in for Rudy Gobert. Azubuike was strong all night, hitting the glass and preventing the Knicks’ wings from getting easy buckets in the paint. Two three-pointers by Royce O’Neal put the Jazz up six in the fourth. After trading baskets with them, the Knicks were knocking on the door but couldn’t break through. That is a point of emphasis with the Knicks this season. Even when they are close, they can’t get over the hump. It’s a close game but out of reach.
The game was lost for good late in the fourth when Donovan Mitchell got a continuation and-one to put the Jazz up eight after Evan Fournier turned the ball over his foot with Mike Conley draped on him with the intensity of Rue chasing after drugs in Euphoria. (Speaking of drugs: Quin Snyder always looks like he is on drugs. That black shirt he has on tonight didn’t do him any favors).
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.