Nine years ago, after we dropped our kid off on the morning school bus and were walking the mile or so we lived from the beach, my then-girlfriend told me she wanted to become my now-ex-girlfriend. It wouldn’t be fair to say it came completely out of left field, but it definitely had warning-track power. I never saw it coming. The stresses you don’t see do the most damage.
On the other hand, my ex and I were never going to make it as a couple. We weren’t built to last; we were open with each other that we didn’t want to be forever. When times were easy, we made beautiful music together. Once times got tough, the tension between “We don’t owe each other anything” and “I need things I’m not getting from you” became too much to bear. But her dumping me spared me from an imbalanced and ultimately unsatisfying reality. Damage is oft the design behind deliverance.
This afternoon the New York Knicks lost 119-101 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. No big deal. I figured they’d lose. You pro’ly did too. Vegas did. A lot of what did the Knicks in were things you weren’t seeing, or maybe more accurately who you weren’t seeing. Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, Quentin Grimes, Deuce McBride, Cam Reddish and Nerlens Noel were all unavailable. At full strength, these Knicks are mediocre. When they’re so depleted that Tom Thibodeau is forced to play Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin 30+ minutes each, winning seems as distant as a manned mission to Mars.
Other intangibles made themselves known. For instance, the chasm in quicks between a 22-year-old lead guard who’s an All-Star and a 30-year-old wing who’s not.
Catch his drift @dariusgarland22 | #LetEmKnow pic.twitter.com/lW9QGr5XtS— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) April 2, 2022
To be fair to Alec Burks, being younger didn’t seem to help RJ Barrett any with Darius Garland.
Makin' them pay @MarkkanenLauri | #LetEmKnow pic.twitter.com/SMEzzeaKuO— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) April 2, 2022
Motivation can be a helluva drug. The Cavs are trying to lock up the 7-seed, where all they have to do is win a home game and they’re in the playoffs. The Knicks are trying to get through the next week without anyone else getting hurt. With the team eliminated from the play-in and implausibly shorthanded, there had to be an awareness among them that the deck was stacked against them. This is the part where I wish the next sentence was “Nevertheless, they persisted.”
Persist the Knicks did, but mostly in the same unpleasant ways we’ve already seen too much of this season. They lost the 3-point battle, had fewer assists and fewer turnovers, traded baskets for what felt like an ice age and felt very much like the classic late-season patsy. Yes, the Cavs are good. Far better than the Knicks. But this was the kind of shorthanded domination you’d expect to see against Phoenix or Milwaukee.
But even amidst the breakdown, there was hope. Not even a baby leaf of hope. A seed. A start. The four Knicks who should have played the most minutes did. Obi had a career-high nine free throws made from a career-high nine attempts. Quick and RJ earned experience points, if nothing else. And while the Knicks lost the game, that was all they lost. The crowd didn’t turn on them. None of the players gestured for the fans to shut the f@#$ up. The L didn’t threaten to spiral into some bigger issue. The better, healthier, more desperate team won.
Quoth at large: “A forgettable game in a forgettable season.” We won’t know if any of the work the Knicks did in this game or this season ends up meaning anything anytime soon. This has been a damaging year for the reps of so many in the organization who we celebrated only a year ago. If the Knicks and their fans are going to find deliverance anytime in the near future, we have to hope the struggles we witnessed today nurture the blooms to come.