I noticed that on the bottom of the ESPN score bug, right under the Knicks’ name, the world was reminded that the team was 37-45 the prior season. I noticed that Evan Fournier played big minutes down the stretch, and I noticed that Cam Reddish turned in the Knicks’ most impressive individual performance of the night.
Most importantly, I noticed that the commentators didn’t think much of New York. They’d be lucky to finish at .500, seemingly banished to NBA purgatory: mediocrity.
Worry not. Things can change quickly in the NBA.
One opening night later, the excitement in New York has been palpable building up to the season. After their first playoff series win in a decade, there is reason to believe that the Knicks can make a playoff run. A real one. There’s roster continuity, team chemistry is high, and everyone seems bought in. Who knows. Maybe this could be the year.
But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And the first step in the thousand-mile NBA season was a primetime ESPN matchup at the Mecca. The opponents joining them in the ring? None other than the Boston Celtics, retooled and ready to make a championship push of their own. This would be the perfect litmus test for the hopeful Knickerbockers.
The Garden was buzzing well before tip, alive once again. ESPN reporters were swarming, storylines abundant. New York City. The World’s Most Famous Arena. Let’s do this.
Game one got off to a slow start on both ends of the floor, but RJ Barrett didn’t take kindly to that.
Call it opening night jitters if you want. Despite the theatrics, neither team could buy a bucket early. The Knicks came out shooting poorly from the floor, and Brunson and Randle, the two Knick workhorses, couldn’t buy a bucket. Before the quarter ended, our once-beloved unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis, caught fire from deep, making a great first impression in a Celtics jersey. He had 15 points in the opening frame; the entire Knicks squad combined for 18. The Brunson-Randle duo eventually combined to shoot 1-for-12 in the first, and New York fell behind by double digits early, 30 to 18 after one.
The second quarter looked more encouraging; the bench mob, led by none other than Immanuel Quickley, came out strong. IQ kept putting the ball in the basket, and Hart, DiVincenzo, and Hartenstein kept making plays. The starters subbed back in midway through the period, and the twelve-point deficit shrunk to four as RJ rattled home a trey with 5:47 remaining in the half.
The Celtics were able to keep the Knicks at arm's length thanks to 19 first-half points from Jayson Tatum, but New York hung around. Quentin Grimes made a smooth finish off the bounce with less than a minute remaining, and an I-Hart putback at the buzzer cut the lead to five.
Despite the score, the game shouldn’t have been close. New York was shooting far below 40%, their stars were slumping, and the Celtics felt like they were up by at least fifteen.
The beginning of the second half wasn’t much more inspiring.
Mitchell Robinson picked up foul number four mere seconds into the third quarter. The offense continued to stagnate. After just a few minutes, the Celtics lead ballooned back up to twelve. But then out of nowhere: hope!
Don’t blink. New York cranked out a 10-0 run in a minute, and just like that, the lead shrunk to one. Randle woke up (albeit temporarily), Grimes connected from deep, and the Knicks were hot.
And then they were cold again. Boston immediately responded with a 12-2 run. Sigh. One must imagine Sisyphus is a Knicks fan. The shots weren’t falling again, and at the end of the third quarter, the Knickerbockers were down nine once again. It felt like New York was starting to run out of gas. The fourth quarter was underway, and how many more pushes did they really have in them?
Answer: At least one really big one.
RJ Barrett went on a personal seven-point run to open up the final frame. Quickley drilled a three, and Hart hit the triple you just watched above to give the Knicks their first lead of the game. The Garden was alive, and just like that, the Knicks were in it again.
After a few back-and-forth minutes, the Knicks looked like they finally landed a knockout punch. Randle hit a three, and Grimes hit a massive three in the corner. Count it! Plus the foul!
A Brunson layup thirty seconds later kept the lead at six, making the score 101-95 with 3:39 to go. But alas, it was not meant to be. In the last 2:34 of the game, the Ghost of Kristaps Past came back to haunt us. KP had nine points during that stretch, including a dagger three that sucked the life out of MSG.
The Knicks wouldn’t score another field goal until fourteen seconds left in the game. Boston knocked down their free throws, and that was that.
Final score: 108-104. Damn.
There are two ways to spin a performance like this.
On one hand, the Knicks lost a winnable game. They didn’t execute down the stretch. They were putrid from the free throw line, their offense was stagnant, and their two stars drastically underperformed. I’m still upset that we lost such a winnable game from the charity stripe, and you should be, too.
On the other hand… not too shabby, all things considered. All of that happened, and they were still in it until the very end. All nine players who touched the floor for New York left their hearts out on it. Quickley and Barrett looked great, the team shot well from three, and the rebounding effort was inspiring. Reminder: this was against a team with Finals aspirations. There are a lot of positive takeaways tonight, folks. This is one game of many. Free throw shooting won’t look like this every game. Hopefully. The Knicks proved that they belonged on the same floor as a contender. You can’t ask for much more in a loss.
- Man... Brunson and Randle just did not have it tonight. Brunson was 6-for-21 from the field. Randle outdid him, going 5-for-22. Hopefully, they got it out of their systems.
- Tonight’s box score gem: Despite the rough night scoring, Julius Randle finished with seven assists and zero turnovers. That’s the first time he’s done that as a Knick.
- Mitchell Robinson's foul trouble sucks, but Isaiah Hartenstein is an incredibly capable backup center. I spoke about the center rotation’s preseason success—talent depth pays off.
- Encouraging: New York’s shooting was on point, particularly in the second half. They finished 18-of-41 from three-point land. Cha-ching.
- Doc Rivers in the booth is… something. I miss JVG and Mark Jackson already.
- Jayson Tatum could absolutely be MVP at some point in his career. Jeez. Straight buckets.
- A name I haven’t mentioned in this article: Jrue Holiday. nine points, four rebounds, two assists in 35 minutes of play. A silent night for Jaylen Brown as well, who only tallied 11.
- The Celtics’ lack of depth could end up being an issue for them. They might have the best top-six in the league, but then it’s Pritchard, then Sam Hauser, then… Luke Kornet? I’m not here to diss the Knick legend. But keep an eye on that as the season chugs along.
David_SelfHatingKnicksFan said it best. “Gotta hit those damn FTs!!!!” For those of you who didn’t tune in, it was a four-exclamation-point kind of game. Out of frustration. Some good things, some bad things. But 14-of-26 from the line will come back to bite. Gotta take care of business next time.
The Knicks’ quest for their first win continues on Friday night in Atlanta. Take care of yourselves in the meantime. We’ll see you then.