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Pelicans 96, Knicks 87: Scenes from Zion steamrolling, the Knicks bricklaying

The Knicks shoot an abysmal 7-of-37 from deep in New Orleans while Zion puts up 24 points.

New York Knicks v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Before tonight’s game, my wife summoned me out to observe the Hunter’s Moon. As that enormous, razor-edged lunar eye glared ominously upon me, I took it as the portent of a grim basketball game to come. Call me a psychic.

Last night, the New York Knicks (1-2) had shot their way free of Atlanta for their first win. Tonight, they looked gassed when they rolled into the Smoothie King Center to face the New Orleans Pelicans. Little surprise our heroes fell, 96-87.

Zion Williamson had only played the Knicks twice in his career, both times in 2021, and averaged 29.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and six assists in those two games. The big fella has played in only 37% of the Pelicans’s games since being drafted in 2019. Tonight, a healthy Zion was damn near unstoppable. Let’s get into it.

First Quarter

For the second straight game, RJ Barrett scored the team’s first points with a drive to the lane. This time, he went straight at the significantly larger Jonas Valančiūnas. The strength and confidence with which RJ has carried himself at the start of the season warms the cockles.

The Pels scored eight straight and back-to-back triples, triggering a Thibodeau timeout at the nine-minute mark. The Knicks had more turnovers than field goals by midway through the quarter. The Pelicans had sticky fingers on defense, sure, but mostly the TO’s came from Knicks’ follies.

To their credit, New Orleans played with pace and shot well throughout. The Knicks, not so much. The sizzling shooting that they displayed in Atlanta stayed in Atlanta. Over the first 12 minutes, New York converted only 29% (six shots) of their shots to NOLA’s 50% (12 shots). The Knicks committed eight turnovers in the quarter.

Bright spot: Valančiūnas is a strong center, but Mitchell Robinson handled him easily early on. Here our feisty cajun is a beast among boys:

In the first quarter, Randle was aggressive when appropriate and knew when to pass out of double- and triple-team coverage. More encouraging sings. Toward the end of the quarter, though, ZIon went strong at Randle twice, scoring both times, and leaving Julius on his ass on the second. The list of power forwards who man-handle Randle isn’t long, but Zion is on it.

As the game rolled on, Randle faded further into the wall paper. He would finish the night with 10 points, 12 boards, and four assists . . . and eight turnovers.

The Knicks were down 26-12 when the frame ended.

Second Quarter

The curse of the Hunter’s Moon continued to bedevil New York as the Pelicans ripped open a 19-point gash. Every Knick had a negative plus-minus by midway through Q2, and all the primary players would finish the game that way, too.

Brunson subbed in for RJ at about the eight minute mark, then RJ came in for Immanuel Quickley with four minutes to go. Thibs was trying to find a combination that would catch fire. Nothing sparked.

The number one draft pick of 2019 continued to flex. His college roommate, and that draft’s third selection, RJ Barrett led the Knicks through the first half. He had 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the floor, 1-of-3 from deep. He would complete the contest with a team-high 18 points on 7-of-16 from the field, 1-of-6 from three. And that was their best shooter.

By intermission, the Knicks were down 55-37.

Tonight’s Knicks were Mr. Hyde to last night’s Dr. Jekyll. Last night, they scorched the nets; tonight they made a third of their first half shots (15-of-45), whereas NOLA made 23-of-46. The Knicks had scored on only two of their 17 three-pointer attempts. That’s 12%.

As for the Pels, they shot 7-of-16 from beyond the arc for the half. They beat the Knicks on fast-break points, 19-9, and in the paint, 30-26.

Quentin Grimes shot tracker: only two so far, both failures from deep.

In the Silver Linings department, New York had outrebounded 28-23, with eight of those belonging to Mitchell Robinson. (Eight in a half! He would finish with 15 boards.) The Knicks coughed up the ball only twice in the second quarter.

Thibs chewed out a ref before heading to the locker room. The crew would give him more to complain about post-halftime. For now, here’s your first half shot chart comparison:

Through the first half.

Third Quarter

Curse that moon. Quentin Grimes started the scoring for New York with a side-out triple. RJ continued his smooth yet aggressive play. Following his lead, the Knicks went on a 14-6 run over the first four minutes. There’s hope!

New York narrowed the deficit to seven points before Zion did more Zion-stuff. Boo. The two teams traded baskets and buffoonery. Once again, Brunson went up to shoot a three and came down on the defender’s foot and nobody whistled. Instead, Jalen got dinged with a tech for excessive complaining. Shortly before that, Randle had been whacked without notice. It’s true: The league doesn’t like us.

New York shot 10-of-21 from the field in the quarter, while the Pels went 9-of-22. The Knicks mounted their biggest comeback toward the buzzer, but ultimately closed the quarter down, 77-68.

Fourth Quarter

The Hunter’s Moon looks so bright because it occurs when the moon sits directly opposite the sun. Due to its brilliance, hunters of yore would use the moon’s light to hunt and gather in preparation for the long winter ahead, and to practice their jumpshot in the driveway.

The Knicks looked like they needed more practice tonight, too.

For the first two minutes of the final frame, Isaiah Hartenstein and RJ were the best Knicks out there. On the floor with them, Donte DiVincenzo and Josh Hart were frequently discombobulated, and Immanuel Quickley struggled to get into a rhythm. Randle and Brunson returned to the game, but continued to look lost in the supermarket. For the Pelicans, Brandon Ingram feasted. He shot 11-of-17 en route to 26 points.

Call me prematurely pessimistic, but Donte seems like a mixed-bag as a Knick so far. Some nice passes, a three-pointer or two, but toight he had two steals to match his two assists, plus some foolish over-zealousness. Maybe this is why Steve Kerr featured him less often as last season progressed?

With the Knicks down 19 again and four and half on the clock, Jericho Sims and Deuce McBride checked in, followed by DaQuan Jeffries and Dylan Windler. That’s a wrap.

In the second half, the Knicks shot 5-of-18 from beyond the arc (with one apiece from Jeffries and Windler in garbage time). New York was nothing if not consistent. They finished 7-of-35 from beyond the arc tonight; compare that to last night’s 20-of-44. Yesterday they scored 126 points; today they scraped up 87. One has to wonder which will scoring performance will be closer to the average this season.

FInal notable: Brunson, who was superb in Atlanta, was mostly a windy fart, finishing with 14 points on 4-of-14. All signs indicate he needs some rest.

Up Next

That damn moon! The Knicks travel to Ohio to fight the Cavs on Tuesday, then face them again at MSG on Wednesday, and then play in Milwaukee on Friday night. Busy week ahead. Get your zzz’s, Knickerbockers.

Box Score