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Knicks 111, Clippers 97: Scenes from second half splendor

The Knicks changed the narrative in the second half and kept the Clippers under 100 to spoil Harden’s debut.

Los Angeles Clippers v New York Knicks Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

At times this season, I’ve grown bored trying to find new descriptors for how inept the Knicks’ offense has been. Ice cold. Half-hearted. Disinterested. Farty. I’ve thoroughly depleted that particular cabinet of my vocabulary. Through tonight’s first half against Los Angeles Clippers (3-3) the same story continued. New York’s needle remained stuck in the same, gross groove.

But tonight was a tale of two halves. Tonight, the Knicks (3-4) came blazing out of intermission, showing depth and character against one of the league’s top teams. Instead of fading down the stretch, the kept their collective foot on the gas and closed with a supremely satisfying 111-97 win. Here’s how it happened.

First Quarter

RJ Barrett had missed the last two contests with knee soreness, and his return was just what his team. He scored the first four points of a quarter in which the Knicks would shoot 6-of-21 from the field and 1-of-8 from deep. Lots of ball movement, few baskets, good defense: the story of the Knicks season, playing out again. . . .

Here’s an RJ bucket:

Fortunately for New York, the Clippers’ offense was equally putrid. The West coast visitors allowed New York to keep pace—and even take a small lead by the midway point—but ultimately closed the quarter ahead, 21-19.

Second Quarter

Rebecca Haarlow reported that, given the amount of competitive basketball RJ played with Team Canada on his FIBA summer vacation, the Knicks scratched him from the last two games as a precaution. She added that RJ’s knee is still sore, but tolerable.

The second frame opened with him on the floor running with the second unit. Here hs running mate Immanuel Quickley risks rug burn for a contested two:

Both teams continued to plop-plop-plop along offensively. Defensive stops by Mitchell Robinson, Jalen Brunson, et al, kept the Knicks alive, and New York inched ahead by as many as four . . . before closing the half down by four.

A nice defensive effort here brings a bucket at the other end:

At intermission, the Knicks were behind 46-42. Randle’s 13 points led all scorers through the first half and that matched his per game average for the season.

Defense and lousy shooting was the story through the first half. The Knicks had sunk only 15 of their 40 field goal attempts, and had shot 3-of-14 (21%) from beyond the arc. Their 11 turnovers offset their nine assists. Yet again, Mitchell Robinson proved indispensable down low, with only four rebounds, but also three steals, and a bunch of deflections–his hand seemed to at least skim every rim-bouncing brick. The Knicks had outscored the Clippers 24-16 in the paint, and outrebounded them 27-20.

Paul George had been especially bad for the first two quarters, having shot 1-of-7 from the field and coughing up the ball thrice. His team had committed 10 turnovers, made 18 of their 38 field goal tries, and had shot 29% from the deep.

There were nine lead changes through the half, with neither team getting farther ahead than four points. Here’s your halftime shot distribution chart. Note the red X’s:

Third Quarter

The Clippers emerged from intermission with a Harden assist on a Kawhi Leonard dunk, and, for the Knicks, Quentin Grimes sank a three-pointer. Both scores seemed like plays that the coaches must have encouraged during the break. Get Kawhi going (Ty Lue), make your threes (Thibs).

RJ Barrett obeyed the mandate, contributing a triple, too, and then this effortless floater.

RJ’s performance gave no indication that he was suffering knee pain; he hit the gas this quarter and shared scoring duties with Julius Randle.

Speaking of–Randle was more locked in on defense tonight. He lunged for the ball, and one dive became a collision with Mason Plumlee’s legs that resulted in the Clipper being helped to the locker room.

With Plumlee out, Ivica Zubac came back and was outmatched by Mitchell Robinson. The Knicks’ biggest man converted a three-point play–impossible, you say!—and Randle added five to give the Knicks a late quarter advantage. Harden chipped in five points at the close of the quarter, but Immanuel Quickley nailed a 24-footer with 4 seconds left to send a tie game into the final frame.

The Knicks scored 34 points in a quarter! Scream it from the rooftops!

Fourth Quarter

Josh Hart started the quarter with his first three-pointer of the game; minutes later, he fed RJ a laser that Mr. Maple dunked, giving New York their largest lead yet.

The Knicks would start the quarter on a 23-7 run, and the Clippers looked punch-drunk.

Tremendous offensive and defensive efforts from the bench mob against the Clippers’ starters resulted in New York running up a 13-point lead. Isaiah Hartenstein played only 13 minutes, logging six points, three rebounds, two assists, and a block, but he continues to be invaluable when Mitch takes a breather.

Donte DiVincenzo played his best game yet in the orange and blue; he scored 13 points, mostly in this quarter, on 4-of-6 FG and 3-of-5 from deep, plus six boards, an assist, and a steal. Keep this up D-Vo:

Immanuel Quickley scored only seven points, but finished the game with a plus/minus of 22, the highest on the team by far.

At seven and change on the clock, Julius Randle subbed in and committed a turnover. It seemed this was when the game would slip away. But Randle hit a 25-footer for his 27th points of the night, then Mitch intercepted a pass that became two Josh Hart fast break points, and the underdogs charged ahead by 16 heading into crunch time. Ty Lue called a timeout, pulled his starters, and from there it was smooth sailing to victory island. Hope you got a lei.

Your Starters:

  • Jalen Brunson: seven points, three boards, six assists, three steals, four TO, 2-of-12 FG, 35 min
  • Quentin Grimes: three points, one rebound, one steal, 1-of-4 FG, 20 min
  • RJ Barrett: 26 points, six rebounds, four assists, 9-of-16 FG, 2-of-4 3P, 30 min
  • Julius Randle: 27 points, 10 boards, three assists, six TO, 9-of-21 FG, 36 min
  • Mitchell Robinson: 13 points, 15 boards, four steals, 34 min

Up Next:

Wemby fever incoming. The San Antonio Spurs will visit Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. For tonight, though, let’s revel in a glorious win. Sleep well, Knickerbockers.

Box Score