The New York Knicks (13-10) are off to their best start since December 2016. This season, they had a perfect record against sub-.500 teams before tonight. Facing a team like the Utah Jazz (8-16), who rate in the league’s bottom five for both offense and defense, a Knicks’ win at the Delta Center seemed almost a gimme. Ah, beware hubris.
This NBA season has been difficult in the Beehive State. The Jazz came into the evening having lost three straight and seven of their last ten games. Main man Lauri Markkanen had missed eight consecutive games due to a hamstring issue before suiting up tonight. Sophomore center Walker Kessler played, too, despite a lingering foot problem. Utah’s Jordan Clarkson and John Collins both sat in street clothes, and Keyonte George was sent to the locker room early tonight with an injury.
I had to roust the family at 3:50 this morning to return a rental car and get us to a homeward-bound plane on time. We all got problems. The Knicks did, too. They delivered their third-worst three-point shooting performance of the season, left ten points at the free throw line, and lost the game, 117-113. It went something like this:
Utah came into tonight as the league’s top offensive-rebounding team; New York was tied for second with the Hawks. Rebounds came aplenty in the first frame, with the Knicks missing eight of their first 13 shots—including all seven three-point attempts—and Utah making eight of 24 first-quarter shots.
New York depended on sturdy defense until they got into an offensive groove. Julius Randle was a bright spot early, shooting 7-of-10 in the first frame; so was Immanuel Quickley, who had missed the previous game due to knee soreness, but promptly drilled a triple upon entering tonight’s affair and went 3-of-3 FG in the quarter.
Woof, this was mostly groady. New York started the frame up 31-22, but their defense stumbled, fumbled, and missed rotations in the shallow end of Q2. Utah would outscore them 24-8 through the first eight minutes, thanks to: Markkanen stroking 6-of-10 from the field and 3-of-6 from deep in the half; Collin Sexton notching 12 first-half points; Kelly Olynyk contributing positive minutes; and the Knicks projectile vomiting from downtown. New York made only three of seventeen tries through the first two quarters. In particular, RJ Barrett missed his first nine shots before converting a layup. Why can’t the easy wins ever be easy?
With a semi-inspired run in the final minutes, the Knicks entered intermission behind only 52-50. Through the half, New York had shot 43% from the field and 18% from deep; Utah went 37% from short and long (10-of-27). The teams were in a dead heat for rebounds (combining for 55), while the Knicks had won the battle for points in the paint, 28-14.
Your halftime shot chart. Note the red X’s.
Defense? Who needs it? Both teams had surrendered 17 points by midway through the frame. The Jazz kept shooting well; the Knicks’ three-point accuracy continued to be the equivalent of rotting fish. Even Jalen Brunson, who has been almost magical at times this season, missed his first four attempts from beyond the arc. This was one of those games where it felt like the Knicks were going through the motions, expecting to produce just enough before the end of regulation to escape with a win.
Two Knicks were having a positive game. The first was Quickley; through three quarters, he cashed six of seven shots and was perfect on three triples. The other was Randle, with 30 points, eight boards, and four dimes after three quarters.
On November 1, against the Cavaliers, the Knicks made five of 30 three-pointers, or 16.7%. On October 28, they made seven of 37, or 18.9%. After three quarters, tonight’s game was all but guaranteed to finish as one of their worst shooting performances of the season. It’s a testament to the woefulness of the Jazz that New York was down only 89-84 going into the fourth.
The Jazz jumped out on a 10-oh start and were ahead by 17 points midway through the final chapter. A pair of triples from Donte DiVincenzo helped their cause but gimpy defense persisted at the other end. Brunson and DDV scored seven straight points to close the gap to seven with three minutes remaining, but still couldn’t get defensive stops. The sun was rapidly setting on this one.
New York caught a break when Kelly Olynyk grabbed DiVo’s ankle, sending the Big Ragu to the line. Donte made one of two; thirty seconds later, he swished a three. Knicks down by five with two minutes on the clock. Would it be a real comeback or a fake?
With just under a minute to go, Brunson shot two freebies, and the Jazz dumped the ball out of bounds to all but hand the Knicks a tie. Josh Hart and Brunson missed long attempts, though, and Olynyk drilled two foul shots, and the game was over before the buzzer.
- Jalen Brunson: 23 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, 6-of-19 FG, 0-of-6 3P, 11-of-16 FT, 39 minutes.
- Donte DiVincenzo: 21 points, seven boards, one dime, 6-of-13 FG, 4-of-9 3P, 27 minutes.
- RJ Barrett: nine points, six rebounds, two assists, 3-of-16 FG, 0-of-7 3P, 24 minutes.
- Julius Randle: 32 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, 14-of-23 FG, 2-of-6 3P, 39 minutes. (He passed Jamal Crawford and is now fourth on the Knicks’ all-time three-pointers list.)
- Jericho Sims: four points, two rebounds, 18 minutes.
The sledding just gets tougher from here. New York plays Phoenix on Friday, and then the Clippers on Saturday. Safe travels, Knicks.