The New York Knicks did something last week only seven other franchises have ever done in NBA history: clinch the knockout stage of the In-Season Tournament.
The reward? A meeting with the Milwaukee Bucks (one of five times both teams will meet this season, a new one) and depending on the outcome of that game, a matchup against either the Boston Celtics or the Indiana Pacers. Welp.
No matter what they ended up doing, making the IST QF was always going to suck unless the Knicks clinched the first-ever NBA Cup.
New York lost to Milwaukee (15-7) getting mauled from beyond the 3-point arc and all they won was a trip to Boston later today for a game against the East-best Celtics (15-5).
“We got five [games] versus both?” Julius Randle said after Thursday’s practice. “What do you want me to say? That’s bullshit What can we do about it? That’s just the way it went.”
New York has lost to the Bucks and on paper, judging by the standings, they will do so once more against Boston tonight. No need to mention all IST games except the Final count for the regular-season standings, as this is just an imaginary and manufactured tournament making an early-season turd look June-polished before we hit peak #TradeSZN in January.
Gotta keep that revenue flowing, brothers.
Randle asked reporters after practice himself who the Knicks should or would be playing had they failed to clinch the IST knockout round while joking about the whole situation.
“Who should we have played?” questioned Randle. “Detroit!” Randle answered, “That would have been a good one, right? We should have played Detroit. Ah, man.”
Jalen Brunson also addressed the media, simply acknowledging, “Life isn’t fair.” He added: “It is what it is. It’s all about how you respond to certain situations.”
Truth be told, just at the start of the week and with the game against the Bucks still pending, all Knickerbockers including Randle were massively hyped about the possibility of winning the NBA Cup, so just beware of what you want.
At the end of the day, however, the talk about losing on purpose to miss the knockout stage that has been floated following the loss against the Bucks is a little bit naive with things most probably balancing out eventually.
So if the Knicks had lost against say, the Miami Heat in the “group stage,” they would have lost the same as they lost to the Bucks in the knockout round. Of course, they would have gone on to face the Pistons or the Wizards or whoever didn’t clinch a berth, but it’s not that all teams that failed to qualify will be playing those disastrous organizations.
Eight teams made the QF. The Pistons and the Wizards are two of the 22 teams that failed to qualify. Among those in the latter group, just to name a few: the Philadelphia 76ers, the Orlando Magic, and the Miami Heat. Just saying.
Tom Thibodeau said dealing with this little IST quirk and facing Boston on Friday is “Just another really tough task for us,” adding “We’re going to have to be at our best defensively.”
Asked about his opinion about how the “Consolation Games” of the NBA Cup were scheduled, Thibs said, “I’m sure after it’s all said and done, there will be a deep dive on it.”
Thibodeau agreed, “Overall these were some of the positives,” although he also thinks there was some negative stuff worth checking and fixing in future iterations of the tourney. “How can we tweak it and make it better? Anytime you do something the first time, it’s not going to be perfect.
“So I think everyone understands that. I think for the most part, it’s been very positive.”
Brunson, while not overly happy with the situation, thinks “The earlier we know our team and how we can bounce back from games and how we can respond, the better we can be down the road.
“It’s all about how you build your team to be the best by the end of the year. We are going to continue to get better one day at a time. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
It’s worth noting that New York has an impeccable 7-0 record against (currently) non-playoff teams this season while drowning (5-8) against teams in postseason places.
The 12-8 balance is positive and the current no. 5 seed is pretty much on par with the preseason expectations, but at some point, the boys will need to start fighting the mastodons of the league if they want to turn their championship hopes into actual, possible, achievable things.
“I feel like we’ve been playing hard games all year,” said Randle. “We’ve had back-to-backs, top teams, I just take it a game at a time.
“That’s all you really can do.”
Russ Rich already cooked and delivered you the preview for tonight’s matchup, and we’ll do our best to hand you some saucy postgame content once this Consolation Game is over.
Knicks vs. Celtics, IST Losers Matchup. Bring it on!