For 47 minutes tonight, the New York Knicks (28-26) played from behind against the Los Angeles Clippers (29-26), including a 17-point deficit early in the fourth quarter. Victory seemed impossible, and late in the final frame, I had most of a recap written and ready to file.
Then, despite my presumptions, the guy who didn’t get selected for this year’s All-Star team saved New York’s bacon in regulation yet again, and they nearly pulled off an inconceivable overtime victory. Alas, they were gassed, and the Clippers won, led by 35 points from Kawhi Leonard and 30 more from Paul George.
During the pre-season, I picked L.A. to win the Championship. They employ two top talents and an under-appreciated coach. This season, their dynamic duo have missed a combined 43 games (Leonard 26, George 17), so to witness them in action together is a rare treat. That their team sits fifth in the Western Conference is a testament to their depth and coaching competency. If they add Kyrie Irving to this roster, look out.
Sources tell @TheAthletic that the LA Clippers have made a strong offer to the Brooklyn Nets for Kyrie Irving, and that head coach Tyronn Lue is open to coaching Irving again after the two won a championship with Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.— Law Murray (@LawMurrayTheNU) February 5, 2023
Before Saturday’s game at Madison Square Garden, the Clippers had played nine of their last ten games on the road. The road warriors had won six of their previous nine. The Knicks were coming off a skin-of-their-teeth win over the Heat. I had hoped the ’Bockers could scrape out another W, but for 47 minutes tonight, that seemed a fool’s folly.
Although the Clippers don’t usually take many threes, they are a good shooting club from deep, rating seventh in the Association with a 37.6% average. To start the game, they drained four of their first five attempts to attain an early lead.
The Knicks kept pace, though, and were down by only two when Ty Lue called a timeout halfway through the first quarter. Jalen Brunson had missed the previous game against Miami due to illness, but showed no aftereffects tonight:
New York stayed neck-and-neck with Los Angeles through most of the quarter, but back-to-back buckets by Leonard had stretched the gap to eight points when Thibs took a timeout with three minutes left in the quarter. A couple of NY bricks and a spot of bad defense let LA expand the lead to 13 points, but a pair of threes from Quentin Grimes and Deuce McBride shaved the deficit to 36-25 by the close of frame.
For the first 12 minutes, the Clippers had shot a blistering 7-for-10 from deep to the Knicks’ 4-for-9. All the Clips were hot from deep early. To wit:
Julius Randle was an early team leader with nine points in 11 minutes, doing All-Star stuff like this:
Obi Toppin, rumored to be in trade discussions this week, kicked off 2Q with a quick three, and Isaiah Hartenstein stuffed Norman Powell majestically. Once again, the bench crew ignited the passion, and with Immanuel Quickley hitting from range, they closed the margin to only two points.
Tom Thibodeau has been mixing and matching his roster throughout games with generally positive results this season. As the deficit grew again, Thibs sent out Brunson, Grimes, Quickley, Randle, and Sims, and they narrowed the score again. Quickley, in particular, was a sparkplug, contributing nine points in his first 14 minutes, and hitting three timely threes.
By the half, though, the Knicks were still down 63-56. The Clippers had cooled slightly from downtown, draining 12-of-21 (57%). The Knicks had gone 8-of-17 (47%) from deep. The Clips had out-rebounded our heroes 24-20, and it was one of those nights when you just knew Mitchell Robinson would have made all the difference. Still, New York had only coughed up the ball three times to the Clippers’ six. Some of the signs were encouraging.
Ty Lue’s club plays tough D, rating eighth in the league coming into tonight. Their defensive tenacity was on display throughout. While the Knicks made a few attempts at tightening up the score in the third quarter, they were down by 11 when Thibs called a frustrated timeout with about nine minutes left in the frame.
Post-breather, Brunson scored 11 consecutive points to chip away at the lead, including three straight threes. What a guy! What an almost All-Star! And yet, every time the Knicks knocked on the door, PG or Kawhi packed on points. By the third quarter’s wrap, the Clippers had amassed a 15-point lead.
Ugliness continued at the start of the fourth, with the lead reaching 17 before the kids came to the rescue. McBride, Toppin, Grimes, and Quickley combined to outscore L.A. 13-2 over three minutes, pulling the team back within six.
The differential increased and decreased, but New York persevered. Thanks to a 13-4 run over the last four minutes, New York finally took the lead on a Grimes three with 52 seconds left in the contest. Although a total team effort, Jalen Brunson was the lead lion in the clutch yet again. Victory was theirs, but for a final-second three-pointer from Nic Batum to trigger overtime.
In extra time, the Clippers jumped out to a quick four-point lead, then goosed it to six. Randle looked gassed, and when he passed the ball directly into the breadbasket of the nearest Clipper, imagining that there had been an opening for Hartenstein, I couldn’t help wondering if a few more Obi Toppin minutes earlier in the game wouldn’t have made a difference. Whatever. There were a few moments of hope, like when the Knicks regained possession down by five with 21 seconds left thanks to a boneheaded Leonard foul. They just didn’t have enough left in the tank.
- Their third overtime in the last five games. In Thibs years, Julius Randle is 85 years old.
- Obi Toppin finished with eight points in 12 minutes. These may be the last games with Obi in the blue and orange, so enjoy him while you can. I’m gonna miss the (surprisingly old) kid if he’s traded.
- L.A. averages 12 made threes per game. They had 12 by halftime tonight. Their final total from beyond the arc was 16-37 (43%).
- RJ Barrett rode the struggle bus for much of this game. He finished with 14 points on 6-for-21 from the field, 1-for-8 from deep. Thibs benched him for the first half of the fourth. I’m not convinced he deserved to come back in.
- Ivica Zubac ranks third in the league for total offensive rebounds with 180. In 40 minutes, he collected only two points and eight boards, none of which were offensive. Hartenstein must’ve been doing something right.
- Thoughts on Deuce McBride? He logged 11 points, three rebounds, an assist, and a steal on 3-for-6 from the floor and 2-for-3 from deep. There were stretches tonight when he was the Knicks’ most tenacious defender.
- Nic Batum has a perfect five o’clock shadow over his entire head. It’s a very uniform and economical look. My wife says I need a haircut. Maybe I’ll ask my barber for the Batum and see what happens.
- All Knicks starters except Grimes had a minus +/-. Yeesh.
Quoth boomshankalicious: “We miss Mitch so much on d.” We do, indeed. When the other team can’t miss from three, Mitch’s offensive rebounding is critical for keeping the Knicks competitive. New York just needs to tread water until His Blockness returns.
No rest for the wicked. With the scent of Paul George still lingering in the visitor’s locker room, the Philadelphia 76ers come in tomorrow for a 6:00 p.m. clash. Get your rest, Knickerbockers.