2,311 days ago, the New York Knicks were not just bad. They were a joke.
2,311 days later, the Knicks aren’t just good. They’re relentless, a point driven home even in defeat away, a 113-105 loss in New Orleans that was less of an eclipse than a sunspot. The Pelicans needed the win to push for the sixth seed out West and all the rights and privileges therein afforded. The Knicks don’t play another game of consequence for over a week. Yet there they were, shorthanded, fighting tooth and nail in a late-and-close affair they could’ve lost by 20 without anyone caring. Except they care.
With no Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson or Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks were led with 28 points in the return of the teen America most loves to hate, RJ Barrett (I know he’s not a teenager, but he is just 22, which is not far from teenager and hopefully gives at least one soul out there pause the next time they’re tempted to write him off). Immanuel Quickley put up big numbers again, and Jericho Sims reminded us why we like him over 29 minutes, his most in two months.
Trey Murphy and CJ McCollum did a lot of the heavy lifting for New Orleans, as did Brandon Ingram, who traded in his usual laconicism for a shot of cantankerous, his battle against Josh Hart more intense than you usually see in a regular-season game. Still, the road ahead looks rough for a Pelicans team that spent nearly half the season at or near the West’s summit. Even with the win they trail Golden State for sixth; as of 10:37 p.m., the Warriors are up 32-16 after one in Sacramento.
Today I took my kid to the Mario movie. She got so into that universe a couple years ago that she was pointing out things I wasn’t aware of, and I’ve been playing Mario since the 1980s. It’s not like I didn’t already know she’s brilliant and passionate, but it’s always something, being reminded. We know these Knicks are resilient, and never say die. We didn’t need this game to be proud of them anymore than they needed it for the standings. It’s always something, being reminded.