Snow fell on upstate New York today, and I took my youngest son outside for a snowball fight. I expected to trounce the little fella, who can talk a fair amount of G-rated trash for a six-year-old. He had it coming. The wet white stuff packed beautifully as I shaped a perfect orb to hurl . . . but my hubris was spoiled by an astonishing case of the Chuck Knoblauchs. While Rowan assailed me with a fusillade of snowballs, my every pitch sailed high, wide, or short. When we trudged back inside, old dad was cold and soggy, and the first-grader glowed with the ruddy pride of a champion.
In the Tom Thibodeau era, the New York Knicks (20-15) have sometimes played down to their opponent. At times, it has been maddening to watch them compete nose-to-nose with the league’s elite and then lose a game that should have been a blowout (e.g., last season’s loss to Charlotte that broke a nine-game win streak). Tonight, when the Knicks traveled to the Capital One Arena to take on the Washington Wizards (6-28), the optimistic Knicks fan expected a cakewalk, the pessimist dreaded a trap game, and the rational one figured this contest would fall somewhere in between.
And so it was. Both teams were playing in the second game of a back-to-back. Washington had lost to the Cavs, while the Knicks had drubbed the Sixers in Philly. Tonight, powered by 39 points from Julius Randle, 33 from Jalen Brunson, and another monster rebounding game by Hartenstein, the Knicks led from wire-to-wire—but let the Wizards come within five points before dropping the blade. Final score, Knicks 121, Wizards 105. Went a little like this.
The Knicks jumped out to a 10-2 lead in short order. The Zards put up little resistance while New York made about half their shots from the field and deep. Julius Randle couldn’t break double-digits last night in Philadelphia. Tonight, he had 13 points to lead the Knicks in the first quarter. New York coasted to an easy 34-19 lead by the end of the frame.
Quentin Grimes and Deuce McBride both swished triples to crack off the second quarter. Deuce was a gem last night in Philly, and continued his great play tonight. Look at this lift!
A good strategy for losing is to miss shots and turn over the ball. The Zards did both admirably in the first half, by turning the ball over 14 times and shooting 20% from beyond the arc. The Knicks capitalized on their folly, scoring 19 points off turnovers. Last night against the Sixers, New York’s biggest lead was 39 points. Tonight, they breezed to a 26-point first-half advantage that felt more like 60. Washington was completely outmatched by the orange and blue crew, who were ahead 63-43 at intermission.
Against Philadelphia, the Knicks made 24 of their 25 free-throw attempts. Through two quarters of tonight’s contest, they made 12-of-13. Fundamentals! In the first half, they shot 52% from the floor, and 39% from deep (7-of-18). They’d won the boards (25-22), assists (14-11), and points in the paint (28-24). The Wizards play at the league’s second-best pace, but tonight the Knicks outscored them for fast-break points, 14-5.
Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson were treating Wes Unseld Jr’s crew like G-League competition. Your first-half shot chart.
The Wizards left the locker room determined to save some face. They outscored New York 8-to-2 through the first two minutes of the second half. A flabbergasted Thibs signaled for a quick timeout. Deni Avdija led them with seven points and Kyle Kuzma added three triples to slash Washington’s deficit. New York’s once hefty lead had narrowed to 74-69.
New York made only four of their first 13 field goals before Julius Randle canned a trey and a free throw, Jalen Brunson added five points, and Donte DiVincenzo cashed in a steal for a dunk to restore a double-digit advantage. With a 17-6 run, the Knicks put down Washington’s uprising and ended the quarter ahead, 91-75.
The hosts threatened to make another run in the opening minutes of Q4, but Josh Hart and Quentin Grimes drilled two longballs, and Julius Randle added two more to his total, and the lead reached 20 again. Isaiah Hartenstein played 39 minutes tonight, and nearly matched his career-high for rebounds tonight, logging 19 boards, eight points, four steals, and two assists and blocks.
Not so fast! Washington went on an 11-2 run to cut the lead again. Then Julius Randle tightened his belt and gave the Former Bullets one last spanking on his way to scoring 39 points. He drove the lead back up to 19, and when he stepped to the foul line, the crowd showered him in chants of “MVP.” Unseld raised the white flag. Ballgame.
A perfect 4-0 in the Anunoby era! The next game will be on Tuesday when the Portland Trail Blazers come to Madison Square Garden. Two nights off? Impossible! Thanks for taking care of business, Knickerbockers. Safe travels.