Why The Knicks Lost
Two terrible stretches crippled the Knicks last night, with the first coming right at the start of the game. Marcus Morris opened up the game by drilling an 11 foot jumper, which was followed by the Knicks missing their next 10 shots from the floor. Thankfully RJ Barrett ended the drought by scoring his first bucket of his NBA career with 7:01 left in the first. Before Barret’s basket, the Knicks were down 10-2 with zero flow on offense. The Knicks settled for jumpers early and the offense was stagnant. Most of the Knicks first quarter was plagued by the Knicks lack of ball movement and shooting early into the shot clock. The Knicks offense played best when the ball moved freely and they took time to work for the best shot while driving to the basket. Morris, Randle, and Barrett shot a combined 28-49 (57%) for 72 points. They did so by attacking the rim and not settling for jumpers. Morris stepped out a bit, but that is his game and he moved out as the game progressed. Randle and Barrett play their best basketball when they drive to the rim and either finish, get fouled, or both. This was a really promising performance by this trio as all three scored pretty easily and at a very high percentage against a big, defensive sound, Spurs team.
The other stretch of basketball that put the nail in the coffin for the Knicks is when they were up 6 with roughly 8 minutes to go. The Spurs then went on an 18-0 run after Elfrid Payton picked up his 5th foul and the Knicks backcourt was RJ at the point and Wayne Ellington playing at shooting guard for a majority of the stretch. The erratic offense with a lack of flow reappeared and destroyed the Knicks. The Knicks settled for six jumpers during this stretch along with a costly offensive foul from Ellington. On the other side of the ball, the Spurs erupted due to the hot shooting of LaMarcus Aldridge, Bryn Forbes, and DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan was quiet all night, but he took over when it mattered most. He scored 10 points and added 2 assists after being subbed in with 8:20 left in the game. Dejounte Murray displayed his tremendous defense during this run as he forced the Knicks to be out of rhythm and was a pest when guarding the ball. The Knicks recovered well after this and hit a few shots, but they dug themselves a hole too deep to recover from with such little time remaining.
Player Of The Game
Elfrid Payton was the player of the game for the New York Knicks. I know that sounds crazy and yes he only scored 11 points, not nearly as much as Morris, Randle, or Barrett. However, without Payton the Knicks were lost and had an extremely hard time getting buckets. Not to mention he added 5 steals and set the tone for a tenacious Knicks defense that made a huge run in the 3rd Quarter and ended the night with 16 steals as a team (more than any game last season). Payton also added 8 assists, 2 rebounds, and led the Knicks in +- at +14 in 26 minutes. I have been very critical of Payton this preseason, but he played fantastic and deserves a ton of credit. He was the 3rd point guard to enter the game for the Knicks and gave them a much needed boost. It is likely that Payton will become the Knicks’ starting point guard for at least the next few games after this fantastic performance coupled with the terrible appearances by Trier, Smith Jr., and Ntilikina. Payton’s efficient shooting (4-9) likely will regress and I wouldn’t expect another 5 steal game in awhile, but he has solidified himself as the Knicks’ best option at point guard right now.
Every point guard other than Payton… Trier only played the first 7 minutes, where he got burned on defense, took a few bad shots, and provided no flow or ball security to the Knicks offense. Smith Jr. subbed in and had an early basket on a drive, but ended up playing even worse than Trier. He lacked the speed he had last season and was equally bad on offense as he was on defense (hopefully this was just rust). Frank’s play was the most disappointing to me. He has shown he is capable of being a solid point guard while being a superior defender which really makes an impact. Ntilikina’s vociferous defense sucks the flow out of opposing offenses right from the point of attack (pun intended). He has struggled with turnovers and a lack of concentration, making it hard for Fizdale to count on him and give him consistent minutes. Ntilikina’s run depends solely on the fact that he just sets the offense up and distributes the ball without turning it over. His two bonehead turnovers in 3 minutes forced Fizdale to relegate him to the bench. One of these guards is going to need to step up for this Knicks team to make some big strides.
Elfrid Payton. Elf showed stretches in the preseason that he could run the offense and play solid defense, but not like this. His energy was contagious and gave the Knicks a heartbeat. He has earned himself a great opportunity here with the Knicks, which he mentioned a lot as one of his main reasons for signing here. It will be interesting to see if he takes another step forward and keeps this momentum going or if he will take a step backwards.
Morris and Randle did what they do, but it shouldn’t go unnoticed. They brought an intensity I don’t think we’ve seen from the Knicks in a regular season game in quite some time. Not to mention they shot at a very high percentage and poured in baskets for the Knicks all night. Kevin Knox displayed his impressive stroke from three shooting 3-4 from downtown while scoring a total of 13 points and adding 5 rebounds in 21 minutes of action. RJ Barrett had an incredibly impressive game. He looked in control most of the night, scored consistently (9-13 from the field), defended well (2 steals along with gritty defense), and picked up 5 rebounds. The Knicks have a real hooper in this kid and you can tell, no moment will be too big for him. Imagine what game 82 will look like from RJ Barrett if he did this in game 1 against the Spurs on the road…
The Knicks will be facing their crosstown rival in the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night at the Barclays Center. Kyrie Irving dropped 50 points in a tough overtime loss last night. Lets just say Payton and the rest of the Knicks guards better bring their A game tomorrow night. Hopefully Mitchell Robinson will be back as he is still listed as questionable and will likely be a gametime decision. Robinson’s defense brings an element of shot blocking the Knicks didn’t have in San Antonio where they only blocked one shot and it was by Wayne Ellington. Not to mention, when Robinson starts, Portis Jr. gets to come off of the bench and bring some scoring to a bench that has had issues offensively thus far. Fizdale’s rotations likely will remain an enigma as this Knicks roster is still filled with question marks. It will be interesting to see if Dotson gets a shot in the next game and which point guard gets the 2nd most minutes behind Payton.