1. Another game that saw the Knicks give a great defensive effort in the first half only to seemingly run out of gas before we reached halftime. In OKC, we saw a 42-all game turn in the final three minutes of the second quarter when the Knicks yielded an 11-0 run. Against the Pistons, it was allowing 15 points in the final 3:29 to cut a 21-point lead to 13.
Jeff Hornacek needs to watch film to see if this is simply a conditioning issue that can be addressed by adjusting his substitutions to keep more fresh legs on the court. What suddenly stops working? In OKC the Knicks missed some makeable shots and didn’t get back on defense with the same fervor as the first 21 minutes of the half. Against Detroit, it was again missed shots and a defense that got too loose.
2. You have to give credit to Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy for inserting reserve forward Anthony Tolliver into the lineup late in the half. Tolliver, who was a DNP in the first two games of the season, was on a mission to earn a rotation spot and set out to do what no other Pistons forwards could do: stop Kristaps Porzingis. Tolliver tested the officiating early by getting physical with Porzingis and when he didn’t get any whistles, he kept it up. He started the second half and kept pounding KP.
At one point he literally grabbed his hip and pulled him to the ground. No call. Tolliver also contributed on the offensive end with three three-pointers and wound up a +21 in just 20 minutes. Expect more opponents to greet Porzingis with this type of coverage.
3. Regardless of Tolliver’s effort, Porzingis was still a dominant force. He finished with 33 points on 11 of 20 shooting and was also 8 for 10 from the line. He had 23 at the half and was virtually perfect with his shooting (his only two misses of the first half was a 30-foot heat check and a halfcourt heave at the buzzer). The Tolliver effect in the past might have taken him completely out of the game, but he continued to battle through it and remained locked in when it mattered most.
He had eight points in the fourth and learned a valuable lesson in the life of being the most important player on the court for his team. KP hit a big three-pointer with 5:12 to go tied it at 96 after the Pistons had just built a six-point lead. But he missed his next two shots and went 1 for 2 from the line down the stretch. But then, with 37 seconds left and the Knicks down three, Porzingis had his drive against two defenders blocked by Andre Drummond.
Replays show Drummond grabbed Porzingis’ arm in its shooting motion before he made the block — an obvious foul missed by the officials (should be noted on the NBA’s L2M). I said on MSG after the game, “The refs don’t treat KP like a star yet, but he’s a star player.” They will, however, the more he proves he can play through this kind of defense and still dominate. This is all part of the education and development of a player. But let’s see if the league watches the defense played against KP with a little more scrutiny this season. One thing to remember: how often did Carmelo Anthony get banged around (remember how often the headband would get knocked off his head?) and he didn’t get calls?
4. Tim Hardaway Jr. made a three-pointer with 5:57 left in the game to cut Detroit’s lead to 96-93. It was a big shot at the time, but it could prove to be bigger for Hardaway moving forward. That was his first three of the game after missing his first seven. Before that shot, Hardaway was 4 for 22 from the field in his first two games of the season after shooting the ball very well in the preseason (53%).
He finished the game, however, making his last three shots — all three-pointers — so you have to hope he might be finding his touch again. The Knicks desperately need a second scorer to support Porzingis and Hardaway Jr. is supposed to be that player.
5. The Knicks also need Hardaway Jr. to provide three-point shooting, because it remains an area of their game that is still lacking. The Knicks made just 8 of 30 from downtown in the game (26.7%) and Porzingis and Hardaway had six of the makes. In two games so far, the Knicks are 15 of 54 (27.7%) from beyond the arc, which is the second-lowest rate in the NBA. Their 27 attempts per game is 25th in the league.
Should the Knicks utilize the three-ball more than they do? Doug McDermott is a terrific shooter, but he was just 1 for 4 against Detroit. Courtney Lee was a 40% shooter last season, but he isn’t looking much for that shot, either. The NBA today is all pick-and-roll and three-pointers; scoring is either at the rim or beyond the arc. The Knicks under Jeff Hornacek have not prioritized the three-ball.