1. The green room at the MSG Network studios during Knicks games is an interesting place. Bill Pidto follows the rotation closely and will lose his mind if he doesn’t like the lineup on the floor. Al Trautwig generally watches quietly while he prepares for the post game, but will be quick to tear into someone who jinxes the outcome (for instance, don’t dare utter the word “overtime” in a close game). Wally Szczerbiak crushes candy and makes wagers over the most random prop bets with our producer, James “Q” Questel.
Then there’s me. I’ve got the box score for each quarter in front of me, a page of scribbled nonsense I’ll later use as notes and, of course, Twitter. And when I get on a certain trend, I can’t stop myself from repeating it, ad nauseum. Sometimes I do it just to see how long it takes until Trautwig explodes.
Early on this season it’s been three-point shooting. Last season, you might recall, it was first quarters. The Knicks were routinely getting off to poor starts and having to play from behind almost every night. There was a streak of games where the Knicks allowed 30 or more points in the first quarters. It drove me nuts.
So this season, I have to acknowledge one of the reasons for the team’s early success has to do with good starts. They built a 32-19 lead against the Suns to maintain control of the game from the start. And after eight games, the Knicks have completely reversed one of their biggest issues from last season.
In 2016-17, the Knicks allowed 28.4 points per game in the first quarter, which was the third-highest in the NBA. Their -1.6 per game scoring margin in first quarters was the sixth-worst in the league.
This season, the Knicks are holding opponents to 23.9 points per game in the first quarter, which ranks third-best in the NBA. Their +3.0 per game scoring margin in the first quarter is the fifth-best in the league.
2. The catalyst of these great starts has to be Enes Kanter. The amount of energy he brings at the start of games in infectious. He had 8 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in 10 minutes of the first quarter against the Suns. He’s the second-most productive player on the team in first quarters this season, averaging 5.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in 8.4 minutes per game.
There’s something about his battle-level at the start of games that is impossible to overlook, especially when he’s doing something like we featured on the post game show during our boxscore segment. Kanter battled two defenders, Tyson Chandler and TJ Warren, and came away with an offensive rebound that, as he was falling out of bounds, he kicked out to Jarrett Jack beyond the arc. Jack hit Tim Hardaway Jr. for a three-pointer and the Garden erupted.
The play happened with 4:48 left in the first quarter and gave the Knicks a 20-15 lead. You could say that kind of a play was too early to be a big moment of the game. But I disagree. Kanter’s gritty mentality won that battle of the boards, energizing the New York crowd and set a tone.
3. So if Kanter’s play was the early tone-setter for the Knicks, the play of the game — and, really, the season so far — that effectively ended the night had to be Kristaps Porzingis‘ Ewing-esque block/dunk sequence midway through the fourth quarter.
Porzingis chased down a drive by rookie Josh Jackson and spiked it to the floor. Courtney Lee grabbed the loose ball and sent it up the court to Jack, who did the veteran thing by waiting. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a galloping unicorn. He timed the pass perfectly to a vacant spot on the floor where Porzingis suddenly roared by like the 2 express train through the Lincoln Center stations. He took the ball, took flight and took whatever hope the Suns had left in this game, and slammed it through the hoop.
Not since Patrick Ewing have we seen a big man dominate both ends of the court with that kind of ferocity and athleticism.
That will be on Porzingis’ all-star highlight package as he is promoted nationally. Voting starts on Christmas Day, by the way.
4. Speaking of dunks….he came here as a shooter known as Dougie McBuckets, but Doug McDermott has been more like Dougie McDunkin since he’s arrived in New York. In the preseason he had a couple of nasty throw-downs and it has continued into the season. Against the Suns, McDermott posterized Josh Jackson on a sick reverse dunk that had been the dunk of the night until KP’s Statue of Liberty slam following the blocked shot. McDermott also finished with a two-handed slam later in the game.
5. The 37-point performance by Porzingis came after he met the media in the locker room to discuss comments made by his brother (and agent), Janis, to a Latvian magazine that came off as critical and combative in translated reports out of Europe.
The gist of what Janis Porzingis said was that Kristaps would not simply sign a contract extension to stay in New York for the money and that the franchise should make sure he is happy. Kristaps said his brother’s words were “taken out of context” and added that he didn’t want to bring any drama to this season. “I just want to play ball,” he said.
The Knicks can try to lock up Porzingis — their best draft pick in 30 years — for a five-year max extension next summer.
When asked directly if Knicks fans should be concerned about his future, Porzingis said, “I think fans know I’m here in New York, I love New York and I see myself as a Knick for a long, long time.”
Steve Mills and Scott Perry would like to believe the same and have opted not to make any public statements regarding Janis’ comments. Mills and Perry have been steadfast in trying to eliminate unnecessary media controversy and drama that has often plagued the environment of this franchise in the past.