Garden Silenced By Biggest Loss of Knicks Season

5 Thoughts on the Loss:

1. The Franchise was laid out on the baseline. As the play headed down the other end, not a single set of eyes in the building was on the ball. What you had was 19,812 heads all looking toward that baseline and the image of Kristaps Porzingis clutching his knee and writhing in pain.

And for the record, despite what you’ve read or heard, that wasn’t a collective gasp.

There was actually no sound at all.

There was only a whistle from the referee to stop play after Lance Thomas quickly committed a foul. Even Thomas wasn’t looking at the ball. He was staring at KP.

No one spoke.

Just seconds before, Porzingis completed a vicious dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo that created the type of noise KP had learned to produce as he made The Garden his home. As I’ve said before, there’s something different about how you react when it’s a draft pick you see doing special things on the court. It’s like he’s family; a younger brother or a son. He’s ours.

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So after seeing the injury on GardenVision, which confirmed the immediate, instinctual concerns, and hours later learning it was, indeed, a left ACL tear that will keep him out for months, this was a different kind of sadness that has swept over this franchise.

We’ve seen this before: Willis Reed‘s torn thigh muscle. Bernard King‘s knee. Patrick Ewing‘s wrist in ’98 and his Achilles in ’99. Allan Houston‘s knee. Chauncey Billups‘ knee. Amar’e Stoudemire‘s back. Jeremy Lin‘s knee. Carmelo Anthony‘s ankle.

Now this.

On social media, Porzingis received a host of goodwill from pro athletes like Odell Beckham Jr. (who certainly can relate) and fellow NBA players from Antetokounmpo — “a good friend and even greater competitior” — to LeBron James, whose All-Star team is certainly cursed after losing it’s fourth player to injury.

We certainly wish KP well, but he will be back on the court eventually. The bigger concern is for the morale of a franchise and a fan base that just can’t get any positive momentum.

I’m at a loss for some today. Even me and my useless stats. The best I can come up with is that Anthony Davis missed 25% of his games in the first four seasons of his career due to so many injuries there were stories as late as April 2016 questioning his durability to be a franchise player. After this season, KP will have missed 26% of his games in the first three seasons. He’s still just 22.

Steph Curry missed 40 games in 2011-12 with an ankle injury that became a big enough concern for the Warriors that they: 1) discussed trading him to New Orleans for Chris Paul; 2) hesitantly signed him to a four-year, $44 million rookie extension that was, at the time, widely viewed as a risk.

The point: this, too, shall pass.

In the meantime, it’s incumbent upon the leadership of the franchise to not only keep the sagging morale in mind as they approach the Trade Deadline, but to also continue to advance the cause in Porzingis’ absence so when he does return, he comes back to a team that is trending up.

2. In Porzingis’ absence, one might have thought it would at least open an opportunity for his friend, Willy Hernangomez. But the 23-year-old didn’t get into the game until the final minutes of a blowout loss. Then on Wednesday, reports surfaced that the Knicks were trading Hernangomez to the Charlotte Hornets.

[Editor’s Note: ESPN reported the Knicks would receive two future first round picks in the deal along with Johnny O’Bryant]

Hernangomez, before the game, acknowledged reports that his agents asked for a trade. “All I can say is I want to be somewhere where I can play,” he said. “Where I can have minutes and keep developing.”

He didn’t get that opportunity this season despite being an All-Rookie selection last year after averaging 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds in 18.4 minutes per game. This season, he appeared in just 26 games and an average of 9 minutes per game. His Per 36 Minute numbers were impressive — 17.2 points, 10.4 rebounds on 60.5% shooting — but he was stuck behind veterans Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn.

Early in the season, GM Scott Perry suggested that Hernangomez had to learn that minutes were not entitled just because you were a young player.

Hernangomez will be 24 in May and has a very affordable contract at $1.54 million next year and a non-guaranteed $1.7 million in 2019-20. He proved with consistent playing time he could be a good scorer around the basket and a rebounder, but despite being 6-foot-11, he didn’t play “big” and struggled as a defender both against stretch 4 and 5s, and also at the rim.

It’s hard to tell what kind of player he’s going to be at the NBA level, but clearly the Knicks coaches and basketball staff saw enough to not believe it was better to turn the former second round pick into two future second round picks.

He’s also, it should be noted, Porzingis’ best friend on the team.

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3. Antetokounmpo, who hit the game-winner last week in Milwaukee, is a one-man wrecking crew against the Knicks. Not only did he unintentionally cause the Porzingis injury, he also accidentally kicked Tim Hardaway Jr. right in the exact spot where his felt that stress injury that kept him out for six weeks.

Hardaway Jr. immediately went down and grabbed the leg. He hobbled off, went right to the locker room and admitted he “was nervous.” X-rays later revealed no damage to the leg, which was somewhat of a relief, but he still has to see how he feels the next day before we find out if he will miss any more time.

I definitely don’t want to sit out again,” Hardaway Jr. said.

So you think you’re having a bad week? Tim has gone four games now in a deep freeze after he went 4-for-13 from the field against the Bucks, including 0-for-5 from three.

His four-game slump has him at 9-for-46 from the field (19.5%) and 1-for-20 from three.

Even colder than the alley-oop Antetokounmpo finished over Hardaway Jr. that saw Giannis literally hurdle the 6-foot-6 Hardaway Jr.

“All I saw was [Eric] Bledsoe,” Hardaway Jr. said. “And all I heard was footsteps.”

4. More injury news for the Knicks: Enes Kanter said he needed surgery. OK, it’s oral surgery, but, hey, that’s still painful. Kanter cut his lip during practice last week and stitches kept coming loose. Against the Bucks he was hit in the mouth and, yes, the stitches ripped open again.

So he will undergo a 45-minute procedure to surgically-repair the injury.

When MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow asked Kanter if he’d miss any time, he replied, “If you ask me, I’ll play the next game.”

If you consider his stats and impact, should Kanter be considered for KP’s replacement for the all-star game?

5. Trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. After the Hernangomez deal, reports continue to suggest the Knicks are taking calls on veterans such as O’Quinn, Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah.

We’ll have full coverage of trade deadline day Thursday on Knicks Game Night on MSG Networks before the game in Toronto against the Raptors.

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