As the game ended, my phone buzzed with a text from a friend and a die-hard Knicks fan who summed up the loss perfectly.
“Didn’t expect to win tonight,” he said, “yet it still hurts so much.”
On consecutive nights, the Knicks lost on the final possession. David Fizdale‘s young team battled the elite Celtics to the end, which led the coach to say he’s “proud of our team and how we compete. We’re never out of a game.”
And yet it’s hard not to look to one or two plays that could have sent the Knicks to a 3-0 start to the season.
“Every close game,” Fizdale said, “is an education.”
What fans need to then consider is that this season is not just about the players learning, but the team learning about the players. Fizdale clearly isn’t afraid to try any kind of lineup, and he did in this game. He’s also not afraid to leave a hot player on the court, which he did down the stretch when he had rookie Allonzo “No Fear” Trier (15 points) out during crunch time while Frank Ntilikina (-22 in 19 minutes) was left on the bench.
Ntilikina started the game matched up against fellow 20-year-old sophomore Jayson Tatum and early in the game Ntilikina shadowed Tatum well. But it didn’t take long for Tatum to get loose and get his game going. He made the biggest shot of the game with a fallaway jumper against Tim Hardaway Jr. with 21.1 seconds to go to give the Celtics a 101-98 lead. That play was the result of a scramble after Tatum badly missed on a dunk attempt and the Knicks couldn’t come up with the loose ball.
After Trey Burke scored on a drive to cut it back to a one-point deficit with 10 seconds to go, Tatum made two free throws with 7.9 seconds to put the Celtics back up three. Tatum then made a huge error on the final possession when he fouled Burke on a desperation three before the buzzer.
Burke, a career 79% free throw shooter, missed the first and dropped his head in frustration. He made the second and purposely missed the third, but the hard rebound went right to Al Horford to end the game.
Burke had to be consoled by his teammates when the final buzzer sounded. He said he let his teammates down.
He added, “I know I can knock them down in my sleep.”
You know he’ll be seeing them in his sleep.
On Friday, it was Hardaway Jr. who was haunted by getting beat by Caris LeVert for the game-winning drive. Hardaway knows LeVert well enough to know he wants to go right so to force him left. LeVert beat him right and took it to the rim. On Saturday, Hardaway couldn’t get to a loose ball before Tatum made the big shot and Burke missed free throws that could have forced overtime.
Amazingly, the Knicks were that close to a 3-0 start.
– The boxscore shows an incredibly even game. The most notable difference? Free throw shooting. Talk about regret, the Knicks left 10 points at the free throw line in the game. They were 17 for 27 and only one miss — Burke’s last attempt — was excusable because it was a purpose miss. Meanwhile, the Celtics were 28 for 33.
– Hardaway Jr. once again led the team in scoring with 24 points and made some big shots to push the Knicks back into the game when the Celtics tried to deliver a few early knockout blows. He’s averaging 28 points per game in the first three games of the season and is shooting 39.3% from three-point range.
– Enes Kanter had 17 points and 15 rebounds but fouled out late in the game. He’s averaging 20.7 points and 12.0 rebounds per game and is the first Knick to open the season with three double-doubles in the first three games since Zach Randolph in 2008. Is it hard to believe it’s been that long? But a bigger question is when is he going to get some calls around the basket? Kanter, who is a physical presence in the paint and had 15 field goal attempts and five offensive rebounds, had zero free throw attempts. He took 12 in the first two games of the season. He did, by the way, take two more threes and hit his first of the season. Remember, he promised he’d be taking them again. This is nothing new to him. Kanter has attempted 112 threes in his career and made 33. This is the first three he’s hit since 2016-17 with the Thunder. In 2015-16, he shot 47.6% from downtown. In 2014-15, he made a career-high 16 of 45.
– Rookie Kevin Knox left the game after just four minutes of playing time with a sprained left ankle. He rolled the ankle on a drive to the basket against Terry Rozier. The team said X-rays of the ankle were negative. There is somewhat of a sign of relief here because at first the injury looked bad as Knox was helped off the court and wasn’t putting any weight on his left foot. “I had a real bad feeling in my gut,” Fizdale said when he first saw Knox go down. Fizdale said he hoped the fact that Knox is 19 would mean he will heal quickly. No word yet on whether or not he’ll make the trip to Milwaukee to play the Bucks on Monday. I was about to take responsibility for the bad luck injury because I used one of Knox’s Puma Clyde’s as a prop in my pregame Knicks Fix segment. But then I realized in Saturday’s game he didn’t go with the neon Orange/Yellow kicks that I had. He wore grey ones. So I’m off the hook, right?
– Pat Riley used to say an injury is opportunity. That came for second-year guard Damyean Dotson, who Fizdale had been raving about during preseason and yet did not get action in the first two games of the season. But when Dotson checked into the game in the second quarter, he made an immediate impact and helped the Knicks come back from a 16-point deficit to trail by 2 at the half. Dotson had 8 of his 10 points in that second quarter, had 2 steals, 2 rebounds and 2 assists and was +7 in 22 minutes. After the game, Fizdale offered the ultimate compliment: “He’s exactly what we’re looking for in a player.”
– After playing so well in Brooklyn, Ntilikina did not have a good night against Tatum and the Celtics. He played just 19 minutes and was 2 for 7 from the field. The biggest issue, aside from the -22, was his 1 for 5 performance from three-point range, where he missed several wide-open looks on kick-outs. Fizdale explained that he left Frank on the bench because “the groups that were rolling, were rolling.” Ntilikina did keep his streak going of at least one steal in the first three games for an average of 2.3 per game so far. Both he and Hardaway are averaging over 2 steals per game. The last time a Knicks player did that in a season was Charlie Ward in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.
– Do you care to hear from Kyrie Irving? He acknowledged after the game that he considered the Knicks as a free agency option before he decided to announce his plan to re-sign with the Celtics. “Obviously New York held a special place for me, just being from Jersey,” he said, and added he thought about playing for Fizdale and with Kristaps Porzingis. “Yeah, of course,” he added, “New York was a strong consideration.” But that ship has apparently sailed since he announced on Oct. 5 he wants to re-sign with the Celtics. Danny Ainge said that made his job easier knowing that Kyrie wants to stay. Of course, all of this is just talk until Kyrie is signed to a contract in July. By the way, before the game Fizdale said Kyrie is “one guy I’d pay to watch.” But Knicks fans in attendance didn’t greet Kyrie with the same admiration, as there was a smattering of boos when he was announced during pregame introductions. And from a lot of the reactions I’ve seen on social media, most Knicks fans are already over the idea of signing Kyrie as a free agent. But I wonder how the reception will be when you-know-who comes to town next Friday….
– Fizdale had the line of the night when he talked about the final possession of the game, which started with a side-out of bounds play he drew up in the huddle. It didn’t quite work out as Burke struggled to find someone open and wound up chasing down a loose ball, taking a deep three and getting bailed out by Tatum’s ill-advised foul. “I drew up a crap play,” Fizdale said. “It was terrible.” The intention was to get the ball to Hardaway and there was a counter to the play that he said wasn’t executed properly. “I should have just drop-kicked it out the door,” he said. “Bad.” Thanks to Tatum, the damn thing almost worked.
— MSG Networks (@MSGNetworks) October 21, 2018
[Watch the Knicks Take on the Bucks Monday, With Coverage Starting at 7:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]