This one was predictable. But you have to admit David Fizdale‘s Knicks are building a reputation of toughness, even through the losses.
This was a game the veteran Wizards, who started 1-7, had to have. At home, against the youngest roster in the NBA, after losing five straight games and getting booed off your home court on Friday and your owner making jokes at your expense?
This one had blowout written all over it. But the Knicks made John Wall and the Wizards earn it.
“You could tell they really wanted to get this one bad,” Allonzo Trier said.
Markieff Morris said the Wizards did what they were supposed to do in disrupting the Knicks offense and holding them to just 95 points.
“No disrespect to the Knicks,” Morris said after the game, “but they’re a young team . . . we’re supposed to do that.”
It was clear from the opening tip that Washington had something to prove. They overplayed every cut, curl and handoff and shot the gap on some lazy passes. The Knicks gave up six points on five turnovers in the first quarter and fell behind by 13 in the second quarter. But every time it felt like the Wizards were about to put the game away, someone stepped up for the Knicks to provide a spark.
[Coverage of Knicks-Bulls Monday at 7 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]
In the first half, it was Damyean Dotson, who scored 7 points in the final 2:18 of the half to bring the Knicks to within 58-50 at the half. Then in the third quarter, the Knicks offense stalled again with consecutive possessions than ended in shot clock violations and suddenly the deficit was back to double-figures at 72-60. That’s when Allonzo “No Fear” Trier drove to the basket and took an elbow to the head on a foul by Wall. When Wall went to help Trier up, the undrafted rookie brushed away his offer and started barking at him.
The kid then scored 7 points in a 14-4 run, which included a couple of determined drives to the rim and some intense defense on Wall, as well, to bring the Knicks within three going into the fourth quarter.
“He was inspiring us,” Fizdale said.
The Knicks had it tied three times in that fourth quarter — at 82, 84 and 86 — before the Wizards finally put them away with a 16-2 run. Frank Ntilikina missed three open looks from three-point range in that run and the Knicks, as a team, had their worst shooting performance from downtown for the season at 5 for 27. The Wizards had been one of the worst three-point defenses in the NBA. On this night, they were a much different looking team with their relentless pressure on the ball, which forced the Knicks into a lot of indecision, hesitation and no rhythm. So, when they had those open threes and missed, it really hurt.
Ntilikina had a rough game with just 6 points and 4 assists to go along with a team-high 4 turnovers and 4 fouls. Wall was his matchup and the All-Star owned it. He had 26 points, 7 assists and 5 steals, a few of them coming against Ntilikina.
“They definitely affected us because we were turning the ball over,” Fizdale said. “Very careless with the ball tonight.”
They played like a young team against a desperate veteran team.
– Emmanuel Mudiay could not follow up his positive minutes in Dallas to make a case for more playing time. He struggled against the Wizards pressure defense and had two turnovers, and was also 1 for 5 from the field. He and Ntilikina combined were 4 for 12 from the field and 0 for 6 from three-point range. The two young Knicks point guards combined for 10 points, 7 assists, 7 fouls and 5 turnovers. So, you can easily trace the issues to an offense that Fizdale said “just stalled” in the fourth quarter.
– Part of the issues with the offense had to do with Tim Hardaway Jr., who had a rough night after sustaining an early back injury that may keep him out of Monday’s game against the Bulls. Hardaway took an awkward step on a fast break drive and tweaked something that “felt like a nerve” in his back. He returned to the game after some treatment and at halftime came out for warmups with a huge wrap around his torso that looked like Batman’s fanny pack, loaded with a few bulky devices designed to treat the back issue. He finished the game, played 24:18 and had his worst offensive performance of the season with just 7 points on 2 of 10 shooting. After the game, he said the back was “sore right now, but we’ll see how it is” on Monday morning, when he will be at the MSG Training Center to get more treatment to get ready for the back-to-back against the Bulls. “Hopefully,” he said, “I can give it a go.”
– While the Knicks may be without Hardaway Jr., they could get back rookie Kevin Knox, who has been working out in practice and anticipating his return after missing two weeks with an ankle sprain. Knox told reporters that he expected to be a game-time decision for Monday against the Bulls, but he still has to be cleared by the medical staff. With the early success of Trier and Mitchell Robinson, you have to believe Knox is chomping at the bit to join the rookie party.
– Both healthy Knick rookies earned some praise from Wizards vets after the game. Bradley Beal told MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow that Trier “does remind me of myself, except he might be a lot more aggressive coming into the league than I was. The sky’s the limit for him.” Beal came into the league with high expectations as the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft out of Florida. Trier, as we all know, went undrafted out of Arizona. And yes, for us Old Heads, there’s so much John Starks in this kid: fiery, competitive, athletic and powerful. “No Fear” Trier isn’t interested in making friends on the court, he’s trying to prove himself and win. Let’s hope he stays like that forever.
– Meanwhile, Mitchell Robinson (10 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block) also caught the attention of former all-star Dwight Howard. Robinson rejected a three-point attempt by Howard early in the game and then took the ball down the court for an emphatic slam before Howard fouled him. “I was like, ‘Oh man, OK’,” Howard said of the block to NBC Sports Washington. “After that, it was like, ‘I kind of like this guy’.” Howard, who was playing in only his second game of the season because of a glute injury, said Robinson has “a lot of potential” and said he didn’t have his legs yet to challenge him on a few rebounds. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not there yet. Let him have it’.” Howard might have already been able to relate to Robinson in another way: the young big is already showing frustration with how officials call fouls on him. Robinson had four fouls and picked up a technical foul for arguing one call. It was his second tech of the regular season and of course that’s now prompting some suggestions that the 20-year-old needs to control his emotions. Fizdale dismissed that notion. “I’d rather have to tone him down and amp him up,” he said. Of course, there is one thing that may motivate Robinson to bite his tongue: his paycheck. It costs Robinson $2,000 per technical. If he gets to the league-limit of 16, not only will he be suspended one game (and lose that day’s pay), but also $30,000 in fines. Robinson makes a hair under $1.5 million this season.
– The Wizards blocked 11 Knicks shots in the game, led by Beal, who had 4, including a surprising one on a dunk attempt by Robinson. The Knicks team record for blocked shots in a game is 15. Patrick Ewing had 7 of them. Who was the opponent?
[Coverage of Knicks-Bulls Monday at 7 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]