What it boiled down to for the Knicks at this point in the season, with Kevin Durant still just a dream, Kristaps Porzingis still on the comeback trail and Tim Hardaway Jr. sitting with a locked-up back, is that they had no other option but to hand the ball to an undrafted rookie and asked him to win the game for them.
Allonzo Trier has come that far since he was passed 60 times on draft night. And forget that he missed the potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation, the fact that he had the ball in his hands in that moment said a lot about what he means to the future of the Knicks. At full health, of course, the ball would be in the hands of Porzingis. Perhaps one day maybe lottery pick Kevin Knox may factor into these situations, as well.
The ideal scenario, of course, is that KD has the ball in his hands and The Garden on its feet in these thrilling moments.
But on this night, it wasn’t KD, nor KP nor Timmy or Kevin.
On this night, it was No Fear Trier.
“He’s not afraid of these moments,” David Fizdale said.
He shot his shot and missed. Mario Hezonja got the rebound and missed. It was that kind of night for the Fiz Kids, who started Trier in place of injured Hardaway Jr. With Frank Ntilikina (20), Trier (22), Damyean Dotson (24), Noah Vonleh (23) and Mitchell Robinson (20), the average age of the Knicks starting lineup was 21.8. That is, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the youngest starting five in the history of the franchise.
[Coverage of Knicks-Hawks Wednesday at 7 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]
And for any of us that are parents, we know that youth can be fun, enthusiastic and downright maddening.
As I said a few games back, these are the efforts that later in the year will result in wins. Right now, they’re only education. Some of you don’t want to hear about moral victories and learning from mistakes, but that’s the reality of where this team is on a night where Porzingis remains out, Hardaway Jr. was on the bench with a back issue and Knox was just getting “his feet wet” with some minutes after missing two weeks with an ankle injury.
So, it was Trier’s game. The kid who started 0-for-5. The kid who later calmly drilled a three-pointer with 49.1 seconds left to tie the score at 102. The kid who got to his spot and put up a double-clutch shot that was too strong. The kid who basically represents a team that has been relentless in their pursuit of wins, but more often than not struggles to complete the mission.
“We’re gonna get over this hump,” Fizdale said of these tough losses. “I see great character in this team.”
And that’s something you can sell to free agents in July. But in November, it’s tough to endure on a nightly basis.
You also see disorganization and confusion on offense, which seems to really struggle against pressure defense. Just like the Wizards on Sunday, the Bulls jumped into passing lanes and anticipated hand-offs, which caused the Knicks offense to stall. There were mind-boggling turnovers and a great deal of hesitation that also resulted in some bad looking basketball.
“There were moments of great execution,” Fizdale said, “and moments of ‘What the hell are we doing?'”
This looked like a game from the Mountain West Conference you might find at midnight on ESPNU or CBS Sports Network. Neither team shot the ball well, especially from three-point range, and there were countless turnovers that were the result of simply not knowing where you are on the basketball court. The first overtime saw NINE turnovers combined for both teams, five of which were made by the Bulls. Three times they were the result of simply stepping out of bounds!
And in the end, as we’ve seen many times before already this season, it came down to talent. The Bulls had Zach LaVine, who is making an early case for all-star status and, perhaps, Most Improved Player. He went for 41 points and needed every single one to will his team to a road win. He made the winning plays.
As I said before, you just have to wonder what Kristaps Porzingis is thinking as he sits on the bench watching game-after-game how the team battles so hard and then loses at the hands of players such as LaVine, Wall, Oladipo, Durant, Middleton and Tatum.
That’s a lot of opposing stars flexing on your court.
Hope he’s taking names. All of this pain has to be worth it one day.
– Knox was cleared to play just before the game and played just under five minutes. He scored on a steal and dunk after he missed his first shot — a floater — in the paint. He had a turnover when a quick pass from Mario Hezonja slipped right through his hands in the corner. Fizdale made it sound like he really didn’t want to throw the rookie into the game, but with Hardaway Jr.’s status, he decided to give him a few minutes of game action. Knox will likely see more of a regular shift on Wednesday when the team plays the Hawks in Atlanta. Knox, who missed seven games, was just happy to finally be back on the court. “I felt good,” he said, “so I’m just going to keep progressing from here.”
– Hardaway Jr. was dressed and considered “available” by NBA standards, but he did not enter the game. Fizdale said he “couldn’t have played” and that the back never loosened up enough.
– Ntilikina struggled for yet another game with his shooting. He went 0 for 6 in the game, including 0 for 3 from three-point range. He’s now missed 13 straight threes over the last four games. He had made 8 of 15 from downtown over three games prior to that. These are mostly wide-open looks and when he misses it tends to impact his overall confidence. As a result, he played just 16:13 and finished scoreless with 2 assists, 1 rebound and an unsightly -17. After five games of him at the point, is Fizdale ready to now give Emmanuel Mudiay a look at the starting point guard spot? Mudiay played 34 minutes and had 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal and was +11. Oh, he had some issues, as well, in running the offense. But his production has improved with each game since he returned from injury.
– There’s always criticism of the playcalling late in the game and I saw a lot of moaning and groaning about the Hero Ball plays involving Trier that resulted late in regulation and overtime. Fizdale, however, said that wasn’t the design coming out of the timeouts. “They turned out switching [on defense],” he said, “so I didn’t want him to get off the ball if he ends up in a [favorable] matchup in that situation.” The inbounds play from Mudiay to Enes Kanter that was picked off was the play, but Mudiay threw a poor pass.
– Kanter played 40:56 and posted a loaded statline of 23 points, 24 rebounds and 7 assists in the game. It was his second game as a Knick where he had at least 20/20/5 and the first of at least 20/20/5 from a player off the bench since Charles Barkley did it early in the 1986-87 season. The last player to put up numbers anywhere near what Kanter did — starter or reserve — was Kevin Garnett, who had 29 points, 24 rebounds and 8 assists in Dec. 2001. Our guy Wally Szczerbiak went for 28 points in that game, a win over the Kings.
[Coverage of Knicks-Hawks Wednesday at 7 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]