David Fizdale didn’t want to believe it was an effort issue. “I want to watch the film,” he said, “before I make that judgment.”
He’s not going to like what he sees a second time around.
We often parallel a lack of effort with apathy and in this case, it isn’t warranted. The Knicks looked a step slow at the start of this game because they simply were a step slow. This has been a bit of a concerning trend over the past week of games, which included a frustrating loss to the Bulls, a grinding win over the Hawks and back-to-back losses to the Raptors and Magic, two teams that employed length on defense to pressure the ball and buried the Knicks with relentless threes.
Fizdale has been preaching the virtues of being a hard-working team that will compete every night. For the most part, they have been that despite the 10 losses in the first 14 games of the season. But this was the second game — Miami was the other — where that fight just wasn’t in them.
The coach wouldn’t allow the excuse of the back-to-back. “For whatever reason,” he said, “we came out flat and they came out firing.”
The Magic built a 10-0 lead before anyone could decide whether or not they liked this year’s City Edition uniforms. The Knicks missed their first seven shots and had four turnovers. They were down 30-10 after the first quarter.
“I put that on me,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said of the sloppy and soft open to the game. “I just didn’t deliver.”
Hardaway Jr. had been carrying the offense this season, but on this night he couldn’t get anything going against physical defense by Evan Fournier. He finished with just seven points on 2-of-12 shooting and missed all six of his three-point attempts.
Fournier seemed to bother Hardaway Jr. early by bodying him through screens. The Magic really got after it defensively and did what we’re seeing a lot of teams do against the Knicks: pressure the ball and look to get deflections off those perimeter handoffs. If the Knicks guards aren’t aggressive, those tactics can completely blow up their offense, which is already, by design, a very simple playbook.
[Catch The Knicks-Thunder Wednesday At 7:30 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]
So when Frank Ntilikina started the game off missing his first three shots and looking intimidated by the likes of DJ Augustin — I mean it’s DJ Augustin — Fizdale put him on the bench and left him there to watch and, hopefully, learn.
Ntilikina played just 5:45 minutes. He was scoreless with two turnovers, which included a senseless offensive charge against the smaller Augustin on a post-up. All Ntilikina needed to do there was turn around and shoot over the smaller defender, but for some reason, he lowered his shoulder into him to draw the foul. But the bigger issue was Frank not looking to dominate his matchup on the defensive end. Augustin runs through a lot of screens and uses his quickness to disrupt a defense, which leads to switching and confusion.
It was clear to Fizdale that his second-year guard was not engaged in this game. So, he went to veteran Trey Burke (10 points, five assists), a DNP in recent games, to see if he could provide a spark.
“We were just getting our butts kicked,” Fizdale said. “I wanted to look at something different.”
I think we all felt that way after the first quarter.
– Mitchell Robinson provided one bit of positive on the night with nine blocked shots, which set a Knicks record. It was also the most blocks by a Knick in almost 15 years, which goes back to Dikembe Mutombo, who had a franchise-record 10 on Jan. 4, 2004. Robinson credited Fizdale for “putting me in position to make those blocks” because, he said, Fizdale told him when he sees an opponent drive the ball full steam at the rim, “go get him.” Robinson made blocks of every variety, which included one-on-one, help defense from across the lane, help defense on a pick-and-roll and, the most impressive one, after falling to the floor. He was laid out after trying to draw a charge and got back to his feet under the basket and ran out in time to reject a corner three attempt by Jerian Grant. You had to see it to believe it.
Robinson had three blocks against the Raptors on Saturday, including a rejection against Jonas Valanciunas that made the Raptors big man laugh at how easy it was for the rookie. Over the last four games, Robinson is averaging four blocks a game and you can tell he takes great pride in it. He is only the third rookie to have at least nine blocks in a game since 2000 and the first since 2015 (Nerlens Noel). For those wondering, the NBA rookie record for blocks in a game is 15 (yes, 15) by Manute Bol — yes, that’s Bol Bol’s dad — in 1986. The NBA record is 17, by Elmore Smith of the Lakers in 1973. Both men recorded triple-doubles in that game and one would think Robinson has a chance to accomplish that one day, as well.
– Another rookie, Kevin Knox, led the Knicks in scoring. He had 17 points in 13:35 minutes doing what he loves to do: put up shots. Knox definitely looks to score when the ball comes his way, as he got up 11 shots in this game and wasted little time overthinking it. Once he touches it, you can see he’s focused solely on scoring. He was also challenged on the defensive end in chasing Terrence Ross around a few screens and he was late on consecutive plays in which Ross made easy baskets off curls. As he matures, Knox is going to need to become a more physical defender and pursue with a lot more determination.
– On Veteran’s Day, Knox was wearing special edition “Hoops for Troops” Pumas for the game, which he signed afterward and delivered to Steiner Sports, who is auctioning them off to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. Knox spoke at length with us at MSG Network about the very personal connection his family has to the military, which goes back three generations and includes his aunt, who is currently serving in the Air Force, and his uncle, Ray, who was killed in action in 2011 while serving in Afghanistan.
“He was a very outgoing person,” Knox said. “Always the brightest light in the room. Always laughing, making jokes. He always made sure we got our pushups in every time we saw him. He was a very strong guy.” Knox said the military influence on his family has molded him to be a player who believes in giving respect, especially to coaches and teammates. “If coach is talking to you, you’ve gotta have that respect, and make sure you have that discipline to say ‘Yes sir, yes ma’am,’,” Knox said. “Look them in the eye . . . make sure you have respect. That’s how I am here with the Knicks.”
Knicks rookie Kevin Knox gives a rundown of all of his family members who have served in the U.S. military.
– Robinson’s nine blocks set the Knicks rookie record. As we said, it fell one shy of the Knicks franchise record for blocks in a game, held by Mutombo. Only three players in franchise history have recorded at least nine blocks in a game. If I gave you three names, who do you think is the third: Patrick Ewing, Bill Cartwright or Marcus Camby?
[Catch The Knicks-Thunder Wednesday At 7:30 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]