David Fizdale upped the ante in this season of teaching. By inserting Allonzo Trier into the starting lineup, he not only went small ball against the Pelicans, he went with the baby boomers. Trier joined Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson in the starting five, which meant three rookies started the game.
But what mattered more in this game is Fizdale had all three finish the game, too.
“I wanted them to go through that,” he said. “Either win it or suffer.”
The result was a painful unraveling of what had been a promising game, which saw the Knicks hold an 11-point lead with under seven minutes remaining. But this is the NBA, where the team with the most talent and experience usually wins, especially at home.
Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were not about losing to the youngest team in the NBA. They used a 19-5 run and took advantage of some rookie moments by Trier, who did not box out on the perimeter which allowed a critical putback by Julius Randle off a free throw miss, and Robinson, who was pushed out of position by Randle for an easy offensive rebound, and Knox, who was caught fronting Davis and gave up an easy basket at the rim.
Meanwhile, the offense that produced 96 points after three quarters sputtered down the stretch. Fizdale tried running Trey Burke in for offense and Frank Ntilikina for defense, but there were too many holes to plug. Trier went into iso-mode. The ball stopped moving. The Knicks looked like a typical young team that could not make plays to close out a game.
That was in contrast to what they looked like in the first quarter when they jumped out to a quick 10-point lead and had a 32-16 advantage going into the second, fueled by a quicker pace, five steals that turned into 9 points off turnovers and the Pelicans shooting 30% from the field.
“Best start we’ve had in a very long time,” said Fizdale, who after making four changes over the first 16 games vowed to not tinker with the lineup for a while.
Emmanuel Mudiay looked terrific in the first half, with 16 points in 14 minutes. Burke played significant minutes for the first time in a week and went for 12 points, as the Knicks held a 10 point lead at the break. Even in the third quarter, when New Orleans made a push to cut it to 3, the Knicks responded with a three-pointer by Tim Hardaway Jr. (30 points) and a steal and dunk by Damyean Dotson to spark a run that brought the lead back up to 10.
But this great start always felt like it was going to come down to how they finish. The offense did slow down, which tends to happen in crunch time. But the bigger issue was the defense, which struggled to stop dribble penetration and often — if you can believe it — lost touch with where Davis was on the court.
The Knicks allowed 68 Points in the Paint, which follows giving up 64 Points in the Paint to the Thunder on Wednesday. In both games, the Knicks allowed almost 130 points.
Davis went for 43 points, 17 rebounds and 5 assists, while Holiday had 14 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. Both had quiet starts (Davis had just two points after the first quarter), but it seemed the young Knicks got them fired up. At one point, Davis was trash-talking with Robinson after the whistle and challenging the rookie big man from nearby Chalmette, La. and was playing in front of a lot of friends and family.
Holiday also took exception to Burke, who roared after blocking Holiday’s shot. The competitive fire was lit and the Pelicans stars raised their game.
More painful learning. More experience. But also more losing. The Knicks are now 4-12 on the season, which is tied for the most losses in the NBA.
* * * * * *
– Burke had 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting and said after the game he had to go back to being the player he is rather than being something he thought he was supposed to be. “I can’t try to please being someone that I’m not,” he said. “That’s what I did early in the season.”
Burke, who was a curious DNP-CD for three of the previous four games, said he “felt like getting back” to being the scoring guard he showed himself to be last season when the former lottery pick came out of the G-League and had some big games for the Knicks. “Coach told me to attack,” he said and added he was deferring too much and settling for jump shots in an effort to be more of a distributor at the point guard position.
The guy worked too hard this offseason to be playing the way he was so hopefully this is a performance he can build off. The issue, however, is that the Knicks don’t seem to have a point guard who can run an offense. Mudiay had a nice scoring game (19 points) but he had zero assists. Burke had one assist. Ntilikina, who was moved back to wing, had two assists. Trier, the guy who is known as Iso-Zo, led the Knicks with 5 assists.
– On Ntilikina, he spent a good portion of the game guarding Holiday, which was good to see. I couldn’t understand why Frank never got the assignment to check Paul George in OKC. With Mudiay starting and Burke seemingly back on his game, it looks like Ntilikina will move back into that role as the multi-position wing defender rather than point guard. The team plays faster when he’s off the ball and it takes pressure off him from thinking too much about organizing the offense.
OK, back to him guarding Holiday, which early on seemed to be effective: Frank finished -16 with five fouls and Holiday was unstoppable down the stretch. Fizdale tried to go offense-defense with subs, which was a little awkward. But I don’t care about the numbers at all here. Ntilikina needs this experience every night. It would be good to see him matched up with the top players from each team. Let him develop that part of his game and make it elite like Fizdale says it can be.
– Robinson certainly isn’t afraid of a challenge and he’s already developing into one of the game’s top shot-blockers (9.3 Block Percentage was No. 1 in the NBA going into the game). But the two areas he needs to focus on in his development are rebounding and positioning.
Obviously, he will get stronger, which will help him improve in both areas, but Robinson doesn’t have the same passion to chase rebounds as he does to chase blocks. He played 24:19 and had 7 rebounds, which is a decent rate. But he only had three defensive rebounds. Fizdale explained that part of the issues with the defense was in not securing the rebound to complete the stop. The Pelicans had 11 offensive rebounds in the game, but 7 of them came in the fourth quarter. To Robinson’s defense, he is often away from the basket due to switches on pick-and-roll defense, but he still needs to be more active in pursuing rebounds. Like most young players, he gets caught ball-watching.
– The Knicks started three rookies in this game. When was the last time the Knicks started three rookies that started the season on the opening night roster?
[Watch Coverage of the Knicks-Magic Game Tomorrow at 5:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Get the App Now.]