In the early moments of the game, with his team facing a mark of futility he insists he never discussed with the players, David Fizdale wore the smile of a madman in the midst of chaos.
He just saw two of his players go for the same rebound, with no opposing player within five feet. And as they battled each other for the board, the ball tipped off their hands and into the basket. The Knicks just scored for the other team, as if things weren’t difficult enough.
And there was Fizdale, wearing a broad grin.
“You have to surrender,” the coach said. “I basically surrendered to all of the crazy stuff that could possibly happen to us in a game… So, I just had to laugh. At some point you stop resisting and you just laugh. That was one of those moments.”
That was only the beginning of the crazy on a Sunday night at The Garden that saw a franchise record home losing streak stopped short of tying the NBA’s all-time mark. The streak was dead at 18, as the Knicks won their first home game since Dec. 1. The news reached Hollywood in time for Samuel L. Jackson to announce it to the millions watching the 91st Academy Awards on ABC.
“First of all, Spike, so glad you’re sitting down,” Jackson said to famed director and Knicks fan Spike Lee, seated among the crowd of celebrities at the Dolby Theatre. “After 18 consecutive home losses the Knicks won tonight. I repeat: the Knicks won tonight!”
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) February 25, 2019
Shortly after delivering this news, Jackson celebrated on stage with Lee, who won his first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, for his movie, BlacKkKlansman.
Back on the East Coast, the Knicks were celebrating a win that had all the drama, suspense and, yes, comedy fitting of an Oscar nomination. Such as:
– Barely a minute into the game, LaMarcus Aldridge missed a mid-range jumper. Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox both went for the rebound and as Smith yelled “Same!,” Knox tipped it away from him and it went into the hoop. The official scorer gave the basket to Bryn Forbes, who was the closest Spurs player to the hoop on that play. Forbes was about 17 feet from the basket and already running back on defense.
– With DeAndre Jordan (ankle) out, this set up to be a night where Mitchell Robinson would get big minutes as long as he stayed out of foul trouble. He didn’t start, but eventually entered with 5:27 left in the first. Just 54 seconds later, he picked up his second foul.
– Fizdale left Robinson in the game and the rookie proceeded to block three shots in the first half and not pick up another foul. He finished the game with 15 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks in 30:03. He finished with four fouls, but the early foul trouble was never a factor.
– The Spurs came into the game leading the NBA in three-point shooting (40.1%) but were ice cold from downtown at the start. They missed 7 of their first 9 attempts from three. Meanwhile, the Knicks, who are last in the NBA in shooting, made 4 of their first 9.
– DeMar DeRozan put up 21 points in the first half, but got annoyed with some physical defense by Damyean Dotson, who bumped the all-star to the floor on a cut under the basket. The two had words, with DeRozan telling Dotson, “Do that again.” Dotson stood his ground and The Garden crowd got rowdy.
DeRozan and Dotson have a few choice words after a hard foul 🤬 pic.twitter.com/pL9osDD32t
— MSG Networks (@MSGNetworks) February 25, 2019
– The Knicks led by 23 points (90-67) with 4:40 left in the third quarter. It was the first time they led a game by 20 points since Nov. 21 at Boston, a 117-109 win on Thanksgiving Eve. It was also their first 20-point lead at home since Oct. 29 against the Nets, which was a 115-96 win.
– The Spurs closed the third with an 8-0 run and suddenly the Knicks lead is down to 11. It was an 8-point game in the final five minutes and the tension built on every possession. With the Knicks holding a 116-107 lead with 3:16 to go, Fizdale called a timeout to set the offense. But, as he described it with another one of those madman smiles, “My 19-year-old thinks it’s college and throws it into the backcourt.” Knox inbounded the ball to Smith at midcourt and Smith couldn’t keep himself from committing the backcourt violation. Fizdale took off his trademark glasses and wore a pained expression.
– With the Knicks up nine, Dotson, capping a 27-point night, buries his 8th three-pointer to make it a 120-108 lead with 2:19 to go. That is the most threes made by a Knick in a game since JR Smith had a team-record 10 on April 6, 2014 at Miami. Dotson falls one shy of The Garden record for a Knick (9), held by Carmelo Anthony and Toney Douglas.
– With 42 seconds left, Smith Jr. steals a pass and tosses the ball off the backboard for a trailing Robinson, who slams it home for the exclamation point. The Knicks hit 130 points, their highest total since… Dec. 1, which was — coincidentally — their last win at The Garden.
That’s a lot of emotion and action in one 48-minute game. Dotson proudly discussed his team’s resilience after the game with MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow. “We keep believing and keep coming out here and competing,” he said, “and one day it’s going to pay off.”
While Smith Jr. was well aware of the Dec. 1 date and added, “I wasn’t part of that one” as he enjoyed his first win as a Knick on the Garden court, Fizdale said he never talked about it to the team before the game. He said what he loved most about his team was how quickly they get over losses and “get back to work. At some point, the basketball gods will look out for you for doing that.”
And even those eyeing only the lottery standings at this point in the season have to understand that this win had significance to the psyche of an entire franchise trying to, to quote a Spike Lee movie, “do the right thing” as they endure the pain of a rebuild.
Basking, for a moment, in the rare joy of a win at the Garden at the end of a wild night that resonated from coast to coast, Fizdale said, “Our guys needed to feel that at home.”
– Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met Fizdale at midcourt after the game with a hug, a smile and what appeared to be some words of encouragement mixed with some jokes. Fizdale wouldn’t reveal the contents of their discussion, but said he told the venerable coach that he loves, respects and appreciates him. Popovich was one of several coaches who offered public support of Fizdale after he was unceremoniously fired by the Grizzlies early last season. Pop was in rare form once he met reporters, however, as he described his team’s “pathetic” effort on defense. When he was asked to elaborate, he said, “What do you want me to do, slit my throat? Beat myself up?” He then slapped himself in the face. Pressed to discuss his team’s trouble against the Knicks, Pop said, “No, I’m not going to give you a coaching clinic.” The Spurs are 1-6 on this road trip — their annual Rodeo trip — and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.
– The Knicks were led by two rookies and two second-year players in this game. Dotson’s 27 points (8 for 13 from three) led all scorers, while the three others had double-doubles. Smith Jr. had 19 points and 13 assists, Knox had 19 points and 10 rebounds and Robinson had the monster game of 15 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks, which is only the fourth 15-14-5 game by a Knicks rookie in franchise history (joining Lonnie Shelton, Patrick Ewing and Kristaps Porzingis).
The Knicks picked up their first home win since Dec. 1 by taking down the Spurs. Here's the best dunks, blocks and shots from the W.
– After committing five turnovers on Friday night and being benched in favor of Emmanuel Mudiay down the stretch, Smith came back with a clean game with zero turnovers to 13 assists in 29:44. Smith pointed to a “pretty long meeting” he had with Fizdale before Saturday’s practice where the two “hashed out the things he needs me to do.” Smith also credited Dotson for his big assist night, saying Dotson is a “great shooter” and “any time I can find him, I’m looking for him.” Smith’s 13 assists was two shy of his career-high which he happened to set at The Garden, against the Knicks, just a day before he was traded to the Knicks in the Porzingis deal. Mudiay, by the way, had 17 points, with 13 of them coming in the second quarter.
– Not to be overlooked is the stabilizing presence of veteran Lance Thomas, who got the start and had 16 points and 7 rebounds in 30:22. Fizdale praised the leadership Thomas brought from start to finish. It was clear Thomas was aware of the dubious history that awaited the Knicks and he put a lot of energy into keeping the young team locked in both on the court and in the huddle. “He’s invaluable to me and to these guys,” Fizdale said of Thomas, the longest-tenured Knick on the roster.
– The 130 points scored in regulation is a rarity for the Knicks, who haven’t done that in almost 8 years. The last time the Knicks reached 130 points in regulation was April 5, 2011, in a 131-118 win over the Raptors at The Garden. The connection between that game and this game includes the presence of DeMar DeRozan, who was in his second season with Toronto. DeRozan had 36 points in that game and had 32 points in this one with the Spurs. He left New York with this sentiment: “It’s really hard to find positives when you’re supposed to come into a building like this, against a team like this, and get a win.”
– Dotson’s performance was the 16th time a Knicks player has hit at least 8 threes in a game. Two players have done it three times each. Can you name them?