Perhaps we’ll know on May 14 the true result of this game. That, of course, is the date of the NBA Lottery drawing.
The Knicks appeared on the verge of winning their third straight and fourth in the last five games, which had those watching the lottery standings getting nervous. But a day after David Fizdale said “I’m not wired to lose on purpose” he called his young team out for giving away what should have been a win on their home floor.
“Totally let our foot off the gas,” he said, perhaps the first time this season he showed anger after a loss.
“I think we got a little cool,” he continued. “I think we got a little full of ourselves, thinking we had the game . . . and they made us pay for it.”
Fans may be focused on the concept of losing for the purpose of a better lottery position, but neither of these teams — both in the bottom three of the NBA — looked like they cared about tanking. It was a very competitive game that saw the Knicks use a 20-8 run late in the third to build a 97-85 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Knicks led by 14 early in the quarter and it was 113-106 with under 4 minutes left. That’s when the foot came off the gas. That’s when the offense stalled against a zone by the Cavs and the Knicks lack of a floor leader once again stood out.
“We had some long possessions where we stayed on the perimeter for 20 seconds,” Dennis Smith Jr. explained, “and had a ‘grenade’ at the end.”
A grenade, in basketball parlance, is when you pass the ball to a stationary teammate in the final seconds of the shot clock and he is forced to take a bad shot. Meanwhile, Cavs rookie Collin Sexton charged down the court for driving layups that continued to chip away at the Knicks lead.
It was down to 115-114 with 90 seconds to go when Smith made an aimless drive, leaped and threw a blind cross-court pass intended for Allonzo Trier. But Jordan Clarkson read it perfectly, intercepted the pass and took off. Trier chased him down and fouled him, which led to a borderline clear-path foul. That’s two shots and the ball.
Clarkson made both free throws to put Cleveland up by one. Then, off the inbounds, Sexton sped by Smith and a flat-footed Kevin Knox, then fired a pass to the corner to a wide-open Clarkson. He drilled a corner three to complete a five-point possession and give the Cavs a 119-115 lead.
“Collin Sexton wasn’t done coming at us,” Fizdale fumed after the game. “He had something more to say about the game.”
Sexton, who was drafted one spot before the Knicks selected in last year’s draft, finished with 22 points; eight of which came in the fourth quarter.
Smith, who got off to a great start with 10 early points, finished with 16 points and 8 assists. He seemed, at times, to take personally the matchup with the speedy, relentless Sexton. But after the game he said, “I wasn’t trying to make it a one-on-one thing.”
You couldn’t blame him if he did. In fact, you’d love to see that kind of competitive fire out of him. You’d like to see it out of everyone, including Knox, who struggled again with his shooting (3 for 12, he’s now 6 for 28 in the last two games).
Knox finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds, but more notably he was a team-high -11 in 22:06. That inconsistent “motor” he talked about early in the season as an issue he knew he had to improve is once again an issue. Knox has yet to shake his tendency to ball-watch — that is, to stand still and watch when you’re not involved with the ball — at both ends of the floor. It is especially a problem on the defensive end, where Knox has become a liability as a help defender.
As well as Trier (22 points) and Mitchell Robinson (12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal) have played and deserve accolades, there has to be a fair critique about the lack of improvement in Knox since December, when he was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month.
Fizdale said he believes a lot of it is “a confidence issue” because his shot isn’t falling, but there is a notable lack of intensity in his game that, understanding he is still 19 years old, suggests he is still immature as a pro. But Fizdale had him out there in crunch time of the fourth quarter to learn and that’s exactly what a season like this affords him to do.
So, no, Fizdale certainly is not trying to lose. But he’s got a team of players who are still trying to learn how to win.
– MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow had a terrific courtside interview with former Knick Marcus Camby, who took in the game to watch Mitchell Robinson. Camby said he has been texting with Fizdale about Robinson and Fizdale invited Camby in to spend some time with Robinson and, perhaps, work with him. Camby told Haarlow he was more than happy to help. In fact, it sort of completes a circle of athletic, shot-blocking big men. Camby’s career emerged with the Knicks. Later in his career, he was with the Clippers when DeAndre Jordan was drafted. “He was my rookie,” Camby said of Jordan. “He was my Krispy Kreme go-to guy, he was the guy that drove me to practice. I watched his game mature each year and I was just in his ear about what he could do better. We watched a lot of film together.” Now Jordan is passing that knowledge on to Robinson, back with the Knicks where it all started for Camby. Wonder what kind of donuts Jordan prefers?
– I know it’s been worn twice before — most recently by Earl Barron — but does anyone else find it weird to see a Knicks player wear No. 30? John Jenkins chose that number when he signed out of the G-League. I know it’s not retired, but it will forever be Bernard King’s number.
– Henry Ellenson celebrated his strong performance against the Magic on Tuesday by signing a two-year contract with the Knicks, which will lock him in for at least the rest of the season. The second year, according to reports, is a team option. Ellenson responded by matching his scoring output from Tuesday with another 13-point performance against the Cavs. He hit three three-pointers and added 5 rebounds in 26:50.
– Frank Ntilikina (groin) and DeAndre Jordan (ankle) could play at some point during this short three-game West Coast trip, which begins Sunday afternoon against the Clippers in Los Angeles. Ntilikina has played in just 6 of the last 22 games due to injuries.
– The Cavs swept the season series and now have a 10-game winning streak at the Garden, which is mostly the work of LeBron James. The last time the Knicks beat the Cavs at the Garden was Jan. 2014. Again, we won’t know if this is a good or bad thing until May 14.
[Coverage Of Knicks-Clippers Gets Under Way Sunday At 3 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]