There was a time when a performance like this would lead to a coach flipping over tables and kicking a water jug.
Doc Rivers once told a story about a time Pat Riley was so furious with the Knicks after a poor first half he started throwing cups of orange juice and other drinks, and pounding the table they were on in the middle of the locker room. Rivers happened to be under the table as Riley goes on his tirade and jumped up as the liquids doused him.
“What the hell?!” Riley yelled as Rivers startled him.
The room broke into laughter. All except the coach.
“You could see Pat wanted to laugh,” Rivers explained. “But he kept a straight face.”
David Fizdale might have wanted to tear up the visitor’s locker room at Staples Center after his team was embarrassed to an 82-46 beat-down at halftime of this game. It was the most points a Knicks team had allowed in a first half in over 50 years. The coach seemed like the only one embarrassed by it.
“We were not ready to play,” Fizdale said.
The team flew out on Friday for their three-game trip and had practice in Los Angeles on Saturday with the 12:30 p.m. local start for Sunday. The idea was to get out of the cold for an extra day and then get ready for an early tip-off, which has given the young team problems this season. But, with a Friday and Saturday night in Los Angeles, the plan didn’t work. The Knicks had that sunglasses-and-Advil look about them when the ball was tipped.
“We’re either not getting rest or not mentally preparing,” Fizdale grumbled. “Whatever it is, we were not ready to play.”
No one would reveal what Fizdale said or did at halftime — the two veteran leaders on the team, DeAndre Jordan and Lance Thomas did not speak to reporters — but the Knicks competed a lot harder in the second half. It was too little, too late, of course.
But while coaching today involves far less use of verbal punishment and a lot more coddling, what doesn’t change is how a coach is judged on wins, losses and perception. Fizdale is doing his best to use his gregarious manner as a way to endure this 13-50 season (with the hope of better days ahead), yet there still needs to be a standard upheld. There still needs to be a demand for some of these young players, especially those who are under contract for the next few seasons (Dennis Smith Jr., Kevin Knox, etc.), to take more emotional ownership in this game than perhaps they do in Xbox.
“No urgency, no legs,” Fizdale kept muttering on to reporters. “No something.”
The Clippers, who came into the game 6th in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage, made nine threes in the first quarter to open a 38-20 lead. Rookie Landry Shamet torched the Knicks soft defense by making 6 of his first 7 attempts from downtown in that quarter and despite being undersized playing the wing, he was never tested on the other end and never once felt any kind of physicality.
The Knicks were easily described in one word: soft.
“We didn’t make them uncomfortable,” Noah Vonleh said.
Instead, they ran around chasing the ball, helping on half-hearted efforts to fight through screens — they just kept switching into bad matchups, instead — and stopped dribble penetration.
It was the kind of effort that can make a coaching staff look bad, and that’s when a coach wants to flip over tables and kick water jugs.
“Obviously, that wasn’t the game plan,” Fizdale growled, “to let them shoot open threes.”
Fizdale was livid and said he spoke only “the truth to them” at halftime. He then coached them through a second half that saw a much better defensive effort (they held the Clippers to 41.3% shooting and 46 points), but that doesn’t erase what happened from the opening tip.
“It was a total lack of preparation,” Fizdale said. “We weren’t ready to compete with this team.”
– Maybe they’re just not morning people. It was the sixth of nine games on the schedule that have an afternoon tip-off time. The Knicks so far are 0-6 in those games. It was the third time in the first six that the Knicks were down by double-figures early and gave up 60+ points at the half. The other games were Jan. 13 against the 76ers (trailed 36-24 after the first and allowed 66 points at the half) and Jan. 21 against the Thunder (trailed 34-16 after the first quarter and allowed 67 points at the half). It’s worth noting that the game against the Clippers was only the second of the six afternoon starts that came on the road. There’s three more left and they’re each at home. Watch next Saturday against the Kings at The Garden, which is another noon start.
– Steve Ballmer recruiting free agents needs to be a reality show. The Clippers owner might be the most over-caffeinated billionaire on the planet, which means his team is going to be an interesting one to watch in free agency. They have the second-most “practical” salary cap space available this summer at $59 million, which is behind only the Knicks ($72 million). Kawhi Leonard has been linked to the Clippers for a while and there is a belief Leonard will sign there to return to his southern California roots. The Clippers, who have Doc Rivers, the outrageously enthusiastic Ballmer with unlimited funds and are looking to build a new arena in Inglewood to escape sharing space with the Lakers at Staples, could also open up more cap space to chase two max players. Also believed to be on their list is Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler.
– By this point in the season, a lottery pick who gets regular minutes should have found his game and some confidence. This is not the case for Kevin Knox. He had yet another zero-impact performance (6 points, 1 for 6 shooting) and has become somewhat of a liability on the defensive end because his reaction time to rotations is slow and his compete level right now would have John Calipari ordering him to do defensive slide drills after practice. We have to remember, Knox doesn’t turn 20 until August and this is a grown man’s game. The physicality and intensity seem to be overwhelming him. His shooting struggles (7 for 34 over the last three games) are also impacting his enthusiasm, which is another sign of immaturity.
– Meanwhile, undrafted rookie Allonzo Trier is getting back to the basics after admittedly trying to appeal to his critics by being more of a passer. Trier has to be who he is and that’s a scorer. He had 16 points in 24:44 and while he did get 4 assists, that is just a bonus to what he does best: score the ball and get to the free throw line. He is among the rookie leaders in free throw attempts despite the fact that he’s the only non-starter in the top 10. More importantly, his slash line suggests he is an efficient scorer: 46% FG/40% 3PT/ 84% FT. You want a good career comparable? Trier should look to players such as Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams, both multiple Sixth Man of the Year winners who made terrific careers off of being reliable scorers off the bench.
Mitchell Robinson scored 16 points -- going 7-for-8 from the field -- grabbed 13 boards and blocked 4 shots against the Clippers.
– The other rookie, Mitchell Robinson, continues to terrorize the rim and the paint. He had 16 points and 13 rebounds with 4 blocks in 22:43. It was his 6th double-double of the season and his third in the last four games. He’s also averaging 4 blocked shots in his last 7 games. You can see the coaching staff is still controlling his minutes to keep his energy up and his foul totals down.
– DeAndre Jordan (ankle) could return during this trip, but Frank Ntilikina (groin) remains out. With 19 games left in the season, there’s not much time for Ntilikina to show what he can do next to Smith Jr. as a backcourt tandem. Mario Hezonja (leg contusion) did not make the trip, which continues tonight at Sacramento.
– It’s great to see Danilo Gallinari (20 points) healthy and playing well. He’s averaging 19 points per game and shooting 42% from three on the season. Gallo was a first-round pick (6th overall) of the Knicks in 2008 and yet played just 28 games in his rookie season due to injuries. He was later traded in the Carmelo Anthony deal. His entire career has been riddled with injuries and an ACL tear cost him the entire 2013-14 season with the Denver Nuggets. He has one year left on his contract after this season and will be a free agent when he’s 31.
– Gallinari and Wilson Chandler (a Knicks first-round pick in 2007) were again re-united after Tobias Harris was traded to the 76ers in a deal that sent Chandler to the Clippers. Gallo and Chandler have been teammates now with three different teams: Knicks, Nuggets and Clippers.
[Knicks-Kings Coverage Gets Under Way Tonight At 9:30 PM On MSG & MSG GO.]