The Knicks had just come out of a timeout, which was taken to stop the momentum of a run by the Suns that quickly cut an 11-point lead to one in the second quarter.
After a cold start, Devin Booker was starting to heat up on his way to a season-high 41-point performance. David Fizdale drew up a play and tried to get his group to refocus.
Dennis Smith Jr., whom Fizdale has pushed to take on more of a leadership role in these situations, had the ball in his hands on the ensuing possession with a pick-and-roll set up with he and DeAndre Jordan on the right elbow. Noah Vonleh was in the corner for spacing. But rather than attack with 18 seconds on the shot clock, Smith opted to go back the other way to Damyean Dotson, with his back foot on the center court logo, and tossed a lazy pass.
Booker read the pass, slapped at the ball as Dotson tried to catch it and off he went down the court for an uncontested dunk. The Suns took their first lead of the game.
“Our minds were gone then,” Fizdale said.
That was one of 16 turnovers in the first half by the Knicks (three more than their per game average) and those turnovers became 21 points for the Suns. The Knicks finished with 22 turnovers, one shy of their season high, and it became 28 points off turnovers for the Suns.
On this three-game road trip, turnovers were an issue, as the team averaged 17 per game. There are a lot of areas the Knicks struggled with this season, but turning the ball wasn’t one of them. Before they left for this trip, they were among the NBA’s top ten in fewest turnovers at 13 per game.
On the same day the team met and talked with Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, the point guards combined to commit eight turnovers, with three by Smith Jr. and five by Emmanuel Mudiay. Fizdale said “most of it was carelessness.”
How in the world could a team with only 13 wins be careless?
The Knicks (13-52) did win three of four recently before their current four game losing streak, which began with a blown lead at home against another lottery-bound team, the Cavaliers. It continued with a flatline effort in Los Angeles against the Clippers. They gave a better effort in Sacramento, but still lost due to turnovers and defensive lapses. Then came the second quarter in Phoenix, which saw an 11-point lead disappear once Booker got hot and the game got away with a spiritless third quarter.
It’s left Fizdale frustrated like the parent of a moody teenager.
“There was a stretch where I felt we were starting to get it,” he said, “now we’re taking a few steps back.”
– Smith Jr. had a total of 15 points and six assists, with 11 points and four assists coming in the fourth quarter, when the game was well out of hand. He can be maddeningly inconsistent and, at times, seemed detached rather than in attack mode. After the game, Smith revealed that Fizdale has “challenged me to make sure everyone else is trying to match the other team’s intensity” but at this point Smith needs to make sure he is matching the intensity of the other team’s top player. Once Booker got it going, Smith didn’t look to respond.
– Booker had his two highest-scoring games of the season against the Knicks. Back on Dec. 17 at the Garden, Booker put up 38 points in a 128-110 win for the Suns. His 41 points in this game is his new season-high. The Knicks have now allowed six 40-point performances this season, with James Harden’s 61 point game on Jan. 23 leading the way.
– In a battle of rookie centers, Mitchell Robinson, a second-round pick, outplayed first overall pick Deandre Ayton. The two didn’t get a lot of time against each other, but Robinson did block Ayton’s shot and finished with eight points, eight rebounds, four blocks and two steals in 22:11. Ayton had ten points and six rebounds without a block or steal in 25:20. Robinson extended his streak to 22 straight games with a block, which is the 11th longest streak by a rookie since the NBA started recording blocked shots as an official statistic. He’s six games shy of Patrick Ewing for the longest streak by a Knick, but he won’t catch the NBA record, set by Alonzo Mourning. He had a block in 57 straight games as a rookie with the Charlotte Hornets in 1992-93.
– DeAndre Jordan returned after missing five games with an ankle injury and moved very well. He had several lob dunks late in the game and finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in 24:52.
– Frank Ntilikina missed his 17th straight game with a groin strain. An injury that was originally thought to be a one to two week recovery has turned into a six-week ordeal. Ntilikina has appeared in just six of the last 26 games due to injuries and Fizdale did not sound optimistic that he is going to be available for this weekend’s games against the Kings and Timberwolves. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to be ready to turn him loose yet.”
– Ayton was thrilled to meet Knicks great Walt Frazier on the court during his workout before the game and afterward told MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow how exciting it was for him. “See, with Mr. Frazier, he is so swaggy with his suits and his suitcase,” he said. “It was kind of hard to approach him because I’ve got, you know, some shorts and a tank top. But, yeah, just meeting him and his energy and just him as a person just makes me feel welcome, even though I’m a rookie. You know, I just have the utmost respect for him.” Ayton, like Knicks rookie Kevin Knox, signed with Puma, which boasts Clyde as their signature legendary athlete.
[Watch the Knicks Battle the Kings Saturday at 11:30 AM on MSG & MSG GO.]