Mitchell Robinson expects to one day be an eliminator on the court, a stopper who can change the game and, perhaps make a major impact on the playoffs.
Right now, playing with a raw, reckless abandon, the prolific rookie shot-blocker has been a one-man wrecking crew on opposing shooters.
But he may already have made an impact on the Eastern Conference playoffs, despite the fact that the Knicks have been eliminated from postseason contention since February.
On a night the Raptors, while resting their star player, Kawhi Leonard, had an easy stroll towards their 50th win of the season, there was great concern about their hopes to finally get over the hump in the East when starting point guard Kyle Lowry left the game with a right ankle injury.
Lowry was injured when Robinson dove into his leg with 5:15 left in the third quarter. The Knicks rookie missed a layup and tried to get the rebound, but Lowry came away with it and dribbled away. Robinson stayed in hot pursuit and made an ill-advised diving attempt at the ball.
The Knicks were down by 34 at the time.
“He grabbed me and pulled me down,” Lowry said afterward. “I don’t think he did it on purpose. I know he didn’t think he was going to hurt me. I think he was trying to stop the play.”
Lowry had just missed two games with a left ankle sprain. He looked no worse for the wear from that injury as he scored 15 points with 8 assists in 26 minutes against the Knicks. After the game, the Raptors were merely calling his injury “right ankle soreness” and there were no indications there would be any long term effects. But for the Raptors, it was a dangerous moment that only gives more credence to the modern philosophy of resting players late in the season to avoid the risk of injury.
Robinson was somewhat out of control on the play. He seemed to be trying to make an effort after the missed layup. It was equal parts inexperience and frustration for a player who managed just 14:29 before he fouled out (he still was able to record his two blocked shots to keep his streaks going). Lowry suggested the play was a “little bit dirty” but added, “I don’t think he did it on purpose.”
Robinson went to social media quickly after the game to respond to any suggestion it was a dirty play on his part.
“If you really think I tried to hurt him you wrong and need to look again,” Robinson wrote on his Twitter account. “I was falling. I mean I apologize for falling on him but I didn’t mean to.”
If you really think I tried to hurt him you wrong and need to look again I was falling I mean I apologize for falling on him but I didn’t mean to
— Mitchell Robinson (@23savage____) March 19, 2019
It was the third time over the last 10 games that Robinson has fouled out. He’s averaging 4.1 fouls in 21 minutes per game in that span. Fouls had been an issue for him early in the season but he seemed to have learned how to play aggressive defense without fouling for the better part of the second half of the season. But recently, as Robinson has found himself on everyone’s scouting report, he’s dealing with a lot more physicality when it comes to box outs and lobs and he’s letting his frustration get the better of him. He seeks out shot blocks with admirable intensity, but lately, it’s working against him.
The Raptors may have avoided a devastating injury — we’ll see if having two ankle issues has any impact on Lowry’s game — but Robinson needs to learn there is a difference between intensity and fake hustle. One redeeming quality is the fact that he was competing, even down 30.
– David Fizdale yanked his starters barely over a minute into the second half after the Raptors opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run to blow the game open. “Not getting it done,” he said. “Not playing at the level I wanted to see the game played at.” The issue actually started late in the first half, when the Knicks scrappy effort kept them within 10 points on the scoreboard despite the Raptors red hot shooting. It was 59-49 with 3:23 to go when the final TV timeout of the half was called. Fizdale pointed to that moment when the game got away. “We just came out of the timeout with no focus,” he said. The Raptors scored 10 straight points to go up 20, which forced Fizdale to call a timeout with 1:35 to go. The Knicks went into halftime down 19.
– The Knicks got the better of LeBron James on Sunday afternoon, but that didn’t stop the four-time MVP from taking some time out after the game to talk to Knicks rookie Kevin Knox, at the request of Fizdale. “I appreciate Fiz for giving me the opportunity to chop it up a little bit with him,” Knox said in an interview with MSG’s Rebecca Haarlow. LeBron impressed Knox by not only having background on his game, but he was able to rattle off stats — making note of the 19-year-old’s 36% shooting — as well. “Just to know that he’s been watching me, know my percentages know what I’m averaging, shows he really actually watches and cares about my game,” Knox said. LeBron gave Knox advice on competing every game (that has been an issue for him) and to focus on finding “ways to impact the game” besides scoring. Knox revealed that he deleted his social media apps to avoid seeing the negativity that exists there and said LeBron approved that decision. Knox came away, obviously, both star-struck and greatly appreciative of the time LeBron took to talk with him. Fizdale has connected Knox with several all-time greats to offer some support and advice, but that meeting with LeBron was, he said, “crazy.”
– Frank Ntilikina was cleared for contact and assigned to Westchester for Tuesday so he can practice with the Knicks G-League affiliate. The Knicks are off due to the back to back. It is unlikely he will be cleared to play for Wednesday’s game but with another practice on Thursday, if all goes well he could return to the lineup in time for Friday’s game. That would leave him 10 games left in the season.
– The Knicks ended a whirlwind schedule that went like this: Three-game West Coast trip, one game home, then a three-game road trip, one game home, then off to Toronto in a back-to-back. Over the last 16 days, the Knicks have slept in their own beds three times. Now they can finally unpack the suitcase. They play six straight games at home and only three of their last 11 games are on the road.
[Watch the Knicks Take On the Utah Jazz Tomorrow at 7 PM on MSG & MSG GO.]