For most people involved with the Knicks, the season can’t end soon enough. For the Rockets’ starters, this game couldn’t end soon enough.
So during the last television timeout of the fourth quarter, James Harden, Chris Paul and company left the gym and headed to the locker room to escape having to watch what was essentially the Westchester Knicks — Billy Garrett, John Jenkins, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kornet — play against the Rockets’ bench.
But Houston, winners of 19 of their last 22, seemed more annoyed to even play against this injury-depleted lineup of players most of them hadn’t ever heard of. The Knicks didn’t have a healthy point guard available and, with DeAndre Jordan given the rest of the season off, had just nine players available.
This thing was over after 12 minutes, when the Rockets doubled the Knicks up, 32-16. By halftime, it was 29. After three quarters it was 39. Two minutes into the fourth, it maxed out at a 42-point deficit for the Knicks.
Harden, an MVP candidate again, had 26 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. He made 5 threes and took 13, which helped him become the first player in NBA history to eclipse 1,000 three-pointers attempted in a season. Harden only seemed engaged when Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson was switched on to him. Otherwise, he rooked the Knicks.
“He did a MVP and toyed with us,” David Fizdale said. “That’s what greatness does to young players.”
Fizdale was being respectful. Harden after the game talked about how his team was “building good habits” and several times referenced how you have to play “no matter who we’re playing” or “playing four quarters like it was any other team.” Assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, in place of flu-ridden Mike D’Antoni, called it “a solid, professional effort.”
The conspicuous absence of the Rockets’ starters from the bench in the final minutes of the game was explained away as the veterans simply wanting to get a jump on their postgame treatment and weight-training.
Did the Knicks deserve better? You earn the respect you’re given. Was it unprofessional by the Rockets? No one in Houston seemed to think so.
We get it. The Knicks have with 60+ losses with a roster that hasn’t had enough experience, let alone talent, to win since the start. There was a focus on giving young players minutes to learn. None of this is new to the NBA. But this late in the season, it is a useless game for a team like the Rockets, who had the defending champions on the ropes in the conference finals before an injury to Paul and a disappearance by Harden cost them the series.
It’s a game to just forget and move on. But, perhaps not. For Fizdale and whoever is back with the team next season, it should not be forgotten.
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– Lost in the indignity was an individual performance that will make Mario Hezonja remember this game for better reasons. With Emmanuel Mudiay (shoulder) added to the pile of Knicks point guards out with injury, Hezonja started at point guard and posted a triple-double (16 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists) in 42 minutes. Hezonja did the bulk of his work in the fourth quarter when he had 6 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists against the Rockets subs. It was the first triple-double by a Knicks player since Jarrett Jack on Jan. 10, 2018.
– Robinson (12 points, 9 rebounds) recorded three blocks to continue his streak of 2+ blocks in a game to 27. He did block Harden’s shot once and took on the challenge to defend Harden a few other times when the Knicks switched. That was quite a lesson for the rookie.
– On Saturday at the Final Four, one of the Knicks’ first star players, Carl Braun, was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee. Braun played 12 seasons with the Knicks and led the team in scoring in 7 of those seasons and was a five-time all-star. Braun missed two seasons during his Knicks career to serve in the military, which cost him a chance to play in the 1951 and ’52 Finals. He returned to play in the 1953 NBA Finals against the Lakers. Braun, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 82, is currently 5th on the Knicks all-time list in scoring (10,449 points). Should his No. 4 be retired into The Garden rafters?
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