The New York Knicks’ final preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets showed both the team’s fiery youth and their immaturity. Like many games, the final score—113-107—doesn’t tell the whole story.
Although everyone wished and wished with all their hearts that Kevin Knox would finally resume domination, it just didn’t happen.
Knox tallied three fouls in the third quarter and never quite found his stride. He shot 1-of-6 in 12 minutes and ended the game with three points. The Nets took advantage of the vulnerable young forward’s over-eagerness. It’s as simple as that. As in the other games, if his shot doesn’t fall, Knox becomes ineffective and the rest of his game suffers.
Sophomore guard Frank Ntilikina showed a lot of heart on both ends. He accrued nine points, five rebounds, four assists, and one steal in 30 minutes. If this is a glimpse of Ntilikina’s true self, I love it. He affected the game on both ends by coming up with a key steal and utilizing his greatest strength: his defense.
Ntilikina wasn’t just aggressive, he was effective. Fizdale elected to use Ntilikina from the 1-4, and he largely held his own. At 6’6″ with a 7′ wingspan, it’s easy to see why. This was by far his best preseason game, and hopefully a look into his future.
Every fan was happy to see Mitchell Robinson return to the Garden. He went 3-for-7 from the field, ending the game with seven points (and one air ball). Robinson grabbed only four rebounds and played 17 minutes, but his impact on the game was felt on both ends. The Iron Giant is a lob threat and can be a demoralizing put-back king if not properly boxed out. A faithful rim protector, he finished the game with two blocks. And it appears that near the end of his time on the court, the Knicks really began to break down.
Non-guaranteed player Noah Vonleh can be as effective a small-ball center as he is mobile and athletic, but when it comes to defense, he’s never going to be an anchor. The Knicks allowed the Nets 15 made threes, most of which were uncontested. The Nets also scored 42 points in the paint, supplementing their 40 percent field-goal percentage with highly efficient inside play.
If there’s one single culprit, it’s defensive rotations. Tim Hardaway Jr. shot 7-of-14 from the field, but his breakdowns on the other side of the court embodied all of the team’s shortcomings. Easy threes were the name of the game for the Nets in the second and third quarters, and the Knicks largely had no answer.
But where the average person sees defeat, Ron Baker sees a loose ball to dive for.
From then on, starting guard Ron Baker’s energy was contagious. It took a minute to get the Knicks going, and Emmanuel Mudiay needed to get involved, but the Knicks found themselves fighting back from a 19 point deficit. A Luke Kornet three started a flurry that sent the MSG crowd into a frenzy, and Mario Hezonja finally lived up to his “Crobe” nickname in high-intensity garbage time. Mudiay played with such a fire you could have sworn he was Jimmy Butler in the Minnesota Timberwolves practice facility. As the Nets recovered, the crowd faded, until Damyean Dotson hit a three that thrust the Knicks right back into the throes of contention. Allonzo Trier and Kevin Knox were largely quiet tonight, but the band of misfits sparking a run was at the very least interesting.
It was aggravating. It was titillating. It was a fake comeback. It was the perfect way for the Knicks to welcome back their fans.