The Knicks lost a heartbreaker against a good Grizzlies team in their season opener. Some things in particular stood out.

The New York Knicks’ overtime loss to a gritty Memphis Grizzlies squad was, in true Knicks fashion, an emotional roller coaster. New York almost came out on top in a game that most analysts predicted would be an easy win for Memphis. Several excellent performances from Knicks players, including an electric showing from Cam Reddish, almost put them over the top. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t overcome head-scratching performances from RJ Barrett and Evan Fournier. 

Here are five takeaways from their opening night overtime contest. 

The Knicks’ defense needs a lot of work.

New York’s strength from their improbable 2020-21 run was defense. Tonight, you’d never know it. 

Between their late closeouts on the perimeter, inability to fight through Steven Adams screens for Ja Morant, and Mitchell Robinson racking up fouls in the paint, it was a discombobulated effort all around. 

Granted, the Memphis Grizzlies are a challenging assignment. Morant’s vision and speed result in an excellent half-court offense. Plus, they had a significant paint advantage with Robinson out for a good portion of the first and third quarters, allowing Brandon Clarke, Adams, and Morant to score with relative ease.

Barrett and Fournier were ghosts on defense. When they overcommitted, they were beaten badly. When they were beaten on screens, they struggled to get back onto their assignments or make switches, leading to look after open look from the perimeter.

It often felt as though the Knicks were playing defense with their heads – that is to say, watching Grizzlies players instead of actually moving their feet to anticipate moves. One only hope they make adjustments made ahead of Friday’s match with Detroit, where they’ll deal with Jalen Duren, Jaden Ivey, and Cade Cunningham.  

Isaiah Hartenstein proved his value as a backup center, but Mitchell Robinson must stay on the floor during crunch time.

Hartenstein has many qualities to his game not in Robinson’s repertoire. For one, he’s a deep threat, shooting 38% from three-point range with the Los Angeles Clippers last season. But, he wasn’t able to connect on the long ball tonight. Secondly, he is a great passer for a big man. He had four assists tonight, which matches Mitch’s career-high, including an absolute dime for a great Toppin dunk. He also played a whopping 40 minutes tonight compared to Robinson’s 13 due to foul trouble. 

His defense, however, left much to be desired. Unlike Robinson, he cannot single-handedly shut down the paint. Unfortunately, Robinson looked more like his early-career self, getting into foul trouble quickly. This forced Thibodeau to play Hartenstein in big moments, particularly in overtime. Even with Steven Adams injured down the stretch, he was not able to protect the paint from Clarke or Morant. 

Cam Reddish shined after a lackluster preseason campaign

Reddish, aside from his huge fourth quarter three-pointer that tied things up in regulation for the Knicks, was solid in his minutes for the Knicks. With a lingering foot injury to Quentin Grimes, he needed to finally show up after a preseason that left much to be desired. 

He ended up scoring 22 points, just two behind the team’s leading scorer, Randle. And, he was great in his transition offense that allowed for the game to flow through him as opposed to forcing shots much like that of his Duke counterpart, Barrett. 

Reddish could very well be relegated to the bench once again when Grimes returns from his foot injury, as Thibodeau tends to run out a nine-man rotation. But if he is to continue this level of scoring and effort on the court on Friday and beyond, Thibodeau may not have a choice. 

RJ Barrett should be better. On Wednesday night, he was sorely missed.

Barrett shot an abysmal 3-18 from the field in the Knicks’ overtime loss to the Grizzlies. You could not ask for a worse opening night for the fourth-year star, who is coming off a four-year extension with the team and a much improved year offensively. 

He forced shots up while also not finishing when he was open at the rim or in his sweet spot, in the corner. He let his defense suffer as a result of this, which just led to an all-around ugly performance. He historically starts out his seasons cold on offense, but you would hope that by now he was able to gather some consistency and contribute.

In the preseason, Barrett looked far more comfortable flowing with the Brunson-led offense. He was making cuts, fighting through screens, and finishing through contact. Tonight, it was the complete opposite. We can only hope that he gets back to what he was doing the first few weeks of October. 

Is the dominant Julius Randle back?

Randle was one of the few bright spots from this loss. He was the team’s leading scorer with 24 points, and also managed to wrangle 11 rebounds and dish out six assists. He was far from the reason why New York struggled tonight, and perhaps had he not fouled out early on in overtime the Knicks could have gone with him as their option on offense in the paint to at least draw attention away from Reddish who had the only other hot hand on the team. 

Randle looked very comfortable on the court prior to overtime. It seemed like he was gelling well with Brunson, and was also making intelligent decisions when given the ball as opposed to trying to carry the entire team on his back. This is a trend that would ideally continue as the Knicks look to click more on offense and with their shooting, as he most certainly recorded many more potential assists on the night with his quick thinking. 

New York obviously has a few gold nuggets to take away from this game, but a lot to work on before facing off with a spry Detroit Pistons team in their home opener on Friday night.

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