New York’s first win in Memphis since 2011 (Carmelo Anthony’s game winner) was dictated by Enes Kanter’s huge rebounding effort, a resilient Emmanuel Mudiay, and Fizdale’s squad securing the victory in comeback fashion.

This win was for the coach. The Knicks’ win streak now sits at three games thanks to a gritty 103-98 win in David Fizdale’s return to Memphis.

Revenge might have not been on Fizdale’s mind, but it was certainly on his players’ minds. The head coach has taken on a Master Splinter role with the young guys and they wanted to win this for their teacher. Emmanuel Mudiay in particular was vocal about getting a W for Fizdale, who has done nothing but believe in him.

Whenever you travel to Memphis, you better gear up for a mud fight at the Grindhouse. The first quarter mirrored the first round of a boxing match. Neither team put their foot on the gas, yet the pace was surprisingly fluid when you take into account how poor the Knicks shot from the field (29.6 percent). Marc Gasol predictably had his way inside and out to start, opening with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting.

For the Knicks it was a group effort. The three point guards handled the lion’s share of the load, scoring 14 of the team’s 21 first-quarter points. Frank Ntilikina in particular looked aggressive early. He added five points on 2-of-6 shooting. Mudiay was subbed in favor of Trey Burke, but did manage to add five points of his own. Mario Hezonja continued to be nothing more than a filler in the starting lineup.

The second quarter did not offer much of a change. The refs let both teams play, which lent a ‘90s feel to the game. Tensions ran high towards the end of the quarter, between Noah Vonleh and JaMychal Green. The scoreboard also reflected a ‘90s Knicks game with a 52-43 score at the half. The Grizzlies were more than content with this type of game. They managed to shoot 50 percent for the half, while the Knicks meandered around the 35 percent mark.

Third quarters continue to be the team’s strongest. The Knicks fought through it until they made their run. Hardaway Jr. had a rough first half, but finally came alive in the third to jump start that run with Mudiay. The combo of Mudiay and Hardaway helped the Knicks storm back from 13 down to tie the game up at 68-68 late in the quarter—ultimately taking a seven-point lead.

The fourth would be the true test. As good as the Knicks have been in the third quarter, they have been equally as bad in the fourth. Allonzo Trier helped keep Grizzlies at bay, but the Grizzlies made their run around the seven minute mark. Jaren Jackson Jr. started to impose his will on both ends of the floor with a few key blocks.

Despite the Memphis flurry, the Knicks held a four-point lead heading into crunch time. The Grizzlies turned up the intensity on defense and the Knicks’ lack of offensive options was put on blast. It was an act of attrition for a majority of the final five minutes until Mudiay killed Garrett Temple.

That poster helped the Knicks regain control. It’s fitting that one of Fizdale’s most loyal supporters put the exclamation point on his revenge game. To cap off a strong finish to the game, the Knicks were a perfect 11-for-11 from the free throw line.

A win like this goes to show you how strong a hold Fiz has on this team. Before we celebrate, here are some things that stood out from the night.

Familiar Faces

Something I noticed during Fizdale’s first round of substitutions. He looks to be pairing up guys who know each other. Trey and Tim Hardaway Jr. is self explanatory as is Mitchell Robinson and Kevin Knox. These pairings could be a big reason for Mario Hezonja in the starting lineup. Kanter and Mario developed a nice connection as members of the bench mob, Fizdale could be hoping to replicate some of that magic.

It is an interesting strategy and help increase ball movement. If you play with someone you work with a lot, chances are you think similar to them. The familiarity didn’t pay dividends, but can evolve into an effective method to kickstart the offense. Let’s just cut down on the Kanter-Mario minutes, for the love of God.

The Fizdale Effect

A narrative the elder statesman of the New York media have tried to push is the relationship between Fizdale and Kristaps Porzingis. The first thing that gets brought up is Fizdale’s rocky time with Marc Gasol. It seems like that rift between Fizdale and his former team’s star player was a bit overblown.

In their first time meeting since Fizdale left Memphis, Gasol showed no animosity for his former head coach, but instead praise. Gasol acknowledged, as Fizdale has in the past, that things didn’t go as expected. But he did mention he is a better player because of Fizdale. The biggest change in Gasol since working with Fiz is shooting more threes. In New York we have seen a similar effect start to take hold with Emmanuel Mudiay’s strong play. If Fizdale can churn out positive results like this him and KP should get along just fine.

Selling Spree

December 15th is right around the corner, which means players signed over the summer can now be traded. For the Knicks this could be time to trim the fat off this roster, including the hollow double-doubles of Enes Kanter and Mario Hezonja. One has put up numbers that have not really helped the team. The other has done a whole lot of nothing.

One thing both have done is take away minutes from the young guys. Playing Mario over Knox frustrates me to no end. Knox should be the one getting reps as Fizdale promised before the season. I’ve already seen enough hapless Hezonja drives that end in an errant hook shot. It was a good gamble but it might be time for the Knicks to cut their losses.

Missing In Action

Where the hell is Damyean Dotson? The second-year wing had been emerging as a serious part of the nucleus, before being shackled to the bench again. This was life for Dotson under Jeff Hornacek, but this year’s relegation is more surprising. He is one of the team’s best perimeter defenders and proved to be effective on offense without needing the ball.

Could a few roster moves be the remedy? I’m not sure. I just want Dotson back out there. He’s one of the guys Fizdale should be incorporating in the big picture, not replicating Hornacek’s error of keeping him at the end of the bench.

Final Notes

  • Enes Kanter put together the best rebounding performance in the NBA this season with 26 boards to go along with 22 points. It’s also Kanter’s second 20-20 game of the season.
  • Kevin Knox played just seven minutes tonight compared to 21 minutes for Mario Hezonja. If Mario was contributing I’d understand but that’s not the case.
  • Grizzlies rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. had a day. He went off for 16 points, eight blocks, and six rebounds.
  • Memphis sure looks like a team that could use some scoring. Could Courtney Lee, who is on his way back, be of any interest?