Despite a rusty game from Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks, led by Courtney Lee, downed the tumultuous Memphis Grizzlies, 99–88.
The New York Knicks (12-12), searching for a lifeline to save them from a two-game skid, faced off against the recently David Fizdale-less Memphis Grizzlies at home—and found safety from drowning with the help of a returned Kristaps Porzingis.
Porzingis had injured his right ankle early in last Wednesday’s match versus the Miami Heat, and although the prognosis was much better to hear after visual clues hinted a terrible ankle sprain, Kristaps’ condition was not resolved to play Sunday against Orlando or Monday in Indiana. Two losses followed in Porzingis’ absence, so when the downtrodden Memphis Grizzlies (8-16) visited New York on Wednesday night, the Knicks were doubly relieved to hear that KP would be active for the festivities. Matched up against sophomore center Willy Hernangómez’s Spanish compatriot—and recently fined—Marc Gasol, the Knicks were able to snap Memphis’ one-game win streak and deliver a 12th loss in 13 games for the free-falling Grizzlies behind 18 points from Porzingis, who returned thirsty for the lost time due to injury, and Courtney Lee’s 24 points and four threes.
Here’s what happened in Wednesday’s win at home against the Grizzlies.
KP back in action
Porzingis sought to shake off any rust that accumulated from his week absence from game action. However, after finding solid looks early in the first quarter, KP forced tougher looks and found his shot falling wide of the basket. On the other end, though, Porzingis returned to shot-altering form, initially making it difficult for Memphis to find easy layups. But, when Chandler Parsons checked into the game, the Grizzlies went on a run, finishing the first period up 32–23.
In the second quarter, Porzingis catalyzed a Knicks run towards the end of the period with his play at the center position. Assisted by an abundance of Grizzlies turnovers, the Knicks were able to tie the ballgame at 49-up at the halftime break. Courtney Lee shined during that stretch, pouring in a dozen points in the second quarter. Although KP seemed healthy, he rushed shots he’d normally calmly sink, like an open three-point look from the top of the key that would have tied the game (until Lee’s triple tied the game on the ensuing possession).
In the second half, Porzingis sunk his first two attempts; his first was a deep three from the top of the key, mirroring his missed attempt at the end of the second quarter, and his second came from a back-to-basket bank shot. With fewer than two minutes in the game, Kristaps hit a dagger triple to end a Grizzlies comeback and punctuated the Knicks’ win with a huge slam two possessions later (for which he received a hanging-on-the-rim technical foul).
KANTER TO PORZINGIS ALLEY OOOOOOP pic.twitter.com/npgrUK9CLK
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) December 7, 2017
Rookie rough patch
We detailed rookie Frank Ntilikina’s play over the first 45 days of the season, both promising and head-scratching, and the Frenchman demonstrated both positive and negative qualities against Memphis. Frank was successful in finding opportunity for gimme’s, shooting 6-of-8 from the free-throw line. Ntilikina has averaged just below 1.0 free-throw per game—completing 70.6 percent of his attempts—so it was encouraging for Frank to find more looks from the charity stripe. Another positive from Ntillmatic was his active hands, stripping the ball for a total of three steals on the night (Frank averages 2.3 steals per 36 minutes, among league leaders in the category). However, Frank also struggled guiding Hornacek’s offense, losing a grip of the ball or forcing passes in moments that probably called for a shot attempt. Ntilikina turned the ball over thrice on Wednesday, more than his season average of 1.9 per game. Frank scored eight points, too, on a 1-of-3 shooting (you can thank his free-throw shooting there).
Three-point shot difference
Memphis, a team that reinvented their offense geared towards the three-point shot and away from their notorious grit-‘n-grind, averages the 19th most triples per game in the league—not a small mark, though, at 26.9 (and greater than New York). In the first half, the Grizzlies took the early lead (before a Knicks comeback) due to the hot shooting from deep. Memphis shot 7-of-12 from three-point range in the first half, including two makes from Tyreke Evans and Chandler Parsons.
The Knicks, on the other hand, only attempted five threes in the first 24 minutes, led by Courtney Lee’s more-than-competent perimeter shooting. We chronicled the league’s preference to more three-ball attempts per game and how New York could be falling behind on Tuesday, however, when the Knicks capitalized on open looks from deep, they could push the Grizzlies’ defense far out of the paint and spread thin. By the end of the game, New York shot 9-of-14 from three while Memphis shot 12-for-28. Courtney Lee and Kristaps Porzingis were the two huge components in spreading Memphis’ defense thin and finding open looks from deep.
Lance Thomas, defensive enzyme
With Porzingis back in the lineup, head coach Jeff Hornacek opted to start veteran Lance Thomas at the small forward position; previously, rookie Damyean Dotson and Michael Beasley started in the forward spots during KP’s absence.
Thomas was ruthless and energetic on defense. He would tell you, too, but Lance prides himself on being the steady leader on that end of the floor. Lance disrupted Memphis’ perimeter screens and forced the Grizzlies into uncomfortable positions and a total of 15 turnovers in what amounted to a sloppy game for interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s loathsome squad. Thomas scored eight points on Wednesday and was a team-high +26.
Another veteran, Jarrett Jack, proved valuable against Memphis. Jack looked to push the pace in transition, including a highlight dribble-move, penetration, and kick-out to Courtney Lee for a corner trey. The combination of Thomas, Lee, and Jack was a surprising celebration of hustle for New York’s old bloods. Out-hustling and out-muscling Memphis, like winning the rebounding battle 42-27, were the keys to defeating the waning Grizz, despite the restored Porzingis’ rough shooting night (8-for-19).
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) December 7, 2017
- Jarrett Jack near-triple-double watch: 10 points, 10 assists, and six assists, including recording five assists in the first 5:30 of play.
- Despite missing the previous two games (plus three if you want to consider he only played roughly two minutes in the game he injured his ankle), Porzingis look spry and healthy against Memphis. One play exemplified KP’s health, when the Latvian moved in stride against the driving Jarell Martin and blocked the layup. Porzingis played a total of 34 minutes.
- Chandler Parsons shot 4-of-5 and scored 10 points off the bench to lead the Grizzlies in their first quarter run.
- Another fantastic game for Courtney Lee. 12 points from Lee alone in the second quarter.
- It might be overlooked, but Kyle O’Quinn has had a bad stretch of his own ever since being inserted and removed from the starting center role. At this point, you would think giving Willy Hernangómez some run would be beneficial for both parties. O’Quinn went scoreless in 17 minutes with three turnovers and four personal fouls.
- I’m uncertain if I’ve ever seen as many kicked-ball violations in a game tonight ever.
After playing three games in four nights, the Knicks will have two days of rest before their match up with Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday, and the Bulls in Chicago.