Despite some nice looks in Hardaway Jr.’s return, the Knicks were unable to keep up with Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves, losing by 10 points.
The New York Knicks (19–23) were hoping for a better outcome in Tim Hardaway Jr.’s long-awaited return from a left leg injury, which sidelined him 20 games. In those 20 games missed, the Knicks lost the steam that catapulted them to a surprisingly decent start in the Eastern Conference. However, poor shooting from no. 1 option Kristaps Porzingis, coupled with porous defense and the lowest three-point attempts in the league, have beleaguered the ‘Bockers ever since.
With Shimmy Timmy back in action (pitching in 16 points in 25 minutes off the pine), the Knicks looked comfortable through one half, matching the streaking Minnesota Timberwolves (28–16) tit for tat. Despite a unsafe two-point advantage at halftime, the Knicks could not hold their ground in Minnesota, finding a stymy Timberwolves defense, choreographed by former Knicks assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, and played out by Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague (a combined seven steals) far too difficult to work around. The Knicks were outscored by a dozen in the second half, and although Porzingis poured three confident triples, the Wolves outpaced New York, a final score of 118–108.
Slim Tim returns
Tim Hardaway Jr. returned after a six-week break due to a leg injury, and despite the loss, the Knicks needed every one of his 16 points (6-of-13 from the field, 4-for-8 from three), especially with the Wolves collapsing hard on the paint, not respecting New York’s “shooters.”
His jumper looked sharp, and he was locked in on D, not usually part of THJ’s game (he even tried to take a charge in the third quarter!). If there are any lingering effects of his injury, then they didn’t appear tonight. Timmy’s production dropped off a cliff in the second half, but that likely stems from his minutes restriction stopping him from staying in a rhythm.
Timmy AGAIN from deep. 3-6 on the night, up to 13 points pic.twitter.com/1ApdVWryoy
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 13, 2018
Finally, the Knicks have someone to space the floor. Let’s just hope he can stay on the court for the second half of the season.
Porzingis chucking away
This was the fear with this Knicks team after its shockingly encouraging start to the season. Eventually, this worst-case-scenario thinking went, the Knicks would slump midseason and the mental toll on Porzingis to power his team’s entire offense would start to show.
Fast forward a few months, and the Knicks, who had have now lost five of their last six, have a swiss cheese defense and a stale offense. The latter is largely due to KP’s terrible shot selection of late. With every loss, he looks more and more impatient hunting for his shot. He’s not even looking to make plays for anyone else right now—Hornacek isolating him on the right block over and over doesn’t help—which makes it really simple to guard him, despite his large frame. Not easy, mind you, KP is still one of the hardest covers in the league. But teams just let their quickest big chase KP around, and if he slips by they double him at the rim (16 turnovers overall by New York). Simple.
KP’s “mamba mentality” is never more obvious than when the Knicks play against a big like Karl-Anthony Towns, by the way. The differences in their games exists in the peripheries. Both are dead-eye shooters with quick releases, and can score from everywhere on the floor. Both are good rim protectors (Towns has made strides during the Wolves’ recent stretch). But Towns has grown leaps and bounds as a facilitator this season, and Porzingis hasn’t. Of course, New York doesn’t have the weapons Minnesota has, but KP isn’t even kicking the ball out when he gets double-teamed, although he did look to create more in the fourth quarter.
Road woes continue
The Knicks are now 4–15 on the road. They got throttled by the Bulls Wednesday night before the Wolves, who are on a tear, simply outclassed and out-hustled them at home. They’ll get a brief reprieve at home against the Pelicans on Sunday before embarking on 10 straight games away from Madison Square Garden, including matchups against dreaded Golden State and Boston.
That stretch will be make or break for the Knicks playoff hopes. Go something like 2–8, and it’s probably over for New York’s postseason chances. Go something like 6–4, and they should stay neck-and-neck with 76ers for that eighth playoff spot.
The New York Knicks will take on the New Orleans Pelicans (21–20) on Sunday at home at 3:30 p.m. EST.