Austin Rivers powered the Knicks in the first half with 25 points, but someone didn’t pay their electricity bill, as the lights went out in the second half versus the Jazz.
The New York Knicks (8-11) ended their west coast trip with a depressing loss to the Utah Jazz (13-4). Despite going up by as much as 15 points in the first half, Utah stormed back and won 108-94—their ninth straight victory. New York has dropped three straight games and seven of their last 10.
The teams collectively shot 3-for-14 from the field to start the game, but New York eventually found themselves in a groove led by Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett. The Knicks made eight of their first 15 shots. Meanwhile, Utah shot 3-of-15 to begin despite plenty of open looks.
The Jazz eventually found their own groove with a surge led by Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson, and Rudy Gobert. Utah was warming up and readying itself to take the lead. But then, Austin Rivers happened.
Like an older brother playing against his younger kin, Rivers hit every shot imaginable and didn’t look like he broke a sweat. Strong takes to the hoop and lights out shooting from beyond the arc propelled him to 25 points in the first half and helped the Knicks retain the lead. Once he cooled off, Randle and Barrett again surged and put the Knicks up by 13 at halftime.
Defensively, the Knicks held one of the NBA’s best offenses into a terribly inefficient shooting half. They pressured Utah in the paint, forcing kick-out passes to shooters who had trouble finding the net. By the end of the first half, Utah was shooting a mere 36.4% from the field and 22.7% from beyond the arc. Donovan Mitchell had only made one of his nine shots and Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic each went 0-for-5.
Utah began the second half with new, stronger energy on offense. Conley drained two triples right away and scored 12 points in a hurry. New York’s lead decreased as they failed to keep pace with Utah’s Rivers-like shooting. The Jazz briefly tied the game halfway through the third quarter and kept themselves within striking distance.
New York only led by one point at the beginning of the fourth quarter and they gave it up in less than a minute via a Jordan Clarkson and-one layup off of a turnover. Utah built on its lead while New York went scoreless for nearly four minutes to begin the final period. New York’s defense got torn apart by pick-and-rolls and three-point marksmanship throughout the second half.
Rudy Gobert feasted on the boards, collecting 19 total rebounds, including seven on the offensive end while chipping in 18 points and four blocks. Royce O’Neale scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed six rebounds, Conley ended the night with 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists and Jordan Clarkson added 13 points and three steals off the bench.
Rivers’ 25 points was a game-high. Randle added 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists while Barrett recorded 17 points and four assists.
Rivers in a flow
Austin Rivers takes everything personally when he plays the Jazz. Just as he did in New York’s first matchup against Utah, Rivers lit up the Jazz. He made his first 10 shots—half of which were threes—and saved the second unit from total collapse, as his fellow reserves couldn’t find the net. Through 12 minutes, he scored 25 points. The only man who could stop Rivers was himself, as he racked up three fouls amidst his fiery shooting, which warranted a benching.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 27, 2021
Rivers broke an ugly shooting slump by scorching the nets with every shot. Across his previous six games, he scored a total of 28 points on 10-of-38 shooting. His only other game with 20 points and five triples this season came against Utah, where he led the way on a come-from-behind victory.
The second half was the complete opposite of the first. Rivers seemingly fell out of the Knicks’ game plan, as he had just a few plays designed for him and only took four shots, missing them all. He finished the night with the same 25 points with which he ended the first half.
Barrett movin’ and groovin’
R.J. Barrett got off to a hot start in the first quarter, recording six points and three assists. Even as Utah forced him to his right, he made plays and drove to the hoop with gusto.
MORE RJ TO MITCH pic.twitter.com/P55wlaviY0
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 27, 2021
Throughout the game, Barrett put pressure on Utah’s defense and made accurate and timely passes to open teammates. He also sunk all three of his three-pointers and finished with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
Thibs is a man of his plan
Tonight was a shining example of Tom Thibodeau’s unwillingness to deviate from his game plan. He didn’t make any apparent changes, even at times when they were warranted.
When Utah began the second half with great shooting, he didn’t have his team contest perimeter shots with more urgency and refused to bench Elfrid Payton as he got cooked by Mike Conley time after time. He stuck to his rotations and defensive scheme while the Jazz continued to chip away at the deficit.
Thibodeau also didn’t look Rivers’ way that much in the second half after his insane first-half stretch. Rivers sat the first eight minutes of the third quarter and didn’t take a shot until 57 seconds remained in the frame. Instead, Thibs put the ball in the hands of Immanuel Quickley, who had a very rough shooting night. Rivers never got his groove back, or even scored in the second half. He faded into the background as Thibodeau had Randle try to dig the Knicks out of the hole.
Thibs’ reluctance to let Rivers cook in the second half stymied New York’s offensive momentum. While Rivers was reduced to a spot-up role, none of the other Knicks could reliably hit shots. The Knicks only mustered up 35 points in the second half while surrendering 62. Even in the face of a surging Jazz team, the Knicks mostly stuck to their ways and it led to their demise.
New York will return to the court at the end of the week for another installment of Friday Night Knicks. They’ll look to snap their three-game losing streak against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Madison Square Garden.