The first fake Knicks comeback of the season!

Well, competitive Summer League sure was fun while it lasted. This afternoon, the 23-seed Knicks faced off against the 10th seed Celtics in a game that, like the previous matchup against the Lakers, was mostly bad with just enough excitement to keep fans engaged to the very end. But in the end, Semi Ojeleye and Guerschon Yabusele just provided too much thiccness for a scrawny, upstart Knicks squad to handle on either end.

Unfortunately for Knicks fans and players alike, Frankie Smokes sat out his second straight game with a groin injury (or possibly just for rest), meaning the already-pretty-much-decided Allonzo Trier Point Guard Experiment of 2018 got another go. And yet the biggest surprise of the day was Mike Miller opting to open the game with Mitchell Robinson and Luke Kornet as the starting frontcourt. It… did not go great.

Without “Not A Point Guard” Ntilikina to run the show, the Knicks struggled to create offense all night. Kevin Knox was the most affected by the point guard’s absence, as he was asked to create shot opportunities for himself and others against the likes of Ojeleye and Yabusele, who were pretty clearly the best players on the floor today (as they should be, as second year players with experience under Brad Stevens’ wing). Sloppy turnovers, reckless drives, and missed open jumpers plagued the rookie all night.

You know what? That’s okay. 18 year old’s will have bad games once in a while, especially going against guys who can knock them around. He still managed to put up 15-4-4 and show some impressive vision as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, but it took 5-20 shooting and five turnovers to do so.

It wasn’t only the Knicks offensive scheme that was outmatched, though. The Celtics took advantage of the oversized lineup early on to beat guys on the perimeter and get into the lane over and over. Both Kornet and Robinson got flat-out embarrassed on a couple reckless perimeter contests that led to easy layups, and Dotson and Trier struggled to keep their man in front of them all night. I can only hope that the game-planning today was more indicative of Mike Miller’s coaching than Fizdale’s philosophy.

After one quarter, with no offensive flow to speak of, the Knicks trailed 27-16, courtesy of some very tough midrange fade-aways from Trier and some big dunks by Robinson.

In between quarters, we were treated to a lovely conversation between Fran Fraschilla and Mike Breen. Mike, in his freshest just-off-the-golf-course leisure attire, gushed about Knox, the direction and plan of the front office, and why he thinks the Knox-Porzingis-Ntilikina core could very well attract free agents next summer, but even he couldn’t escape references to Knox being booed. The horse is dead, y’all, quit beating it.

The second quarter started out just as stagnant and iso heavy as the first until about halfway through the quarter, when Knox hit a three and Trier knocked down a couple tough shots. Finally, the offense started to open up a bit.

Troy Williams took a break from his Tasmanian Devil routine to hit a three from half court as the buzzer sounded, but it was waved off upon review.

The third quarter offensive philosophy seemed to be for various Knicks to take turns hurling themselves at the rim at top speed. In this chaos, Mitchell Robinson thrived. Breaking up alley-oops on defense, finishing alley-oops on offense, cleaning up all the terrible, reckless, missed layups of Dotson, Trier, Knox, and Williams. The big man also picked up his fifth block two minutes into the half in impressive fashion.

Overall, this was probably Robinson’s best game. 17 points on 8-10 shooting, 12 rebounds, including seven offensive boards, three steals, six blocks, and perhaps most impressively, only one foul (though to be fair, the refs missed a couple obvious ones). At one point, Fran spoke at length about how the Knicks’ plans to let the big man play through mistakes, as well as provide him media and general life skills training. This is great to hear, as it’s clear the front office is invested in not only developing the player, but developing the man. Big Mitch was the lone bright spot in an otherwise depressing game that may have seemed close at points, but it was only a mirage, like how mountains in the distance seem close but no matter how long you walk, they never get any closer.

And then, in the middle of a back-and-forth fourth quarter, this happened:

I mean, come on. Am I the only one fantasizing about Kevin Knox-Kristaps Porzingis pick and rolls? Because I just don’t see any way you can guard that.

The Knicks were able to cut the lead to six with three minutes to go before an unforgivably bad Troy Williams foul on a Semi Ojeleye three late in the shot clock. The Energizer Bunny was able to partially redeem himself, hitting a tough layup and-one off the Knox post-up kick out and the free throw to bring it to 4.

That was the closest they got. A couple missed jump shots from Knox, bad passes by Trier and Troy Williams, and some terrible team defense leading to Pierra Henry’s dagger lay-up put the game out of reach, though that didn’t stop Mitchell Robinson from adding a couple last-minute dunks to his highlight reel.

Some Thoughts on the Summer League Guys:

  • Damyean Dotson has to have had the most disappointing Summer League out of anyone. He was completely invisible on the floor tonight, taking bad shots to try to break his slump and playing uncharacteristically bad defense. If he doesn’t have a big training camp and Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas aren’t traded before the season starts, he might find himself at the end of the bench to start the year. I hope not. I still believe in Dot.
  • It’s probably a good thing that Knox decided to get his only bad game of the year out during Summer League.
  • Allonzo Trier very clearly isn’t a point guard. Fraschilla at one point said he could see him as a Lou Williams type, which is definitely the right archetype (microwave bench scorer), but seems like a pretty best case scenario for Trier.
  • Fraschilla also said on multiple occasions that Mitchell Robinson had Anthony Davis-type potential, so let’s just be clear: these are the highest possible end outcomes for these guys. That’s not to drag Robinson, who was legitimately awesome for most of his time on the floor tonight, but let’s all just take a second to breathe here.
  • Finally, and it pains me to say this ’cause he seems like a good dude, but Isaiah Hicks is terrible. Like, lacking in any NBA skillset. He just brings nothing to the floor and I’m not sure why the Knicks are so intent on retaining his rights. But that’s why they get paid the big bucks and I don’t.

And that’s it, kiddos. Another tournament to watch in which the Knicks won’t be participating. But that’s okay, because in the end, there’s one thing that both Summer League and the city of Las Vegas are built on: hope. That’s right, for the first time in years, Knicks fans finally have something real to hope for.