December 2017
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Tim Hardaway Jr.’s Big Fourth Pushes Knicks Past Utah

Despite trailing in the final frame, the Knicks came out on top over the Utah Jazz, 106-101.

Tim Hardaway Jr. is going to be frustrating for the duration of his Knicks tenure. THJ’s bad shots or boneheaded plays always seems to be redeemed before you can even formulate your next tweet. But when he’s on, Timmy is really fun to watch and a joy to root for. A glaring characteristic of tonight’s game is how the Knicks struggled guarding the perimeter and stopping rookie Donovan Mitchell early. Yet, THJ came out in the second half looking like a serviceable defender (at times) and jump-started the charge towards a Knicks comeback.

It’s natural to be enamored by the performances of Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, and Dennis Smith Jr. However, if you’ve been watching Utah and watched tonight’s game from start to finish, you should have come to the realization that Donovan Mitchell might actually be a top-three rookie from this draft class and a legitimate rookie of the year candidate.

Old problems resurfaced at the Garden as the Knicks struggled against a Jazz team that shoots the same as them from beyond the arc. In the first half, though, the Knicks gave up 18 attempts, five of which came from Mitchell. He benefited immensely by having the inconsistent Tim Hardaway Jr. on him in quite a few sequences. In fact, the game started with blown coverage and a great feed from Ricky Rubio to Mitchell. The rookie led all starters at the half with 17 points.

With a defensive-centric team such as Utah (they average less than 100 points per game scoring), this was a game where forcing Jazz players off the perimeter became a tough feat. Tonight, they shot almost 49 percent from beyond the arc. Rodney Hood got hot in the second half. By himself, he shot 50 percent from outside, finishing with 30 points. Doug McDermott is reliable for a few good defensive plays every time he’s on the floor. But in a game like this, it seemed like giving Lance Thomas more minutes would have helped the Knicks with ball movement. I also think Thomas would have helped the Knicks create a bit more second-chance opportunities, an area that the Jazz excelled at by swarming the paint.

The tendency of this team has been to go back to stagnant iso-ball in second halves. They didn’t move the ball well in the first half and that trend continued in the second half. The bright spot is that Courtney Lee and THJ picked things up and were aggressive at closing the distance, ultimately leading to the win.


What worked well:
  • Courtney Lee had a heck of a game. Shooting 6-for-15 and thus carrying the load on offense since the Knicks don’t have a scoring point guard, the Knicks are relying more and more on his aggressiveness on the floor in games where Kristaps Porzingis was slow to warm up. He did a great job taking Donovan Mitchell out of Utah’s game plan as well. The rookie only added another two points to his first quarter total.
  • Tim Hardaway Jr. is finally playing like a fringe All-Star caliber guard. For all of his weaknesses on defense, he was playing with active hands and great court awareness out of the half. At 25, he’s still maturing his defensive game. However, the effective fast break player that we got to see in Atlanta has arrived in the Garden and is here to be a closer.

  • The Knicks got to the line tonight 25 times. Playing against one of the premier defensive teams in the league, that’s not peculiar. What does stand out is that all the guys were aggressively in getting contact and driving. Previously, this was a team that would settle for ill-advised long ball instead of taking the easy two. This is growth.

What didn’t work well:
  • So here’s the thing : Frank Ntilikina is having the same problems that KP did in his rookie year. Rookies are going to make poor decisions when it comes to fouling. That’s a part of the learning curve. Because of his three fouls in the first half, we didn’t get to see much of rook versus rook. Frank did have a big shot in the fourth quarter though, and added two more steals to his stat sheet.
  • KP’s slow start isn’t that big of a deal. This is what happens to superstars once guys figure them out. What’s not okay is letting smaller guys draw you out to the perimeter only to give them clean looks for a long two or three. Additionally, the Jazz not having their massive center was a bonus for the Knicks. I would have expected that to be an opportunity to see KP back in the middle and exploiting that match-up more versus Favors. On the flip side, it didn’t look like it would have mattered since his early shots weren’t falling. Oh well.

Another comeback. A new streak. The Knicks will be back in action on Friday as they travel across the border to face the Toronto Raptors.

James Woodruff

Fan of Knicks/Cuse hoops, Panera sandwiches, Avion Tequila, and a good whiskey. Invested in improving your 40 time.

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