A “Solid” Loss — Feb 24, 2020: Houston 123 NY 112

The Knicks got after it all night — but Houston’s outside shooting and James Harden were just too tough to cover, in this easy win for Houston. The Rockets were up by 21 points early in the 4th but the Knicks never lost their fight, and started trapping Harden at half court, causing turnovers. They got back to within 11 but that was it.

But there was good news:

1. Good Coaching of Miller

The good coaching of Mike Miller is still showing — as mentioned, they got after it all night; guarded the 3, but Houston is just a very good outside shooting team and their Mike D’Antoni-styled play opens up spacing that every team in the league has had trouble guarding.

2. Barrett Starred

RJ Barrett played Great in the 1st quarter, and in the last quarter — and had a very good game — looked great! He finished with 21 pts on 8-17, 6 rebounds, 3 assists — the boxscore did not reflect properly how great he looked.

3. Smith Jr Looked Great

Dennis Smith Jr looked great — like the old Dennis Smith Jr. He penetrated the lane for dishes or scores, and played a terrific on-ball defense, picking up 7 steals. He had 15 pts on 5-12, with 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Smith has the athleticism, quick feet and hands to be the best defender on the Knicks amongst the guards — rivaling Elfrid Payton — and he showed it in this game.

4. Robinson Played Well

Mitchell Robinson had a good game — blocking shots and slam dunking the ball — he got into foul trouble in the 1st half but didn’t commit fouls in the 2nd half — finishing with 10 pts (on 4-5 shooting), 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks in 26 minutes for a +5.

Good, Great, Solid, Poor

At the end of the game, Knicks announcer Mike Breen commented that Dennis Smith Jr had a “solid game”. After the game, Knicks analyst Bill Pidto said RJ Barrett had a “solid game”. We live in an era of down-played compliments. Nobody wants to use the word “great” anymore or “very good”; instead it’s ”solid”. In baseball, if a guy is a star, other players say “he can play”. The highest compliment one player can give another.

Dotson = Solid?

It’s all a measure of measurements — I’d say Barrett and  Smith had good games as far as the boxscore; but were great on court — RJ in the 1st quarter & last quarter especially. Smith was great especially compared to what he’s done this year; him playing so well was a great development for the Knicks. Mitchell Robinson had a good game — better than “solid”. Damyean Dotson had a solid game.

Although Dotson gets beat more then he should on Defense — he is a bit overrated there, and is a streaky shooter. In the 4th quarter last night, Austin Rivers blew by Dotson for a layup from the left baseline; Dotson was overplaying to Austin’s right. On the next play Eric Gordon drove on Dotson and scored. A few minutes later a bad pass by Dotson got intercepted and taken down the other end on the break for 3-pt play. Yet Dotson looked solid in the boxscore with 9 pts on 3-7 shooting (3-6 from 3) and a -3 in 18 minutes, leaving some Knicks fans on Twitter to continue to say he needs to play more. To me he looks like a “solid” reserve guard; nothing more. He has an NBA body for an off guard (6’7 in the old NBA; 6’6 in today’s stocking feet NBA).

Trier = Great!

Versus Allonzo Trier who is 6’4″ in today’s stocking feet NBA and slender — his biggest obstacle to hurdle. He was in last night for the last 5:30 and immediately started passing first, and then scoring. People gig him for not passing, because that is his reputation, but he’s been pass first since January/February of last year, when he went thru the learning process. Last night the first few times he touched the ball — the first thing he did was pass. And then when he got the ball back. he scored. He looked like the old Allonzo Trier — versus the one we’d seen last month who was playing like he was looking over his shoulder in the brief stints he got. Trier finished with 9 pts on 3-4 shooting (2-2 from 3) and a +12 in 6 minutes; hopefully he gets more playing time now off of that performance.

Meanwhile, Reggie Bullock, who has an NBA off guard body at 6’5 but bulky, was 1-5 in 22 minutes for 3 points — a -25.

Small Ball vs Big Ball

Houston was playing small ball all evening, and the Knicks went to big ball inside — early in the game Julius Randle (17 pts), Mitchell Robinson, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis were getting the ball a lot inside from Dennis Smith Jr, as the Knicks kept up with Houston into the 2nd quarter. And RJ Barrett was feasting over the much smaller Austin Rivers who was trying to guard him. But then Mitchell Robinson picked up his 3rd foul, and the Knicks in general did not get into Houston shirts on Defense — as Houston started to hit 3’s to pull out to a 15-point halftime lead. At the half, Houston was 11-23 from 3; NY was 4-12 from 3 — a 21 pt difference.

After the game Coach Mike Miller said NY gave up “too many easy ones” in the 2nd quarter. He said the players seemed “worried about picking up fouls” and “that hurt us early.”

The boxscore shows every quarter was close but the 2nd quarter, where Houston outscored NY 36-24; Houston led after the 1st quarter 36-33; the 3rd quarter was even (29-29); NY outscored Houston in the 4th 26-22 — but again there Houston had a 21 pt lead and the Knicks dug in.

A “Solid Loss”

So make no mistake this was a “Solid Loss”. Houston was up by 21 early in the 4th as mentioned. And they were without Russell Westbrook. The Knicks were without Elfrid Payton (sore ankle), Frank Ntilikina (sore groin), Kadeem Allen (sore head after banging it in practice), and of course Marcus Morris is long gone. Yet you look up and down the Houston lineup, and besides Harden — you ask — where’s the talent that is so much better than the Knicks talent? It isn’t there. It is Houston’s style of play, put in place by coach Mike D’Antoni — and of course the superstar play of Harden — that had them beating the Knicks. Harden  had 37 pts on 14-25 and 9 assists, but the Knicks did not let sidekick Eric Gordon beat them (16 pts on 4-13 but 1-7 from 3). Instead starter Robert Covington (11 pts on 4-10), and bench players Jeff Green (3-3, 1-1 from 3 for 9 pts), Ben McLemore (6-11, 4-9 from 3, 17 pts) and Austin Rivers (5-8, 2-3 from 3 for 14 pts) did.

Bobby Portis did not have a solid game. He made mistakes. He was 4-10 for 12 points, 8 rebounds in 25 minutes — seemingly solid but the -16 in this case told a tale. At one point in the 2nd quarter, Portis missed inside shots on back to back possessions, then played “matadoor” D on a drive.

And Julius Randle has had better games — he was 5-14 for 17 points, 12 rebounds but was stripped a few times inside by the smaller Houston players. Taj Gibson was his usual solid self; 6 points on 3-5 shooting, 5 rebounds in 12 minutes. Kevin Knox got minutes — 3 points on 1-6 in 12 minutes. Not very solid. Poor shooting.

Harkless “Solid”

Moe Harkless started the game — drawing derision from some Knicks fans on Twitter — but he was there to guard James Harden — and he did a decent job of it early, before Harden started to take command. And Harden gets every call as well, making it difficult. And then Harden and Mike Antoni could be seen all evening constantly complaining to the refs about calls Harden didn’t get. Harkless finished with 7 pts on 3-6 shooting in 28 minutes, 4 fouls. He was solid.

The Boxscore



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