Despicable Loss — Nov 23, 2019: San Antonio 111 NY 104

Another despicable loss. In NYC on a Saturday night. Blown out of their own arena by 28 points in the first half by a team that came in with an 8-game losing streak and had played the night before, albiet San Antonio coached by Greg Popovich. Then the too-little-too-late comeback tease, outscoring San Antonio by 20 in the second half, pulling to within 7 points late in the 4th quarter — almost to within 5 when an RJ Barrett inside drive rolled in and out with 2:42 left.

And that was it — out of gas, out of time; San Antonio pulled back to a 10-point lead with a minute left. But of course you knew that would happen as you were watching, since it has happened so many times — every time — before in the last few years when the Knicks mounted their too-little-too-late charges after getting blown out of their arena. Like Lucy pulling the football.

Finger of Blame

The Knicks came out “sluggish”. Aka San Antonio was hitting 3 after 3 after 3, and the Knick defenders seemed slow in getting out to guard them. The Spurs were averaging 24 three-point attempts a game coming in — but were jacking it up against the Knicks (they took 15 in the 1st quarter alone and finished with 40 attempts). San Antonio would swing the ball around with sharp passing and find a shooter wide open for a split second with a Knick defender rushing them but just a second late in getting to them. Over and over and over again.

Trey Lyles was wide open for 3 after 3. Little (6’1″) Patty Mills was killing them (5-5 from 3). Marco Belinelli. Even LaMarcus Aldridge was standing at the 3 and hitting (2 for 2).

The reason was under debate:

  1. The Knicks seemed wedded to having their defenders cheat off their guy standing at the 3 to defend the paint. No adjustment was made in that first half to — for example — play man-to-man and have guys stick on their guy a foot away from him, which seemed to work so well for Cleveland against Golden State in the finals 3 years ago.
  2. Some said the word was out that the Knicks play the zone, and San Antonio was taking advantage of it.
  3. Others blamed Julius Randle, whom the Knicks run their offense through, unsuccessfully at the start of this game — and that lack of offensive cohesion caused the Knicks to not be vigorous getting back on Defense — with Randle being a weakness in the defensive cog.
  4. Maybe San Antonio just had a hot hand in the 1st half. They looked like a different team in the second half — their same shooters shooting brick after brick, without the Knicks applying ‘that much’ more pressure.
  5. Almost hardly noticed amidst the 3-point shooting was that San Antonio was operating inside too —Jakob Poltl, LaMarcus Aldridge, and DeMar DeRozan were tough on the Knicks, forcing the Knicks to ‘guard that paint’, which opened up San Antonio’s outside shooters.
  6. The Knicks shot POORLY in the 1st half — with everyone missing their 3’s. Frank Ntilikina‘s shot was way off (at one point he was 1-7, 0-3 from 3, for a -25 — all the Knick starters were -25), as was Dennis Smith Jr’s shot, Damyean Dotson‘s shot (0-3 from 3), as was just about everyone’s. In the second half the Knicks launched their comeback with Wayne Ellington hitting 3 after 3, and then it became contagious — that can make a big difference in how ‘sluggish’ a team looks.
  7. Maybe the Knicks came out overconfident? At the half, that’s what it seemed that Knicks assistant coach was saying, that the Knicks needed to get after it, and might have been taking San Antonio too lightly coming in with that 8-game losing streak.

After the game, Marc Berman quoted coach Fizdale as saying that the Knicks defensive priority was guarding the paint. “We’re taking care of the paint. And that was our No. 1 emphasis, is can we be a top-five team defensively in shutting down the paint. I think right now we’re like 5 or 6.”

And so there you have it. Guarding that damn paint at the expense of 3 pointers, just like the coach before Fizdale (Jeff Hornacek), and the coach before him (Derek Fisher), and the coach before him (Mike Woodson), and the coach before him ad infinitum.

The Players

  • Mitchell Robinson played hard this whole game — in the first half when the Knicks looked “sluggish”, Mitchell Robinson did not. He was blocking shots, getting back on defense — hustling all over the place every minute he played. He finished with only 6 points and was credited with only 2 blocks in 24 minutes — 2 for 3 from the floor, 2-2 from the free throw line (he’s gotten quite good at free throws, a BIG development), 4 rebounds, and 4 assists.
  • Frank Ntilikina played a better second half — picking up steal after steal to ignite the Knicks offense and make San Antonio discombobulated on their offense; he even hit a 3 to finish with a not-so-bad 9 points on 3-9 shooting, and a terrific 6 steals and 9 assists.

  • Marcus Morris played well overall — Walt Frazier said so — and finished with 20 points on  7-14 (4-6 from 3) and 7 rebounds.

  • RJ Barrett played well in the second half — and finished with 13 points on 6-11, 5 rebounds, 4 assists.
  • Bobby Portis (16 points on 6-11, 4-6 from 3 in 20 minutes) was the only Knick hitting his shot in the 1st half. At one point he had taken 10 shots in 11 minutes. As @NYSportsSpot1 said in the 1st half, “Whole team looks rattled except Bobby Portis who will likely continue to chuck upon reentering the game.”
  • Taj Gibson played well; Damyean Dotson shot poorly in the first half (0-3 from 3) but played better in the second half. Kevin Knox got limited minutes again (9 minutes, 2 points, 0-2 from 3); his lack of intensity an issue. He missed a layup in the 2nd half that should have been a gimme or slam dunk, but he tossed it up too softly.
  • The only guys not to play, as if punished and cemented to the bench — were Allonzo Trier and Iggy Ignas Brazdeikis (who had just scored 36 points at Westchester). Trier is shooting 45% from 3 this year. According to Marc Berman, after the game “Fizdale complimented out-of-rotation Allonzo Trier on being great cheerleader on bench.”


Summed up @Iam_P45, “Welp the good news is we play again tomorrow.. The bad news is we play again tomorrow.”

The Knicks take on the Kyrie Irving-less Brooklyn Nets on Sunday at 6pm at Madison Square Garden.


Nerves were fraying all over — including Knick beat reporters — Chris Iseman of New Jersey Herald/USA Today and Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic got into it on Twitter, as Stefan Bondy pointed out, “this season is hard on all of us“.

The Boxscore

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