Elfrid Payton Stars Again, & Again, & Again — Feb 6, 2020: NY 105 Orlando 103

Elfrid Payton was again spectacular for the Knicks, as he has been so many times recently and this season — playing the best point guard the Knicks have seen in years — to lead the Knicks to their 3rd straight win; they are now 5-4 in their last 9. He orchestrated, penetrated the paint at will to open up the defense for passes or creative drives to the basket, played terrific defense with 8 steals, and completely took over the game down the stretch to lead the Knicks to victory.

Elfrid Payton had just come off a triple-double in the win over Cleveland, outplayed Ja Morant in the “chippy loss” to Memphis where he got suspended a game, and put on a point-guard clinic in a loss to Charlotte on Jan 31 — 4 straight phenomenal games at the point.

Payton finished with a 15 pts (on 7-13), 4 rebounds, 9 assists, and 7 steals — including one on the final play of the game on a play that Orlando protested because they felt a) the officials didn’t hear coach Steve Clifford call for a timeout, and b) Evan Fournier was fouled by Julius Randle when it appeared he simply fell down and Payton grabbed the ball away.

After the Knicks had jumped out to a big lead in the 1st quarter of this game with suffocating defense during which Payton picked up 4 steals in the first 8 minutes and Dennis Smith Jr and Frank Ntilikina came in to get steals of their own and contribute to the lock-down defense, Orlando came back with a torrid defense of their own in the 3rd quarter (Orlando leads the NBA in least points allowed) to take a 10-point lead over the Knicks with 10 minutes left in the 4th. That’s when coach Mike Miller inserted 3-pt specialist Wayne Ellington — and unlike numerous times when former coach David Fizdale used the strategy — it worked for Miller.

  • Ellington banged away back-to-back 3’s to get the Knicks to within 4 at 90-86 with just over 8 minutes left.
  • Payton hit a creative runner in the lane then Ellington hit another 3 from straightaway to pull the Knicks to within 3 at 94-91.

  • Payton hit a 3 with 5:30 left to tie the game at 96.
  • Payton stole the ball on the next play and then Randle hit a corner jumper for a Knicks lead with 4:50 left.
  • Payton stole the ball AGAIN on the very next play with 4:38 left
  • Payton fed Taj Gibson with a “beautiful” (according to Mike Breen) pass with 3:51 left to give NY a 100-96 lead and had Walt Frazier crowing “Payton omnipresent now; orchestrating”
  • Payton’s D on an Aaron Gordon corner jumper caused him to miss; and a Randle jumper gave NY a 105-98 lead
  • Payton took a foul on Markelle Fultz driving baseline with 35 seconds left that Frazier felt was a bad foul because it stopped the clock, but it was actually a good foul to put Fultz (shooting 73% from the line) to the free throw line denying the sure basket. He made both frees to make it 105-103 the final score.
  • Bullock missed a jumper with 12 seconds left, and it went the other way — Steve Clifford tried to call a time-out and but didn’t get it, and Evan Fournier dribbled up court right — but was forced back by Payton’s harassing defense, then dribbled back left into Randle, and fell down with Payton picked up the ball.

Elfrid Payton played college basketball at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where in 2014 he won the Lefty Driesell Award as the National College Defensive Player of the Year.

Payton played a terrific 2-man game with Taj Gibson down the stretch, feeding Gibson for so many ‘money’ passes in the paint. Gibson finished with 19 pts on 9-13 shooting. Julius Randle played great ball on both offense and defense — had 2 blocks even. He finished with 22 points on a very efficient 10-16 shooting, due mainly to the fact he only took one 3-pointer (and missed it). According to Mike Breen, Randle has missed his last 19 3-pointers in a row.

RJ Barrett was back from missing 3 weeks with the severe ankle sprain, and played well — 12 points in 18 minutes on 3-6 shooting. But coach Miller didn’t over-press him — giving Reggie Bullock heavy minutes down the stretch, and Bullock played well on both ends — 12 points on 5-12 shooting. Mitchell Robinson played well — 6 points on 3-4 shooting in 19 minutes, 4 rebounds and a block. It was the first time he’s had a block in 3 games — word is he is playing with an injury.

And Dennis Smith Jr — played so well — especially defensively — but finished with only 1 point on 0-4 shooting in 15 minutes. He had 6 assists and 2 steals.

Kevin Knox (0-5, 0 pts in 16 minutes) did not play well — he missed several shots in a row at one point early in the 4th, and missed a defensive assignment that allowed a baseline slam dunk — and was primarily responsible for Orlando turning a deficit into a lead.

Bobby Portis also did not shoot well — 1-8 for 4 points in 18 minutes. Had Portis and Knox shot better this game would not have been close.

The Playoffs?

The Knicks are now 16-36, and for the first time, someone has brought up playoffs — KnicksForum in particular: “Six games back from a playoff spot. And they’re playing the best basketball right now out of all the teams there chasing. Let’s start talking about this.”

Looking at the schedule, NY has a chance to win each of its next 4 games but would need a 10-2 stretch at some point to really get back in it. Or they’ll need a bunch of 5-game winning streaks, which is possible. I’ve been saying they simply need to play .500 ball or better the last 30 games for this season to have been a success. They seem to have found their coach in Mike Miller; and GM Scott Perry is doing a good job.

Hard to know what the Knicks management is thinking, but the recent reassignment of Steve Mills and rumor that agent Leon Rose is taking over as President may:

  • Be evidence that the Knicks are going to make a run at Greek Freak, and may mean Perry will continue in his current role, now unhindered by Steve Mills. Having the two-headed decision-making monster was the one fly in the Knicks ointment — as a fan you wanted to be sure Perry was making the decisions, not being overruled in any way by Mills.
  • Result in the new President naming a new GM.

We’ll see.

The Boxscore




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