Knicks Almost Clip Clippers in LA — Jan 5, 2019: LA 135 NY 132

It is a mark of a team on the rise. You can’t look past the Knicks to win any game now — even against an elite team on its home court. In this one, the Knicks jumped out to a big double-digit lead in the 1st quarter, the Clippers stormed back on unconscious 3-pt shooting (mainly Lou Williams) to jump out to their own double-digit lead, but couldn’t put the Knicks away — NY weathered the storm and got right back in the game with great defense in the 4th quarter with a chance to tie the game in the final minute.

The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard; but the Knicks were without starting point guard Elfrid Payton Jr, and so did not benefit from the normal penetrations that Payton provides. Frank Ntilikina did a solid job at the point, as did backup Kadeem Allen.

The Knicks also got hit with 4 technicals in the first half, the Clippers had none. Some of that was due to Knicks trash talking (that they were possibly goaded into); some of it was due to the Clippers getting away with some aggressive play, and the refs, who didn’t call fouls on that aggression, getting under the Knicks collar. The Knicks also didn’t do a great job at hitting their free throws — 24-37 vs the Clippers 27-33.

Morris Phenomenal

Marcus Morris was phenomenal for the Knicks — 13-19 (6-7 from 3, 6-10 from the free throw line) for 38 points. He hit big shot after big shot all game to keep the Knicks in it. “Each game he provides so many things and we’re not even talking about what we don’t see in the boxscore,” said coach Mike Miller afterwards. “He keeps playing better; he keeps raising it up to another level.”

Miller has of course been mentioned in trade rumors — to the Los Angeles Clippers who are interested in acquiring him. Knicks Twitter is split on trading Morris — he is under a 1-year contract and Knicks can lose him at end of season; some Knicks fans feel the Knicks should trade him now for a 1st round pick (which would be a late 1st round pick in the high 20’s overall since a good team would be acquiring him); others feel the Knicks need Morris to establish a winning team in the 2nd half, which is crucial to the overall plan of attracting Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo next summer. To trade Morris now would hurt that overall plan.

Plus Morris signed with the Knicks over San Antonio, and he has stated in the press this week that he wants to stay here a long time. To trade him now would double cross him. On the other hand, if he stays, the Knicks would need to sign him to a multi-year deal this summer; but he plays small forward the same position as Greek Freak. The Knicks management has an interesting decision to make.

Early Game

The Knicks came out strong — and RJ Barrett (24 pts on 7-11, 1-2 from 3, 9-11 on free throws, good defense for a +4) was at the fulcrum of their attack. Said coach Mike Miller afterwards: “He was very selective early; he did a great job of finding some seams in the defense; he got through and finished the ball well; he started out 5-5 and he was getting to the foul line; he got off to a great start tonite.”

Meanwhile Bobby Portis was doing what Knicks acquired him to do — shoot over 40% from 3. Marcus Morris & Julius Randle were doing what Knicks acquired them to do too. Frank Ntilikina was playing good D on Paul George and/or Patrick Beverly, and hit Mitchell Robinson with a nice alley oop pass for a layup near the end of the quarter to put the Knicks up 16.

The Clipper Counter Attack

But then the Clippers woke up, amped up their defense, and got the benefit of Lou Williams going insane from outside. He hit 3 straight 3’s midway through the 2nd quarter to tie the game at 51; a 3 by Paul George gave the LA Clippers the lead 54-51. They kept rolling. Montrezl Harrell was dominating inside; Mitchell Robinson was having a hard time guarding him — giving him space so as not to pick up fouls.

“He’s obviously a strong player”, said coach Miller afterwards on Harrell. “He uses his body well; his positioning, his angles; I thought they did a good job with that attack as they were rolling him down the lane in that first part of the second quarter, where he really established it; where he came in and created the contact and got the angles that he wanted and made a lot of plays.”

Knicks Weather the Storm

The Knicks were on the verge of being put away in the 3rd quarter, down 16 — but they weathered it. They kept a consistent defense going, and amped that defense in the 4th to get back in the game.

“When you get in that you just have to weather it, and hopefully take away the easy ones, and make sure we’re trying to score where we’re not letting it stretch out during that time,” said Mike Miller in the post game.

When asked later if he was disappointed with this defense allowing 135 points, Miller answered: “They are a high-level offensive team; they got it going; they scored the ball; we had to try and weather it; and that’s where we were; we had to weather that storm.”

Meanwhile Knick announcers Mike Breen and Wally Szczerbiak were announcing the game like they had their feet up on a yacht sipping from glasses of red wine — la-ti-da — they seemed unobservant of the Knicks 4th quarter comeback until it was on top of them.

Reggie Bullock played good D on Lou Williams, and hit shots himself (4-5 for 9 pts). Frank Ntilikina did an excellent job in the 4th, at one point penetrating for an alley oop to Mitchell Robinson; Kadeem Allen also did a good job at the point. At one point the Knicks D caused Lou Williams to throw the ball to Mike Miller the Knicks coach on the sidelines (no other Clipper was in the vicinity) with RJ Barrett‘s godfather Steve Nash sitting right behind him. It was a funny moment, caused by the Knicks D.

Julius Randle helped Morris with the scoring up front, and Mitchell Robinson started to play Harrell better in the 4th. However, when Robinson put a hand on Harrell 25 feet from basket in the corner, a FOUL was immediately called. When the ball was re-inbounded, Harrell made a move in the paint, Robinson gave resistance and another FOUL was called. That was part of the reason why Robinson had been giving Harrell room all night. As coach Miller said, Harrell does a good job at working angles and drawing contact.

Knicks Developing an Identity

The second best part of the game, besides the game itself — is the post-game interview with coach Mike Miller, where you get a rat-a-tat machine gun explanation of tactics and game observations.

When asked if he is putting his imprint on this Knicks team, he said:

“It’s all about this team; it’s all about these players; it’s not about anybody’s print that they’re putting on the team; its about this team coming together and playing as well as they can play; we’ve got a great coaching staff; we’ve got a great locker room of players; and everyone’s buying into that; we’re having fun with it and we’re going to keep going with it.”

When asked again if he has time in-season to put his imprint on the team, Miller said: “These guys are pros; the way they approach it; they come in ready to go; whatever the game plan is, they’re picking those things up; they’re staying together. You know the big thing we control is what kind of effort, what kind of consistency we play with, and are we playing to an identity.  That’s what we’re trying to control right now.”

The Boxscore

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