Knicks Manhandle Rockets — March 2, 2020: NY 125 Houston 123

Frank Ntilikina handcuffed Russell Westbrook on the final play of the game, forcing him to his left for a contested jumper in the lane that missed, giving the Knicks the 125-123 victory. The Knicks led virtually throughout, and were up big in the 1st half, then clung on to the victory.

RJ Barrett also dominated in this game, scoring at will early and then coming up with a crucial play late. After shooting an air ball 3-pt attempt with 46 seconds left and the Knicks up 122-121, Barrett called for an iso play on the next possession, against tough defender P.J. Tucker with 10 seconds left. Barrett drove left against contact for the lefthanded drive to put the Knicks up 124-121.

Ntilikina then stripped Westbrook on a drive to the basket but was called for a phantom foul. Knicks coach Mike Miller didn’t challenge because he said he didn’t get a clear look at the play on the court and the overhead replay didn’t provide a good angle, and he didn’t want to lose his last crucial timeout. He took that timeout and ran a play for Julius Randle, with the Knicks up 124-123 after Westbrook’s free throws. Randle was fouled and hit one of two free throws to give the Knicks the final margin of victory.

NY Dominated the Boards

The Knicks dominated the boards and kept James Harden mostly in check. In the 4th quarter Harden was flopping multiple times but not getting the call from the refs; he got calls when he was (barely) fouled, but not when he flopped. In fact on the play after Barrett’s missed 3 with 46 seconds left, Harden drove to the basket — threw the ball at the backboard — and flopped to the floor — and got no call — setting up Randle’s tough iso drive with 7 seconds left. You could see Harden complaining to the refs after the play, and throughout the game as usual.

Meanwhile Mitchell Robinson, Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis used their height and strength advantage to score at will inside and outrebound Houston 65-34.

  • Robinson had 12 points (5-8 shooting) and 13 rebounds in 24 minutes and a +5. He had no blocked shots — it seemed the Knicks were careful not to be drawn into any fouls by Houston.
  • Randle had 16 pts and 16 rebounds;
  • Gibson 8 pts and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes.
  • And Bobby Portis had 15 points (6-10 shooting, 2-3 from 3), 5 rebounds, and a +11 in 18 minutes. Portis made big inside moves against James Harden including one late that had celebrity comedian Chris Rock shaking his head ‘wow’ on the sidelines (as Harden flopped but did not get the call).

Knicks Hit their 3’s & Guarded Houston’s 3’s Early

Houston didn’t play much defense and the Knicks roared out to a 10 point early lead that they upped to 21 at one point in the 2nd quarter. The Knicks were scoring inside and hitting their 3’s and defending Houston’s 3’s pretty well. Wayne Ellington was hitting 3’s from all over (5-8, all 3’s, for 15 pts).

And RJ Barrett was Dominating inside and hitting 3’s outside. Barrett finished with 27 pts on 10-18, 3-8 from 3, 5 rebounds, 5 assists. He was 4-7 from the free throw line (hit his first 2 then missed a few) and cooled off in the 2nd half (had 19 at the half; made some errors coming in in the 4th) but made the big final bucket/play.

The loss last week in Houston, which was close (Knicks played with them all night and lost by 10) — was a precursor to this game. That time, the Knicks didn’t guard the 3 well early; this time they did. Westbrook didn’t play in that one, but neither did Ntilikina or Elfrid Payton for the Knicks. Payton played well in this one, but Ntilikina was on such a roll on both ends of the court, coach Mike Miller kept Ntilikina in for the entire 4th quarter. Ntilikina finished with 11 pts on 5-10 shooting, and the great defense on Westbrook (24 pts on 9-19).

Harden had 35 pts on 8-22 shooting (3-13 from 3) — so he got his points but missed a lot. He was 16-16 from the free throw line — got to the line with his usual drives that if you put a hand near him it’s a foul.


New VP of Operations Leon Rose was sitting courtside, next to GM Scott Perry. Perry was caught on camera smiling and laughing for the first time this season; seemed relaxed. Knicks Twitter gave Rose a new knickname — “lucky”.

Before the game, a candid video surfaced on Twitter that showed Spike Lee yelling in the tunnel entrance underneath MSG, about being unjustly treated by security. He apparently entered through the wrong entrance and was given a hard time by Security, or gave them a hard time. By game time he was in his seats, snuffing rumors circulating on twitter that he had been banned by MSG.

The Boxscore




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