The New York Knickerbockers have played three games since the All-Star Break and it has been a rollercoaster of emotions.
It started off with a horrid showing against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Knicks’ largest lead that night was six points, when they led 9-3 in the first quarter. Antetokounmpo made a layup with 6:23 left in the first quarter that gave the Bucks their first lead of the game and they did not look back. The Bucks defeated the Knicks, 134-101.
RJ Barrett was the only starter who played well that night in Wisconsin. He scored 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting. He also hauled in five rebounds and dished two assists. Alec Burks and Immanuel Quickley played well off the bench. Burks scored 17 points and had eight assists in 26 minutes while the rookie Quickley added 15 points in 23 minutes.
Julius Randle struggled that night, recording just seven points, six assists and eight rebounds on 3-for-12 shooting from the field.
But the talk of the town was the play of the starting point guard, Elfrid Payton. He again proved that he is not worthy of a spot in the NBA, recording 10 points and five rebounds on 4-for-14 shooting and 1-for-4 from behind the arc. He also finished with a plus/minus of -21. The most nauseating stat from the night was Payton’s zero assists (this is the starting point guard) at halftime. He simply is lost and stops the ball movement when he’s on the court.
The only man who can stop RJ Barrett from having a great night is Elfrid Payton.
How do I know this?
The Knicks visited Oklahoma City on Saturday and went toe-to-toe with the Thunder. Coming in, the Thunder were bruised. The Thunder’s best player, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander did not play. With Gilgeous-Alexander in street clothes, it became a winnable must-win for the Knicks.
Payton re-aggravated his hamstring injury and was forced to sit out as the Knicks gave Frank Ntilikina the start. Ntilikina picked up two quick fouls and was relegated to the bench. Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau kept him there for the rest of the game as the Frenchman recorded just one assist and one steal in seven minutes.
With Payton out, the ball moved beautifully all game long. There was no dribbling until 17 seconds were left on the shot clock just for the point guard, who can’t shoot, to take a pull-up jumper from the right elbow and leave it hilariously short. It was magical. The Knicks defeated the Thunder, 119-97.
RJ Barrett scored 32 points that night, a career-high, on 12-for-21 shooting, 3-for-6 from behind the arc. He also recorded five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Julius Randle recorded his second triple-double of the season, striking the Thunder for 26 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Randle became the first Knick to record multiple triple-doubles in a season since Mark Jackson in 1988-89.
Quickley also played well, adding 21 points off the bench on 9-for-16 shooting in 33 minutes.
This leads to Monday night’s nationally televised game. The Knicks flew home and slept in their own bed before their bout against the Nets in Brooklyn. With Payton out again, the Knicks made another change to their lineup: Immanuel Quickley made his first career start. The Knicks held their own for the first 12 minutes, until the Nets turned this into a blowout.
But Thibodeau’s team never gave up.
Despite trailing by as much as 18 points with 2:50 left in the third quarter, the Knicks were able to lock down and play well down the stretch and even put themselves in a position to win the game.
After gaining possession and trailing by three, the Knicks inbounded the ball off the side-out. Randle caught it and was setting himself up for the three-pointer. As Randle was going up for his jumpshot, Nets guard Kyrie Irving was able to get a hand on the ball, slightly jarring it loose. Randle was able to keep his hands on the ball and came back down with it. Referee Scott Foster erroneously deemed it to be a travel, gifting the Nets a win, 117-112.
Julius Randle appeared to be upset after being called for a travel late in the Knicks’ loss to the Nets. pic.twitter.com/uacJSrReYC
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 16, 2021
Forbes’ Tommy Beer took the liberty of taking a look at the NBA Rulebook.
NBA Rulebook – Section II.e.2 pic.twitter.com/23k31N0ODh
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) March 16, 2021
Even an NBA star was taken aback by the official’s decision.
Ky blocked Julius Randle shot attempt. Why did Scott foster blow his whistle and give the nets the ball?
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) March 16, 2021
The answer is quite simple, Damian. I’m sure you know this, but the NBA Officials have been more focused on handing out the weakest technical fouls ever seen rather than enforcing the rulebook. It’s a disgrace to the game and it’s ruining the sport. Too often the officials feel as though they are the reason fans are watching. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has to do something about this. You know why the relationship with players and referees is strained? Because the refs aren’t officiating and are handing out technical fouls when the ball is given back to them.
Let’s take a deeper look at the Knicks now.
The Knicks failed their first litmus test, the Bucks. Fans probably felt like the Knicks could hold their own against the Bucks, especially after that huge win in game three of the season. But it seems as though the Bucks didn’t forget either.
The difference the other night between the Bucks and the Knicks was substantial, but if you remove the ineptitude of Payton, the difference surely would’ve been less than 20. I think it would’ve been less than 10.
Take the result of the second litmus test however you’d like. The fact after all of that is the Knicks came back from down 18 points to nearly beat a top three team in the league. It’s a shame that the Knicks were robbed of a true chance to beat a top three team.
IN OTHER NEWS: Looks like Knicks center Mitchell Robinson is on pace to return soon. Pictures from practice and warm ups show Robinson without a cast or a splint on his surgically repaired hand.
Mitchell Robinson getting some early work in at Barclays. pic.twitter.com/7Up3Ku0xdw
— Steve Popper (@StevePopper) March 15, 2021
I am happy this picture exists pic.twitter.com/rqv7nbDvI1
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 15, 2021
There is no word on the return of guards Austin Rivers (personal), Derrick Rose (COVID-19 Protocols) and Payton (hamstring).
UP NEXT: Much like how Randle said to the press after the game, there isn’t much time to dwell about the officiating blunder. The Knicks have their third big test of the second half on Tuesday as they head to Philadelphia to take on the Joel Embiid-less Sixers at 8 p.m. The Knicks will then head home to host the Magic on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. before hosting the Sixers again on Sunday at 8 p.m.