Really wanted to win that one…
After putting up with Lebron “This is going to cause headlines” James for twenty-four hours, Knicks fans had more than enough hype coming into an early-season rematch with the defending Eastern Conference champs. And, while the comments certainly pissed off James-haters, fellow Knicks’ teammates, and those of us out there secretly cursing ourselves for agreeing with him, it was hard to tell what affect, if any, it had on Ntilikina himself. The 19 year old has cloaked himself in stoicism so far this season; everything from his spaced-out stare during team huddles to the absolute ice water in his veins knocking down two huge triples to put away the Pacers has pointed to a mysterious, if somewhat introverted, player. This definitely looked like a situation where the younger guy would stay mum, take the slight from the greatest player alive, and just look to continue grinding and improving his game.
BUT FRANK IS A BOSS MAN! Refusing to get bullied under the rim, Ntilikina chose to shove Lebron (fine, try to shove Lebron), out of his way rather than walk around the much-larger pro. This immediately drew the ire of Enes Kanter who ran up to yap at James, earning the two of them double technicals in the process and infinite love for the Turkish big man from the Garden faithful. And yet, while Kanter still has to show that he can prove it on the court, as he was pretty much unplayable down the stretch in the fourth quarter, it was the rookie Frank who came up big defensively in this game with 6 steals (!!!), including two on Lebron himself (who also gave up this comically uncharacteristic pick-off to Tim Hardaway, Jr.).
Of course, the Knicks still lost this game, after being up by as much as 23 and blowing a 15 point lead in the fourth quarter alone. For how dominant this group looked defensively through 3 quarters, allowing just 61 points to the Cleveland offense, the Cavaliers were shooting abysmally and trying their hardest to give the ball back to the Knicks every opportunity they could. You could point to the Cavaliers’ 4th quarter eruption, and particularly Kyle Korver, as the deciding factor in this game, but the fact remains that New York gave up 45 three point attempts in this contest, while letting a Cleveland team playing Kevin Love and Channing Frye at center go toe-to-toe with them on the offensive glass. That fourth quarter still had some sloppy play, which is not even beginning to mention how shook Porzingis looked all night, but allowing Cleveland’s shooters to put up that many looks had New York bound to see some big-time regression to the mean.
Bitter a loss as it is, though, it gives some real perspective to just where the Knicks are at this point in the season. New York has had some reasonably hot starts in the past, including going .500 until practically New Years last season, but this group has some serious heat and energy around it. Fans all around New York were eagerly looking forward to a rematch against Lebron and honestly thinking they could go 2-0 against the King early in the year. The team weathered the rare off-night from their star player, yet still hung in the game until the very end due to a monster night from their summer free agent signing. They’ve got a young core, an ascendant talent, and now a rookie point guard who’s shown he’s not going to take any shit. If Kanter’s post after the game is any indication, this is going to be a team that fights hard for each other all season.