After spending three quarters as the living embodiment of a let-down game after Monday’s heartbreaker, the Knicks came alive in the second half, erasing a double-digit deficit to take down the Utah Jazz at home.
And when I say the living embodiment of the let-down game, this one was a slog early. To be fair, even without Rudy Gobert the Jazz are still a long, physical defense and were able to bottle up New York inside, recording 10 blocks as a group. A cold start for Porzingis in the first quarter, combined with some sloppy Knicks passing, resulted in just 32 points through a eighteen minutes of play. To be fair, Utah isn’t much of a worldbeater offensively either. The ten triples they connected on in the first half looked bad, but could have been much worse given how players like Ricky Rubio and Thabo Sefolosha absolutely refuse to take open jumpers. Down only 10 at the half was a blessing for how bad the team was playing.
If anything, the Jazz looked much better in the 2nd half, albeit playing against a more energized Knicks crew. Rodney Hood came up huge for Utah, with 30 points and 6 made triples on 50% from the field. The Jazz currently have him coming off the bench, despite his leading the team in scoring and how reliant they seemed to be on him taking a big step forward this year to replace the production of Gordon Hayward. The fact that he’s currently a substitute might speak volumes to how strange the season has been for Utah or might just be a credit to their other spark in this game, rookie point guard Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell exploded during summer league, and has immediately become one of the focal points for a threadbare Utah offense. The rookie actually leads the team in usage rate, but to date has been tremendously inefficient shooting the ball, as the team has leaned on him from day 1 to generate offense. With eyepopping athleticism that has never been a question combined with his shot actually dropping tonight (19 points and 3/6 from deep), it’s very clear that he looks like a player with a productive future in the league.
What woke the Knicks up, though, was Hardaway Jr. and the team finally realizing they needed to push the ball in transition. Taking the Jazz away from their halfcourt defense and preferred plodding pace put the game back in the Knicks’ wheelhouse and helped to alleviate how poorly they’d looked running the offense. For how miserable Hardaway has been as an outside shooter this year, he’s incredibly fast getting down the court and has been a monster attacking the rim. With Frank settling in after committing some of his maddening fouls (he and O’Quinn together put the Jazz into the bonus just 4 minutes into the 4th) to play some solid basketball and Hornacek going back to his Porzingis-at-center smallball lineup to close the game, the Knicks were able to take a 6 point lead with a two minutes to play.
Of course, this is still a very undisciplined team and after two horrific three point attempts at hero ball from Porzingis and Hardaway Jr. the Jazz were right back down 1 with a minute and change to play. Hornacek’s attempt at drawing up a play went predictably terribly as I have yet to see a Knicks ATO or attempt at any game-winning play outside of a Carmelo Anthony ISO ever actually work. And yet, the ball found its way back to Tim, shooting 29% from 3 on the season and after taking a horrible shot just possessions before he went ahead to pull on one of the best No, No, No… Yes! three pointers you will ever see. Knicks up by 4. Knicks win.
And it’s off to Toronto, fresh off of big wins over Houston and New Orleans.
P.S. It actually looks like Courtney Lee, who was holding his hamstring after the game, may have injured it jumping onto Tim’s back to celebrate that shot. Knicks basketball!
Off to the T Dot!