Yes, That Just Happened
I promise, you weren't dreaming.
Is this the real life?
You’re damn skippy it is. Let’s get caught in the landslide while it lasts.
Game 3: Knicks 130, Bucks 110
⌚️ 30-second version: Elfrid Payton was a man on a mission early, leading an aggressive Knicks attack that bombarded the rim and opened up space behind the arc. Led by Mitchell Robinson staying sound and solid on defense all night, New York did their best to wall off the paint and still get out on shooters, and their activity level contributed to the Bucks making just 7-of-38 from deep. The Knicks, meanwhile, never let up, with Julius Randle again playing like an All-Star, both dishing (7 dimes) and swishing (29 points) effectively. New York took Milwaukee’s best punch to open the third, and extended a 16-point halftime lead to 20 before the fourth with the help of 59.3 percent shooting from behind the arc. The lead stretched to 28 at one point in the middle of the final frame, and Bud emptied his bench with under five left.
🤕 Injury Report: Dennis Smith Jr missed this one with a contused left quad, joining Immanuel Quickley (progressing nicely, might be back by Tuesday), Obi Toppin (who will likely miss at least the next five games), Austin Rivers (starting contact drills tomorrow) and Omari Spellman on the sidelines.
🏁 ⓹ Starting Five: Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson - same as the last two games.
☎️ Call to the Bench: Thibs went with a nine man rotation, playing RJ, Julius and Mitch between 35 and 38 minutes each, and calling on Kevin Knox (26 minutes) and Alec Burks (21 minutes) as his primary reserves, with Frank Ntilikina (19 minutes) and Nerlens Noel (13 minutes) also getting time.
😶 No words: Elfrid Payton and Frank Ntilikina combined to go 7-for-7 from deep, with three of Ntilikina’s four 3-pointers coming over a two minute stretch in the beginning of the fourth to put the game out of reach.
😎 💫 Hey Now, You’re An All-Star: Through three games, Julius Randle is one of three players in the NBA - along with Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis - averaging at least 23 points, 10 boards and six dimes. Of the three, he’s the only one with fewer than four turnovers per game.
🐔 Foul Free: Mitchell Robinson has played 81 minutes so far this season, many of which have been spent guarding three All-Stars who live predominantly in the post, and has picked up just eight fouls in that time. Along with Ben Simmons and Myles Turner, he’s one of just three players with at least six blocks and three steals in the young season.
➕ ➖ Plus Minus God: The Knicks have a positive 11.2 net rating during the 83 minutes that Alec Burks has played this season and a minus 28.3 rating during the 61 minutes he’s sat.
🔜 Next Up: A four-game road trip: Tuesday in Cleveland to face the 3-0 Cavs (you read that correct), New Year’s Eve in Tampa Bay to face the 0-2 Raptors, Saturday in Indiana for a rematch with the 3-0 Pacers, and Monday in Atlanta for a date with the 2-0 Hawks.
Stars of the Game
⭐️ Mitchell Robinson: Only nine points and six boards, but it’s tough to overstate just how impressive his defensive effort was throughout the evening. He stayed down and on the balls of his feet all night, and while the Bucks bent the Knicks defense at the rim, thanks to Robinson, they were never able to break it.
⭐️⭐️ Julius Randle: 29 points on just 17 shots, and that was after missing his first six attempts from the field. According to Tommy Beer, he’s the first Knick ever with at least 29, 14 & 7 to go with three made triples in a single game. He also played extremely sound defense on Giannis during the possessions they were matched up.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Elfrid Payton: For as good as the numbers were (27 points on 12-of-16 from the field, with seven dimes and three boards tossed in), they don’t really encompass how good Elfrid Payton was in this game. He heard all of the calls for his head and responded by scoring or assisting on New York’s first five buckets, reminding everyone that a few bad games are not an indictment on what he’s capable of, even in a lineup where his lack of spacing is felt more than usual.
A Guide To Understanding
Sometimes in life, things happen that are beyond our understanding. These events can be confusing and will often induce stress, leaving us seeking answers from a higher power. Thankfully, KFS is here to offer assistance. This helpful, self-guided Q&A is designed to make clear what left so many of us blurry eyed on Sunday night. We hope you enjoy.
What the fuck was that?
The Knicks pummeled a very good basketball team who probably didn’t take them seriously to start the game.
Does this mean the Knicks are a good basketball team themselves?
So are you saying that life is just a random, meaningless collage of happenstance?
First of all, calm down.
Second of all, this wasn’t meaningless. No, the Knicks aren’t any better than they were 24 hours ago, and last night will probably wind up a rarity, but yesterday was proof of concept that some of the stuff they’ve been trying out might actually work on the regular.
What kind of stuff?
Well, Julius Randle not being a vapid wasteland of empty stats, for one.
It’s pretty clear that Tom Thibodeau, Kenny Payne & Co. have taken David Fizdale’s crackerjack idea from last season - to turn Randle in LeBron lite - and scaled it back to a manageable level. In short, get Julius to cut back on the stuff that clearly wasn’t working…
…and focus on what he can actually do well, like get his giant ass into smaller guys, move a little with the ball, and hit a somewhat predetermined target with a not-too-difficult pass.
Like the above play, several of Randle’s better passes haven’t let to points, but he continues to make the right read regardless. This is important on a team where no one else commands regular double teams, if only because it’s their easiest path to staying in games. That sort of thing is a plus for a young squad that wants to see their hard work pay off with the occasional win.
That’s all well and good. Now tell me about someone I actually care about.
You know you don’t have to be so rude, right?
I’m the one asking the questions. Dance monkey!
I…OK, whatever. RJ Barrett…the threes haven’t started falling yet - he’s just 3-for-13 from deep - but he’s hit half of the rest of his shots, is shooting 71.4 percent from the line, and has 13 assists to just seven turnovers. Like Randle, he’s been given more playmaking responsibilities, and like Randle, he’s responded fairly well.
This was especially impressive because it came with Randle out of the game, and the defense could focus its attention predominantly on RJ. Is that enough dancing for you?
You’re getting annoying. Can I quit this bit yet?
You’ll complete the bit and you’ll like it.
Fine…here’s some midrange shot creation to wet your beak:
Ok, well…Kevin Knox wasn’t nearly as exciting, but he’s starting to do lots of little things that don’t wind up in the box score but which show the effects of a coaching staff that is clearly leaving an impression.
I heard your mom loves little things.
Here’s Knox with a nice pass that leads to a couple of Randle free throws:
It’s one of several examples we’ve seen where Knox has been putting the ball on the floor, but not simply to drive uncontrollably into a web of bodies. More and more, he’s actually surveying the defense and taking what it gives him. And hey, he’s still only 21!
That joke stopped being funny two years ago. What else you got for me? And I want something good.
Well, it’s early, and this could certainly change if and when the losses start piling up and expiring contract guys start looking for their own shot, but through three games, the Knicks are 13th in the NBA with an assist percentage of 60.7. Guys are rarely trying to generate their own offense, and the times it has happened have usually been late in the clock or otherwise out of necessity.
Is there anything else I can help you with today?
How much of a sellout do you have to be to go this long into the Q&A without mentioning Frank. He was your boy. Do you like being a fraud?
Ntilikina has had some lovely moments - his barrage of threes in the fourth quarter may have woken up a child in the Macri household - but I’m still not sure we’ve seen anything that leads me to believe he’s cemented a rotation spot once this team is fully healthy.
For one, he hasn’t been playing point guard. No one has on the second units, with ball-handling duties having been divvied up between several wings and guards unless Dennis Smith Jr. has seen time. The good news is that this led to some pretty fun possessions during the minutes when Frank got to play with RJ, Kev, Burks and Noel, including this two-way highlight that made me sqeeeeeee in delight:
If Ntilikina keeps hitting threes at close to this clip (he’s 6-for-9 including the preseason), maybe he gets some consideration over Bullock (11-for-33) once Rivers is back healthy and Quickley is installed as the backup point guard, but that still leaves Toppin in need of rotation minutes.
Basically, Frank will need to shoot so well as to not give Thibs a choice, and maybe the coach goes small and keeps Noel on the bench from time to time. Either way, I’m not sure last night moved the needle too much where Franchie is concerned.
Did you think you were being cute by sneaking in the “Quickley at backup point” thing? You won’t keep many paid subscribers if you continue to insult our intelligence.
It’s 2 am and I’m out of coffee. Give me a break.
So Elf just bought himself a much longer leash, huh?
Yes, and honestly, it’s probably for the best. No, he’s not as good as what we saw last night, but he’s not nearly as bad as what we saw over the first two games either. Thibs has shown - with Elf, in fact - that he’s not above starting a guy and then yanking them for the rest of the half if things aren’t going well. Only RJ and Julius seem to be above that status on this team.
I think they call that accountability, and who are we to say whether or not Payton only playing 18 minutes vs Philly contributed to lighting a fire under his ass last night?
As long as Quickley gets his minutes - and there’s no reason to believe he won’t - there’s also no reason Payton shouldn’t continue getting time in the hope that he has more of this in him.
You realize that’s the complete opposite of what you wrote literally yesterday, right?
Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.
Quoting Ghandi doesn’t make what you did any better.
Fine. I got a little ahead of myself. It happens. but Elf was really freaking bad for the entire preseason and both of the first two games. Like everyone else, it was hard not to get caught up.
So let’s see where things are at after 10 games. By then, we should have a pretty good idea of who does and doesn’t deserve playing time. For right now though, we should put our various concerns aside and enjoy this one, because there’s a decent chance that not many more like it will follow, at least for a little while.
I have to say, this was oddly helpful, although I’d really feel more comfortable if you went out on a limb and predicted this wasn’t just a one-off that will vanish as soon as it appeared.
I’m sorry sir, this is an Arby’s.
That’s it for today! Did you enjoy but aren’t a full subscriber and want to change that? 👇🏼
Huge thanks to Ernie Parada for the sweet Randle/Elf art that he got done after last night’s game! Check out more of his stuff here.
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See everyone soon! #BlackLivesMatter