No…after one quarter’s worth of a fake comeback, David Fizdale probably doesn’t feel vindicated. For one, the Knicks lost 112-104 to a Nets squad that was playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Over three quarters, his team played like it collectively had too much to eat at a Vegas buffet. Other than Enes Kanter, who beasted, as he always does vs Brooklyn, the team was largely “blah” at best, and effortless, at worst. No, Fizdale is too competitive to feel anything positive after a loss that began like this.
But at the very least, the guy can take a damn breath now and relax. He’s earned at least that.
It seemed like by the end of Frank Ntilikina’s third straight DNP-CD, the entire basketball world had its eyes on the Knicks head coach. They were wondering, questioning, doubting. Trade rumors were swirling. It seemed like all the good that had happened over the course of this season had gotten flushed right down the toilet, all because a player who had struggled immensely had been given some time to sit and simply watch and learn. A man with two decades of NBA experience– one who is not only universally praised, but loved by anyone without the last name Gasol – was being called out as having some kind of personal vendetta against a kid that isn’t yet old enough to drink.
Well, in the words of Aaron Rodgers: R – E – L – A – X.
There’s a reason an NBA season is 82 games. For a rebuilding team like this one, it’s 82 chances for trial and error. To tinker and prod and pry and figure out what you have and what you don’t. Over the first 24 games of the year, although Frank Ntilikina had moments of burst here and there, the aggressive player the team wanted to see before the season started was not a consistent presence.
Tonight was a different animal. Some will point to the fact that Frank was given the point guard reigns again, which happened through much of the quarter, and that was why he was successful. But the guy with the ball in his hands tonight was 180 degrees different than the one we saw over his last five starts, when the team produced a sub-90 offensive rating during his minutes. Something wasn’t fully clicking. It sure looked like it clicked on Saturday night.
We’d be remiss not to mention the efforts of the other young guys in a fourth quarter that was played exclusively by rookies and second-year players. Damyean Dotson was a monster, scoring at will for a stretch early in the fourth. Mitchell Robinson once again showed why he might have the highest ceiling of anyone on this team. Kevin Knox showed a few more flashes, which we’re seeing more and more of. Allonzo Trier got repeatedly cooked on defense – he was burnt to a crisp by night’s end – but he again got to the rim when he needed to.
But this night belonged to Frank and Fiz. The Knicks have a coach who has engendered buy-in from every individual on his roster, which isn’t easy to do when you’re bad. They also have a precocious kid who took the first real challenge of his career in stride, came out, and responded about as well as any of us could have hoped.
We saw the future on Saturday night. It looked pretty good. Most importantly though, it seems like the man who’s been tasked with taking us there might have a clue after all.