It’s only one game.
Actually, it’s not even really one game. It’s a quarter and change of one game. And it’s a game where the kid we’re all focused on played a grand total of 20 minutes because he fouled out. No…as far as breakouts go, this wasn’t your typical effort.
But it’s still the game that, should Frank Ntilikina go on to have the Knicks career his talent portends, we’ll remember as the moment when it truly began. Following a buzzy fourth quarter vs Brooklyn and a fairly nondescript first half when he played a scoreless eight minutes, Frank came out in the third quarter like a man on fire, taking ownership of the court like we’d never seen before.
Gone was the player that had to think for a split second about whether to fire away on an open 3-pointer. In his place was a dude who was trying to get into spots that would allow him to fire away. He was looking for every possible opportunity to use a screen for even a sliver of an edge that would allow him to beat his man. Ironically enough, perhaps his two most standout plays – a no-look alley-oop attempt to Mitchell Robinson that resulted in a turnover and a hard drive to the basket that was called for a questionable offensive foul – resulted in no points.
Just as significant as Ntilikina’s effort was his head coach’s reaction following that phantom offensive foul. David Fizdale was beside himself, and following Frank’s sixth foul on the next defensive possession, got himself ejected to make absolutely clear that he had the back of a 20-year-old everyone seemed to think he had a vendetta against just days ago.
Besides Frank fouling out, the shame of this evening was the fact that perhaps Kevin Knox’s best game as a Knick will be overshadowed. He scored 26 points on 25 shots and pulled down 15 rebounds, including several on one possession that saw him refuse to be outbodied, ultimately resulting in him drawing a foul. You get the sense that it’s starting to come together for this young man, and it’s coming together quickly. On offense, at least.
As for the other young Knicks, Mitchell Robinson had his usual couple of nice moments, while Damyean Dotson continued to play defense at a elite level – a true standout on this night, when the Knicks “veterans” failed to show up on that end of the court. It was the reason this game wasn’t nearly as close as the 119-107 final made it seem.
It doesn’t fall on any one player, but collectively, the lack of defensive urgency from the starting lineup following a similar effort last night vs Brooklyn was troubling. It’s not hard to see Fiz making another change to the unit soon – something he may have previewed by starting Knox in the second half as opposed to Mario Hezonja, who never saw the court after the first five minutes of action.
All things to think about moving forward, but this night belonged to Frank. After the game, David Fizdale said the thing that has kept the Frank stans believing through all of the down times – that he’s shown flashes – but when asked what was different about Ntilikina tonight, Fiz was on point: “He finally tsaid ‘screw it’.”
Indeed he did. Hopefully, the first of many such occassions.