The injury racked New York Knicks gave a spirited effort but came up short against the Indiana Pacers, losing 110-99. The Knicks were competitive for most of the night, but as crunch time kicked in, it was the Pacers who kicked things up a gear and ran away with the lead. The Pacers are among theEastern Conference’s best teams and the Knicks just seemed to be outgunned in this one.
The Knicks frequently employed the zone defense again and kept the game competitive, but is it sustainable? The Pacers shot a solid 36% from three on the night despite missing a lot of good looks. Any time the Pacers attacked with ball movement, they were able to exploit holes to generate easy takes inside or open shots outside. Tonight the defense was more “bend but don’t break” as a whole, but that won’t last as teams learn to anticipate the zone and attack it.
On the offensive end, the Knicks backcourt rotation has got to be more efficient if they expect to win games. Mudiay was the lone bright spot, shooting 5/11 from the field and reaching the free throw line 10 times with 7 makes on his way to 18 points. The rest of the Knicks failed to convert even their open looks. Tim Hardaway Jr needed 18 attempts to reach 19 points; Trey Burke shot just 1/7 for 3 points in his 13-minute return; and Frank Ntilikina was 1/4 on the night to tally his own 3 point contribution. The Pacers forced the Knicks to take some tough shots in the half court but Knick guards missed jumpers even when they had space.
On the other hand, the Knicks’ ball movement has been improving lately and tonight continued that trend. The Knick point guards all notched multiple assists; Mudiay with 6, Ntilikina with 4, and Burke notching 3. The team had 21 assists total and should have had more if not for three-point shooting woes. New York made only 10 of 32 attempts from distance and that’s not due to them forcing the issue.
Speaking of three-point shooting; the only Knick to make more than 1 three-point field goal was Kevin Knox who went 3/9. The young rookie continues to be the brightest spot on the Knicks as he flashes scoring ability all over the floor. The highlight of the night for Knox was a baseline drive past his defender for a dunk; but the 19 year-old showed promise all night. It wasn’t a spotless performance though. Knox is still struggling to find efficiency, going 6/15 from the field. The rookie also picked up a couple of traveling calls in route to 3 turnovers. That said, the growing pains are easy to look past when he flashes ability to drag defenders out to the three-point line and attack off the dribble once they chase him out there.
While the backcourt struggled and Knox shined; the Knick bigs lost a competitive battle against the talented Indiana front court. Enes Kanter led the way with 20 points and 15 rebounds but struggled late: turning the ball over, missing shots and getting beat on the glass in the fourth quarter. Noah Vonleh was good on defense, and the glass, but had struggles offensively with 7 points and 12 rebounds on 3/10 shooting. Luke Kornet and Mario Hezonja both gave respectable effort off the bench in spot minutes. In spite of that effort, the Pacer bigs had the edge behind quality play from Turner, Sabonis and Young.
The injury bug has David Fizdale trying to integrate players and change rotations on the fly nightly. Courtney Lee looks like he’s shaking some of his rust off with a 3/6 effort that included some of his patented pull-up jumpers from midrange. Trey Burke’s first game back was shaky but he found his space on the floor to get off looks, he just failed to make his shots. Lance Thomas was also available for the first time since November 5th, but was a coach’s decision DNP. There may be room for Lance to carve out some minutes as the Knicks try to develop a defensive identity.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a Knicks game if we weren’t making a big deal out of everything Frank Ntilikina does. Ntilikina had a quiet night with 3 points, 4 assists and 2 rebounds over 18 minutes, but he showed some truly promising signs. Frank tallied 4 assists and mixed in a handful of clever passes that led to free throws or scores that didn’t make the stat sheet.
The French Prince was demonstrative after a bad foul call by the refs which is refreshing for the typically meek youth. Frank could certainly have had more aggressive attempts to get into the teeth of the defense. His first possession was a trip through the paint that concluded with an assist to Vonleh, but for the rest of the night he settled on swing passes and jumpers. That said, it’s probably worth noting that Frank hurt his ankle last game and also shifted into a secondary ball handling role for chunks of his time as Trey Burke was back in the mix. Ntilikina’s role has shifted from game to game and in this one from minute to minute; consistency might be easier to come by with a more guaranteed role in the rotation.