Did Frank Ntilikina play good defense despite James Harden’s 61 points?

James Harden scored 61 points to tie Kobe Bryant’s visitor scoring record at Madison Square Garden in the Rockets win over the Knicks on Wednesday night.

But if you look at how the Knicks defended him throughout the game, there were surprisingly some bright spots from Frank Ntilikina and the team defense behind him. Harden shot only 1-6 with Frank as the primary defender, while committing 4 turnovers, per Second Spectrum tracking data. He shot 17-38 on the night, overall.

It’s hard to know, for sure, what the Knicks strategy was in trying to defend Harden, but it appeared in watching the film as if Ntilikina was trying to force Harden to the left side of the court, relying on help from a swiping wing defender and an interior man cheating off the worst three-point shooter on the floor at the time.

The Knicks started Noah Vonleh at center in place of Enes Kanter. They inserted Lance Thomas into the lineup at power forward to defend P.J. Tucker. The game plan appeared to be to use Vonleh (and later Mitchell Robinson) to cheat off the Rockets’ big man to trap Harden when he crossed half-court. They then tried to rotate behind the help, to moderate success.

Despite the Knicks’ best efforts, Harden went to the line 25 times and was just too much for the young defense (let’s face it, ANY defense) to contain.

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