Anti-climactic ending in Atlantic: Knicks’ comeback falls short in Nets’ nest

New York Knicks, Immanuel Quickley

It was an enthralling match with the trappings of a high-stakes playoff game where the stranglehold of a basketball city so desperate to get back to NBA relevance hung in the balance.

It was the old power New York Knicks against the new order Brooklyn Nets in Atlantic Avenue.

In the end, a controversial call failed to give it a fitting finish as the Nets escaped with a 117-112 win on Monday night.

Perhaps this would be the start of a heated rivalry between the two resurgent New York teams.

Kyrie Irving saved the Nets from a complete meltdown with a swipe to Julius Randle’s three-point attempt to send the game into overtime. Randle went down with the ball and dribbled that earned him a traveling call.

It was an anti-climatic finish to a riveting game that had its ebb and flow.

The Nets came into the game the heavy favorites even without arguably their best player, Kevin Durant. They still had two of the best guards in the league in Irving and James Harden.

The Knicks tried to counter the Nets’ firepower by inserting the streak shooting rookie Immanuel Quickley into the starting lineup. For a while, it worked as the Knicks, behind Reggie Bullock’s red-hot shooting, led by seven early on, 18-11.

But it was just a matter of time before the Nets’ overwhelming talent took over the game. They extended a five-point lead to 17, 49-32, on a back-breaking 14-2 run at the onset of the second quarter. The Knicks’ second-unit offense suffered without Quickley. Frank Ntilikina continued to struggle, coming up empty in five attempts.

Brooklyn was led by as many as 18 and appeared cruising to an easy win, an encore of its 116-109 win at The Garden on the day the Nets completed the blockbuster Harden trade.

Harden had his first taste of the New York rivalry and quickly stamped his signature. He finished with his 10th triple-double (21 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 assists) of the season and became the first Nets player to register a triple-double with at least 15 points, 15 rebounds, and 15 assists.

“The New York fans, especially the Knicks fans, you can hear them. I don’t know how many fans we have in the building in total, but you heard a lot of Knicks fans. We understand the tradition, but I’m just happy to be part of the rivalry,” Harden said.

He would hear more of them once the arenas would welcome back fans at full capacity. But despite having only 1,600 people allowed for the game, the Knicks fans led by celebrity Spike Lee engulfed the Barclays Center, especially during the fourth quarter.

But they were silent for much part of the game when the Nets’ offense was humming.

Irving, who Blake Griffin described in his pre-game interview as a “creative scorer,” scored in a variety of ways — pull-up jumper, crossover, and stepback jumper, nasty drives, three-pointers with hand on his face.

The Knicks tried but could not contain Irving, the New Jersey native and a self-confessed Nets fan growing up. He led the Nets with 34 points on efficient 13-of-18 shooting.

The Knicks, though, did not back down from the challenge. They showed plenty of fight, and their grittiness enabled them to storm back from an 18-point third-quarter deficit and came within a three-point basket from forcing overtime.

Quickley, the rookie sensation out of Kentucky, did not disappoint in his first NBA career start. He had 21 points but fell silent in the fourth quarter.

It didn’t matter as Randle found his rhythm late, pouring in 12 points in the Knicks’ late fightback. He was furious after the traveling call and had to be restrained by his teammates, the Knicks coaching staff, and even William Wesley, the team’s executive vice president.

Randle tried to match Irving and Harden’s star power during crunch time, but his effort went down the drain with that call. Randle collected 33 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and three steals.

Barrett ended up with 23 points, six rebounds, and four assists after a rough start to the game. Bullock and Alec Burks had 19 and 12, respectively, combining for seven of the Knicks’ 15 triples.

After surviving the Knicks’ blistering start, the Nets’ supercharged offense overwhelmed the Knicks’ defense. Brooklyn shot 70 percent in the first quarter to take a 35-30 lead after being down by seven. The Nets ended up with 58 percent, still far from Tom Thibodeau’s liking.

If the Nets were silky-smooth on offense, the Knicks lived to fight with their grittiness that earned them 27 trips at the line. They hit 24 free throws that helped them hang with the Nets.

Their defense was air-tight in the closing moments, forcing two jump balls in the final 10.8 seconds of the game.

All the Knicks wanted was a shot at winning the game. They had their chances but couldn’t capitalize. And in the end, the breaks of the game didn’t go Manhattan’s way.

On the flip side, for all the talks that the Nets are just all offense, they leaned on defense to pull out this win. Irving, despite the controversial call, took care of business and made a game-winning defensive stop.

Crew chief Scott Foster explained after the game that it was the correct call.

“The defender (Irving) was deemed to touch the ball but not cause it to be dislodged or loose. Upon that, when the player (Randle) alights, he cannot purposely drop the ball or dribble the ball or be first to touch after he dropped the ball,” Foster said.

The Brooklyn franchise collected stars to establish a new order and try to end a New York tradition.

But not so fast.

The Knicks won’t give up their grip on the city without a fight. Monday night’s game was a testament.

The close call was the Nets’ 100th win over the Knicks, who hold a slim one-win edge in their all-time head-to-head matchups. The Nets could tie it with a regular season-sweep on April 5.

Brooklyn has a firm grip of the second spot in the East with a 27-13 record, half a game behind Philadelphia, after extending their winning streak to five.

The Knicks slipped to 20-2, still good for seventh place in the East.

A Knicks-Nets playoff matchup should be a perfect treat for New York fans.

But for that to happen, the Knicks should continue to defy the odds.

They will try to close out the tough four-game road trip to start the second half with a victory in Philadephia against the Sixers, the current best team in the East.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

2 underrated Knicks who are making a significant impact

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

The New York Knicks are coming off an impressive win over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday evening just ahead of the All-Star break. The Knicks will have a week to rest up and heal their bodies before facing off against a strong Milwaukee Bucks squad. The team is one game over .500, climbing back from being down five games at one point, showing resiliency and compounding growth.

However, every player has played an integral part in their recent success, and there are two specific pieces that have made an impact in their own way.

Two New York Knicks who are being undervalued with latest success:

1.) Nerlens Noel

With Starting center Mitchell Robinson missing several weeks with a fractured hand, reserve option Nerlens Noel has risen to the occasion. At 26 years old, Noel has been a menace on the boards, averaging 2.1 offensive rebounds and 6.1 total rebounds, the highest since his 2015 season. He’s averaging the most blocks in his entire career at 2.0 per game, scoring 4.9 points over 22.2 minutes.

In the win over Detroit, he logged 12 points, 11 rebounds, four steals, and two blocks. He’s been absolutely phenomenal on defense, helping New York dominate the boards and offer secondary opportunities to their shooters.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau prefers defensive-minded players, and Noel has provided that spark and then some. He has supplemented the loss of Robinson extremely well, and I would be surprised if he didn’t earn more minutes even after the youngster returns.

2.) Alec Burks

One of the more underrated players for the Knicks has been Alec Burks, who always seems to rise to the occasion when a three-pointer is needed in the fourth quarter. Several days ago, Burks scored 19 points in the fourth quarter to help the Knicks to a victory, showing off his ability to get hot from the field. While he remains a reserve option, he has solid court vision and seems comfortable with the ball in his hands. He’s averaging 11.1 points over 24.7 minutes this year while also helping with 2.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds.

Burks seems to be a fantastic rotational piece that can provide offensive prowess when called upon. With the Knicks playing aggressive defense, it is always good to have a shooter who can score points quickly and give some of the starters a rest. At 29 years old, he’s a valuable veteran that adds to the team.

Royal Beating: Knicks pounce on Kings, move up to 5th spot

new york knicks, immanuel quickley, obi toppin

Derrick Rose bloomed again as a starter. Immanuel Quickley regained his swagger. Alec Burks was a killer in the fourth quarter.

The backcourt trio took turns in presiding over the New York Knicks‘ royal beating of the Sacramento Kings, 140-121, on Thursday night in front of a limited but loud and animated home crowd.

The 2,000 fans who showed up had so much fun as the Knicks threw a party that rocked The Garden.

They serenaded Julius Randle and Quickley with M-V-P chants and went nuts when Frank Ntilikina, who hadn’t played since Dec. 29 last year, was finally unleashed from the doghouse.

Ntilikina was solid off the bench, collecting seven points, two assists, and three steals, and was tied for the second-highest net rating among the Knicks with +17.

But it was Rose who opened up the party with fireworks.

Rose replaced Elfrid Payton, who was out with a hamstring injury, in the starting lineup and instantly boosted the league’s worst offense. The former MVP hit his first seven shots en route to his most impressive outing — 18 points and six assists — since the trade.

With Rose’s promotion, Quickley was handed down the keys to the second unit offense, and the rookie guard snapped out of his slump.

After a dreadful three-game stretch where he shot 3-for-22 overall, Quickley scored 18 points in just 10 minutes in the opening half as the Knicks opened up a 77-62 lead.

The Kings, however, refused to hand the win on a silver platter and came within seven in the fourth quarter. That’s when Burks caught fire as the veteran guard scored 19 of his 24 points.

Burks and Quickley combined for 49 points off the bench, outscoring the entire Kings’ second unit, who put up 33.

Six players scored in double figures for the Knicks, led by Quickley’s 25 points.

“That’s the great part about this team,” Quickley said. “Whoever’s night it is, we roll with them. We had a lot of fun and enjoyed each other’s success. That’s what makes this journey so special. This team is so special.”

On nights like this, they indeed look special on the court.

Quickley had his third 25-point game on just 10 shots. It was his fourth game with at least 25 points leading all rookies. He went perfect from the line (12-12) and added three assists and two steals.

Randle, the newly-minted NBA All-Star, took the backseat but still came away with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists. He shot 50 percent from the field.

The Knicks, who entered the game averaging a league-worst 103.6 points, already had 101 against the league’s worst defense by the end of the third quarter. They dropped their highest scoring total in almost two years on season-highs 58.6 percent shooting and 19-of-36 three-pointers.

“Offensively, when we share the ball and make the right plays, I’m very confident in our shooting ability,” Tom Thibodeau said.

De’Aaron Fox led the Kings, who slumped to their ninth straight loss, with 29 points and 11 assists.

The Knicks moved up to the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference, tied with the Toronto Raptors with a 16-17 record. They have another chance to reach .500 when they take on the Indiana Pacers on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. at The Garden.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Elfrid Payton sparks Knicks’ shock upset of Bucks

New York Knicks, Elfrid Payton

A late Christmas present from Santa Claus to New York Knicks fans came with a big help from The Elf.

Elfrid Payton silenced his critics on Sunday night as he wrapped the Knicks’ first win of the season — a 130-110 demolition of the Eastern Conference favorite Milwaukee Bucks — with a strong bounce-back performance.

Point taken

After the Knicks’ fans clamored for his benching following a scoreless outing against the Philadelphia 76ers, Payton responded with his best game as a Knick. The much-maligned point guard scored a season-high 27 points on 12-of-16 shooting, including a perfect 3-for-3 trip from downtown. He laced it up with three rebounds and seven assists.

The Knicks have missed out or deliberately shunned the Chris Pauls, Fred Van Vleets, and Russell Westbrooks, depending on which version of reports you would like to believe. But on Sunday night, the Knicks collectively showed their immense potential under new head coach Tom Thibodeau if they have a lead guard producing All-Star numbers.

With Payton directing the offense like an All-Star, the Knicks were sharp Sunday night, hitting 46 out of 85 field goals (54.1%) on 27 assists.

“We shared the ball. The ball was moving. The guys were getting rhythm shots, and I think that’s why we made a good bit of them tonight,” Payton said postgame.

Extra shooting

Several Knicks players were on rhythm in this game.

Julius Randle tied Payton’s output with his own 29-point effort that came with 14 rebounds and seven assists. Alec Burks continued his solid play off the bench with 18 points, including four triples and five assists.

RJ Barrett also bounced back from a sub-par game against Philadelphia with 17 points, eight boards, and four assists. Even Frank Ntilikina came out smoking in the garbage time, hitting all four three-point attempts and finished with 12 points.

The Knicks connected on 16-of-27 from downtown for a whopping 59.3 percent.

The extra shooting session led by Payton following their blowout loss to the Sixers last night definitely helped.

Knicks’ defensive wall

The Knicks’ defense was as sharp as their offense. Despite Giannis Antetokoumpo getting away with 27 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists, the Knicks closed out on their shooters. They limited the usually sharp Bucks to a measly 7-for-38 (18.4%) three-point shooting.

Only Antetokounmpo and ex-Knick Bobby Portis shot over 50 percent from the field for the Bucks.

Portis came off the bench to score 17 points, while Khris Middleton added 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting performance. The Bucks’ new addition Jrue Holiday was a disappointment with just eight points on 4-of-10 field goals.

What’s next?

The Knicks will embark on a four-game road trip beginning at Cleveland on Tuesday.

Dennis Smith Jr. joined the injury list with a quad injury. Rookies Immanuel Quickley (hip pointer) and Obi Toppin (calf strain) missed their second consecutive game. Meanwhile, Austin Rivers (pulled groin), who has yet to see action this season, has been cleared to take contact in practice, Thibodeau revealed in his postgame interview.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

The New York Knicks’ point guard plan is falling apart at the seams

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

The New York Knicks are just two games into the regular season, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear, the point guard position remains a major weakness in the starting five. Heading into the season, the Knicks had Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and Immanuel Quickley as potential point guards. Quickley already has a hip pointer injury and will be out for the next few days, but he has been the brightest spot at the position since the pre-season began.

Ultimately, this issue persists after years of inadequacy at point guard. The Knicks re-signed Payton to a one-year, $5 million deal this offseason, and he had arguably his worst game in quite some time against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday evening. Over 18 minutes, Payton was 0-for-6 and 0-for-3 from beyond the arc, scoring zero points and had one assist. In fact, his embarrassing play didn’t even lead to more minutes for Ntilikina, but rather Smith, who is a disaster as well.

At some point, head coach Tom Thibodeau must play Frank, considering he’s barely reached the floor the past two games. He played in just two minutes against the 76ers, missing just one shot before being taken off. Thibodeau is still feverishly trying to work his way through the players on the roster and evaluate what he has, which isn’t much, obviously. Once Quickley returns, I expect him to be the immediate starter over Payton, who simply looks lost out there in Thibodeau’s scheme.

“In term of the point guards, the main responsibility is to keep us organized, run the team, play great defense, share the ball,’’ Thibodeau said. “As a team, we struggled. We got to do better.’’

The New York Knicks aren’t playing their own well adequately:

Playing great defense is something the Knicks haven’t done either, allowing over 120 points against the Indiana Pacers in the opener and 109 points in the home opener against Philadelphia. Thibodeau harped on being an aggressive team and overwhelming players with their defense, and that simply hasn’t been a reality.

“It shows we have a lot of work to do,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’re still evaluating what fits best and gives us our best chance. The shooting piece is important. We have to continue to work on it. The 3 is a big part of our league. It’s an area we’ll work on.’’

One of the primary issues is that the Knicks don’t have any pure shooters. Quickley might actually be their best shooter, and he was drafted just a few weeks ago. Most of their talent relies on getting into the paint and driving to the basket, which is an essential part of the game, but one that doesn’t match up well with the modern style of the NBA. Nonetheless, it is a long season, and the Knicks have ways to go, but the early signs of return do not seem promising.

The Knicks’ oldest player has been a pleasant surprise

New York Knicks, Alec Burks

The New York Knicks started off their 2021 season allowing 121 points, a defensive performance that head coach Tom Thibodeau was not happy about. He’s trying to develop a defensive mentality that displays aggression and grit throughout the course of a game. With all of the youth on their squad, being defensively stout shouldn’t be a problem, with plenty of energy on the floor.

However, it is a long season, and we should see the Knicks progress throughout the course of the year. There were a few impressive performances in the loss to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday evening, and the hope is that the entire team plays more cohesive against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

After playing just 12 minutes, rookie guard Immanuel Quickley is expected to miss at least one week with a hip pointer. That could call into action veteran Alec Burks more frequently, he started his career with New York in style. He came off the bench and dropped 22 points, shooting 50% (6-of-12) from the floor with three assists. He turned the ball over only once in 32 minutes.

Thibodeau has already committed to Burkes as a potential backup point guard if Quickley isn’t able to return in the next few days.

“It’s a possibility,’’ Thibodeau said. “I like the scoring punch he gives us off the bench. He’s sort of great to have because of the versatility. The ability to be a secondary ball-handler, at times playing the point. Scoring the ball, guarding down a position. He’s got a lot of toughness to him. He’ll have significant role, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench.’’

As a veteran, Berks offers plenty of diversity and adaptation to multiple positions. He wasn’t the highest wing on the Knicks’ wish list this off-season, but settling for him will end up being a beneficial signing. Of course, it will take some time for him to get in chemistry with the younger players and new faces on the roster, as the Knicks are undoubtedly a work in progress.

“I’m trying to get more chemistry,’’ Burks said. “We don’t have so much practice time. I’m trying to learn everybody, and that was the main thing I was happy about it. Learning everybody’s tendencies and where they like to be on the court.’’

I expect Thibodeau to lean on the veteran wing as the Knicks continue to develop guys like Obi Toppin and Quickley. However, once the Kentucky product returns to action, expect him to take over the starting point guard position. Burks can be a great supplement and teacher/mentor for Quickley.

Knicks add more shooting, sign Alec Burks to 1-yr deal

The New York Knicks continue to operate with the future in mind.

As the rest of the league gave out massive contracts to role players, the Knicks opted to dole out a one-year, 6 million deal to veteran guard Alec Burks according to multiple reports.

Burks will be reunited with Knicks assistant coach Johnnie Bryant and assistant general manager Walter Perrin, who selected him as the 12th overall pick back in 2011 with the Utah Jazz.

Burks worked closely with Bryant, who came aboard in his sophomore season as a player development coach under then Jazz coach Ty Corbin.

He played with the Jazz until 2018 and has bounced to four different teams since then.

Burks will bring in veteran leadership and much-needed shooting to the Knicks, his sixth team.

Burks split his time with the Golden State Warriors and the Philadelphia 76ers last season. He hit a solid 42 percent of his threes in 18 games with the 76ers while he had a 38-percent three-point clip with the Warriors.

The Knicks now have 12 players under contract and still have over $30 million in cap space.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo