Knicks fail to sustain hot start, lose to Jazz

The New York Knicks went hot and cold in Utah, wrapping up their West Coast trip with a disappointing 108-94 loss to the Jazz Tuesday night.

Austin Rivers typified the Knicks’ Jekyll and Hyde performance.

Rivers was on fire in the first half with 25 points on a perfect 10-for-10 shooting. Then he went scoreless in the second half.

The Knicks appeared to be on their way to an encore of their Jazz massacre at The Garden when they erected a 15-point lead in the second quarter. They even held a 13-point lead at the break.

But it went downhill from there.

Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale picked up the slack with Jazz star Donovan Mitchell struggling to shoot.

Mitchell started the game 0-for-10 before finishing with nine points on 3-for-15 shooting.

But the Jazz drew double-digit scoring from five other players led by O’Neale and Conley.

Conley fired 14 of his 19 points in the third quarter, while O’Neale had nine of his 20 in the fourth quarter to seal the Knicks’ fate.

Rivers’ hot hands went cold after being hit with his third foul late in the second quarter. He was never the same again.

“Yeah, I just felt like in that stretch with the way it was going offensively, I thought we would do what we did, but it did cross my mind to leave him out there,” Tom Thibodeau replied when asked if he felt he should’ve gambled with Rivers despite nursing three fouls.

Rivers missed his four shots in the second half and had a mental lapse, fouling Conley late in the third quarter when he thought the Knicks still had a foul to give.

Conley’s two free throws sliced the Knicks’ lead to just a single point heading into the final quarter.

The Jazz took over from there.

A 10-0 start was all they needed to suck the life out of the weary Knicks, who were playing the tail end of a four-game road trip.

The Knicks finished the trip losing three straight after an impressive win against Golden State Warriors. They slid outside the top eight in the East with an 8-11 win-loss record.

Meanwhile, the Jazz have extended their league’s hottest win streak to nine, which started, ironically, after losing to the Knicks in New York in January.

Rudy Gobert was also instrumental in the Jazz victory with a monster performance (18 points, 19 rebounds, and four blocks).

Filipino-American guard Jordan Clarkson continued making an early case for the Sixth Man of the Year with 13 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals off the bench for the Jazz.

RJ Barrett rebounded from his single-digit performance in a loss to Portland with 17 points on 7-11 (3-for-3 from 3) shooting from the field. Julius Randle had a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists), but the rest of the Knicks struggled.

Immanuel Quickley, who sizzled for a career-high 31 points against the Trail Blazers, had his worst shooting night going 1-for-11 for six points.

The Knicks will head home and host the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday and Sunday, respectively.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knickerbocker swagger: Rivers delivers in another Knicks comeback

New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau watched Austin Rivers grew up with the swagger of a Knickerbocker.

It runs in the blood.

Austin’s father and Thibodeau’s good friend, Doc Rivers, played two-plus years in New York.

On Wednesday night, Thibodeau watched the younger Rivers flaunt that swagger in his first game as a Knickerbocker in The Garden.

Rivers delivered dagger after dagger in a scintillating fourth-quarter show. His 14 straight points in the final 4:16 sucked the life out of the Utah Jazz in a 112-100 come-from-behind win.

“I’ll tell you one thing he’s never lacked. He’s never had a lack of confidence,” Thibodeau told reporters, recalling one episode in Boston when he was Doc’s assistant coach.

“When we had all these Hall of Fame guys. I think [Austin] was still in high school. And when he comes up to visit his dad, he wants to play all of them one-on-one. One day, in particular, Kevin Garnett wouldn’t want anyone to score on him. So he’s coming out to practice, and he sees Austin. And Austin wants to play. Austin really believed he could beat him. That’s the mindset that he has. He never lacked the confidence,” Thibodeau continued.

That’s what the Knicks lacked in the past seven years — confidence.

Rivers has injected that to these gritty Knicks that have suddenly become emboldened.

Before the season, Rivers preached that their job is to make New York attractive to stars and make the Knicks great again.

But with the core of last season’s lottery team infused only with a pair of rookies and veteran role players led by Rivers, these Knicks were hardly given a chance.

Rivers talking about playoffs during the media day was as crazy as the idea of him beating Garnett one-on-one.

Then the Knicks routed Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, 130-110.

People dismissed it as an aberration—just a part of the weird day in the NBA where upset became the recurring theme.

And it looked like it was after the 17-point loss to the Toronto Raptors in Rivers’ season debut.

Even after they found themselves at the wrong end of history, Rivers’ confidence remained intact. He went to Instagram to assure the anxious Knicks fans.

Rivers has since walked the talk.

“He understands what it takes to win,” Thibodeau said of Rivers. “He understands the difference between the first three quarters and the fourth quarter and the intensity that’s involved.”

The next three games saw Rivers delivering clutch plays in the fourth quarter. But none were bigger against the Jazz.

With the game tied at 96-all, Rivers scored on a floater and a barrage of three-pointers that could have rocked The Garden if fans were allowed.

“Oh man, I can’t imagine. I can’t wait! They’re gonna be here soon enough. We just keep building and get better for them,” Rivers told Rebecca Haarlow in the postgame interview.

The Knicks (5-3) keep on building and grinding, showing the grit and heart that defines the city of New York.

For the second straight game, they stared at another huge deficit and fought their way back.

The Jazz led by as many as 18 in the opening half before the Knicks cut it down to a dozen halftime deficit.

New York native Donovan Mitchell, French big man Rudy Gobert, and Filipino-American guard Jordan Clarkson each had 10 points in the first half.

After allowing the visitors to shoot a staggering 42.1 percent from three and 53.5 percent overall, the Knicks tightened their defense after the break.

“Everybody is all-in. At halftime, when we were down, everybody just said ‘chip away.’ We have so much spirit. Coach [Thibs] just doesn’t let us quit,” Rivers said.

“EP (Payton) was huge in the second half. Julius (Randle) was huge. RJ (Barrett) stepped up. Reggie (Bullock) hit big shots. Kevin (Knox) played great defense. I can go down the line. Mitch (Robinson) was great. It’s a total team effort,” Rivers added.

The beauty of this Knicks team is the sum of all its parts.

Mitchell Robinson once again anchored the Knicks’ defensive wall in the second half. He continued to hold the fort sans his backup Nerlens Noel (sore knee, ankle sprain).

The youngest starting center in the league held his ground against Gobert stuffing the stats sheet with nine points, 13 rebounds, two assists, three steals, and three blocks.

Gobert, who had 14 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks, was rendered ineffective in the second half scoring only on two field goals.

The Knicks were also able to slow down the usually prolific Mitchell. The Jazz star was a measly 4 for 14 after the break that was emblematic of their offensive woes.

The Knicks’ suffocating defense choked the Jazz to just 24.4 percent from three and 35.4 percent overall in the brutal second half.

After watching rookie Immanuel Quickley close out the game in Atlanta on the bench, Payton got his turn.

The Knicks starting point guard played sharp throughout (22 points, eight assists, +/- 25). Thibodeau stuck to a seven-man rotation to close out the game after Quickley went scoreless in six minutes in the opening half.

Thibodeau referred to Julius Randle as their engine. And he played exactly like that, especially in the third quarter where the forward pumped in 14 points. RJ Barrett and Payton contributed eight apiece during that 15-point turnaround.

Randle bucked his worst first quarter to still finish with All-Star numbers — game-high 30 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists.

Reggie Bullock, who was questionable until the warmup, chipped in 12 points, 10 coming in the second half.

“I’ve been on bad teams before. This is not one. I can promise you that. I don’t know where we’ll end up, we have so much work to do, it’s really early in the year, but I do know the spirit is different,” Rivers told reporters after the game. “The willingness to work and learn is different.”

Rivers’ last sentence encapsulates the swagger of these Knickerbockers.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks net two 2023 2nd rd picks, Ed Davis in Jazz’s salary dump move

New York Knicks, Leon Rose, Ed Davis

For the second time in a row, the New York Knicks and the Utah Jazz have consummated a minor trade that has a profound impact.

This time, the Knicks absorbed Ed Davis’ $5 million expiring salary according to multiple reports, first by The Athletic’s Tony Jones.

The Jazz have attached two 2023 second-round picks for the Knicks’ troubles—that frees up $5 million for Utah to work on re-signing its free agent Jordan Clarkson.

The Knicks still have $35 million left in their cap space, while the Jazz are now $18 million under the luxury tax.

On Wednesday, the Jazz and the Knicks have swapped their picks (the Knicks’ 27th and 38th picks for the Jazz’ 23rd pick).

Later in the draft, the Knicks parlayed the 23rd pick into the 25th (used to draft Immanuel Quickley) and 33rd picks. The Knicks then traded away the 33rd pick to the Los Angeles Clippers and received a 2023 second-round selection via Detroit.

The Knicks now have four 2023 second-round picks, including their own, in what should be a loaded draft with the one-and-done rule expected to be lifted.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Knicks forward Bobby Portis on the Utah Jazz’s radar

New York Knicks, Bobby Portis

New York Knicks sweet-shooting forward Bobby Portis has a better chance of landing in Utah next season than Julius Randle according to Jazz insider Ben Anderson of KSL Sports.

The Knicks fanbase had been rocked by a rumored swap between two CAA clients Randle and Conley last week but it appears the Jazz are more interested in the other Knicks forward.

“I haven’t heard anything like that (Randle-Conley trade rumor) here.  It’s far more likely the Jazz would chase Bobby Portis if he becomes a free agent,” Anderson told Empire Sports Media.

Last summer, the Knicks have outbid the Jazz and several playoff teams for Portis, who was fresh from his most productive season in the NBA back then.  Portis was one of the four big men signed by the Knicks after getting spurned by marquee free agents led by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Portis, who signed a $31-million two-year offer sheet, didn’t pan out in New York with sporadic playing time under two different coaches.  In 66 games this season, Portis averaged 10 points, five rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 21 minutes while shooting 36 percent from deep.

The Jazz have indicated last week that they will be targeting athletic floor-spacers.

“Anybody who could obviously have defensive integrity at their position, can be an active, athletic defender will be someone that would interest to us, especially if they don’t compromise the spacing,” Utah Jazz VP Dennis Lindsey told reporters via Zoom.

And Portis fits the bill.

With a team option of $15.75 million, the Knicks have to decide whether to bring Portis back or waive him.  The new Knicks coaching staff led by Tom Thibodeau and his associate head coach Johnnie Bryant, who came from the Jazz, will have time to evaluate Portis during the team’s three-week mini-camp in their Tarrytown practice facility beginning today.

When asked if the Jazz will be interested in moving Conley’s contract for Randle and Portis, Anderson replied with a resounding no.

If the Knicks decide to waive the 25-year old Portis, the Jazz can use their mid-level exception which is currently pegged to start at $9.7 million but could end up lower due to the revenue loss as a result of the pandemic.  The Jazz also has its bi-annual exception of $3.8 million which again could become lower pending the new salary cap.

The Jazz insider added that “nothing is concrete (with regards to plans of trading Conley) but the Jazz will always listen to offers.”

It is more likely that the Jazz will be looking to run it back with a healthy Bojan Bogdanovic next season and hopes to re-sign unrestricted free agent Jordan Clarkson and fill out their roster using their salary-cap exceptions.

The Jazz have given up two first-round picks along with Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and Grayson Allen for Conley last summer. Unless they can get a first-round pick back and a veteran who can move the needle, Conley will not go anywhere.

New York Knicks: Randle-Conley swap unlikely as Jazz don’t want to compromise spacing

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

It appears the reported interest of the Utah Jazz on New York Knicks‘ forward Julius Randle will remain just a rumor.

Dennis Lindsey, the Utah Jazz VP of Basketball Operations, indirectly shut down the rumor involving Randle. He told reporters on Wednesday that their priority in the offseason is to bring in athletic defenders and floor spacers around their franchise cornerstones Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

“Anybody who could obviously have defensive integrity at their position, can be an active, athletic defender will be someone that would interest to us, especially if they don’t compromise the spacing,” Lindsey told reporters via Zoom.

Earlier this week, a Randle for Mike Conley swap and draft considerations was floated around.

But the profile of the Jazz targets this coming offseason doesn’t fit Randle who became a subject of scrutiny in his first year in New York.

Randle, who signed a three-year deal worth $63 million, regressed this season as his ball-dominant and post-up style of play irked the fanbase and even some of his teammates according to an April report.

His three-point shooting dipped from 34.4% to 27.7% this season although that can also be attributed to his ill-fitted role as a leader in a team that lacked talent and floor spacers. His defensive rating of 111.6, 230th among forwards, isn’t something that can move the needle for the Jazz who went from having the second-best defensive rating in 2018-19 to 13th this season.

In the same interview, Lindsey also indirectly said that they will do everything to keep Mitchell and Gobert in Salt Lake City.

Mitchell, who was also linked to the Knicks because of his New York roots and CAA ties with the new team President Leon Rose, is expected to sign with the Jazz long-term as per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports earlier.

“I’m limited on what I can say in regards to extensions and renegotiations per NBA rules. With that said, we’re extremely pleased at who both of those players are as people,” Lindsey said.

Gobert’s $106-million, four-year contract extension he signed in 2016 is set to expire after next season while Mitchell is eligible to get a $170-million max contract extension over five years.

“It’s really, really hard to get core franchise-level talent in any market, big or small, but it’s exponentially hard to get that level of talent that has a high level of character and competitiveness. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re working to add players of Rudy and Donovan’s physical talent and competitive makeup and so by definition, we’re going to want to keep those types of players moving forward,” Lindsey added.


Quin Snyder excited for Johnnie Bryant’s impact in New York Knicks

Johnnie Bryant, New York Knicks

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder raved about his assistant Johnnie Bryant ahead of his move to the New York Knicks.

News broke out last Tuesday that Bryant, 35, has agreed to a deal to become Tom Thibodeau’s associate head coach.

Snider said the whole Jazz organization is excited for Bryant.

“I’m happy for Johnnie and his family. It’s an opportunity that he’s earned and deserved. We’re really excited for him,” Snyder said. “He’s been someone who’s been with me since I got to Utah.”

Bryant has worked his way up to become one of the brightest young coaches in the game.

Tactically, he’s learned [a lot] in the game and on the bench. He’s great on the court with players and you see him develop guys. It’s something we take pride in with our program. Johnnie’s been a big part of that,” Snyder added.

Bryant, who played at the University of Utah, has built his resume around his solid player development acumen.  Prior to joining the Jazz in 2012, Bryant was running his own training gym (Bryant Sports Academy). Former Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin was so impressed with the work he’s done with Ronnie Price and Paul Millsap and his son Tyrell Corbin that he invited him to join his staff.

Two years later, Snider replaced Corbin.

Bryant continued his work under Snider, helping Gordon Hayward become an All-Star.  After Hayward left for Boston, he took then-rookie, Donovan Mitchell, under his wing, and the results bolstered his credentials even further.

His close relationship with Mitchell fueled speculations that the Connecticut native could soon find his way home.

Jazz radio announcer David Locke said that Bryant will be a big loss for the organization.  But more than that, his move will make the Jazz fan base uncomfortable because of his close relationship with their team’s rising star.

“It’s gonna be scary. Donovan and Johnnie are guys.  That’s the relationship there,” Locked told KUTV’s Dave Fox.
Mitchell is expected to sign a lucrative contract extension with the Jazz this offseason.  But even if he doesn’t, he will still become a restricted free agent in 2021 where the Jazz can match any offer from other teams.  Unless Mitchell forces his way out, there’s not a chance the Knicks can get him in the next three to four years.

More than the lure of Mitchell, Bryant’s hiring will greatly impact the player development of the Knicks’ young core, especially RJ Barrett.