The New York Knicks toppled the San Antonio Spurs 130-118 on Sunday night to snap an 18-game home losing streak. In and of itself, that’s a pretty shocking development, but even more so when you consider that the Knicks are in full-on tank mode in the race for the thankfully-not-too-injured Zion Williamson. How hard is New York trying to catastrophe its way to the number one pick in the draft?
Well, for starters, Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox, two of the Knicks’ most hyped youth projects, teamed up to score on their own basket on Sunday:
The Knicks’ young players—and there are many of them—appear to have fully embraced the tank following the shocking trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Mavericks the week before the trade deadline. They’re going out there each game and just seeing what they can do, logical shot selections be damned. That joie de basketball was on display on Sunday, as the kids managed to run the struggling Spurs (who have lost six of their last seven) into the depths of Penn Station.
Dennis Smith Jr., who was considered by some a throw-in to the Porzingis trade and by others a vital piece of the Knicks’ imaginary Kevin Durantian future, has embraced being The Guy after losing that role in Dallas after the arrival of Luka Doncic’s step-backs. In nine games in New York, DSJ is shooting three more times a game than he was as a Maverick, and his usage rate is similarly trending up. We can’t ignore that he’s shooting a horrendous 27.6 percent from deep, but since the Knicks aren’t trying to actually win too many games, why not let him chuck to see what he’s got?
On Sunday, Smith had his most creative game since arriving in New York, finishing with 13 assists to go with 19 points and six assists. He also wound the NBA clock back a week with this All-Star Game-ass backboard alley-oop to Mitchell Robinson, who continues to be the most fun of the Knicks’ baby core:
Robinson was a menace down low against the Spurs, particularly on the defensive end, where he finished with five blocks—he’s already become one of the best pure shot blockers in the league. On the other side, he scooped up six offensive boards (14 total) and put away five of seven shots, including the aforementioned transition slam. While the rest of the Knicks’ youngsters look to have some major weakness in their game, Robinson has been consistently impressive in this, his rookie year. Heading into the break, Robinson was averaging 11.5 points on a ludicrous 72.5 percent shooting (plus 8.5 rebounds and three blocks) over the Knicks’ last six games before the All-Star break, and Sunday was more of the same.
The real star of the San Antonio domination, though, was 2017's 44th overall pick, Damyean Dotson, who scored 27 points on 8-of-13 shooting from behind the arc; he only made one shot from inside the three-point line all game, but that didn’t matter.
Dotson wasn’t a particularly prolific shooter heading into this season, but with the Knicks in tank mode, he’s had more of a green light. He was helped last night by a sluggish defensive effort by the Spurs, which Gregg Popovich crankily complained about post-game, calling his team’s defense “pathetic” and joking (?) about slitting his own throat as penance.
But it increasingly does seem like the Knicks might have a few future pieces for that hypothetical contender of theirs. That doesn’t make a win over a real, live basketball team any less shocking, but it at least helps explain why all the stars aligned to give New York its first win at MSG since December 1, an overtime victory over the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks.
One game won’t make the Porzingis trade sting any less for Knicks fans, and some would have preferred the same performance but with a big L at the end of it. Just ask Spike Lee, who responded with a “We’re trying to tank” when Samuel L. Jackson took a moment away from his Oscar presentation to provide the BlacKkKlansman director with a score update:
Spike’s got the right idea, but for one night, the Garden faithful had more to celebrate than a slight increase in lottery odds.