Knicks Streak Continues Against Pistons
Break up the Knicks.
It figures that over the course of a week that saw them fire (excuse me..."reassign") the man who helped build this roster and then trade away the player who had been the best part of it, the Knicks are now in the midst of their first four-game winning streak since December of 2017.
That team was 16-13 and featured Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr. and the promise that maybe the pieces for a franchise turnaround were already in place.
This...feels a bit different.
Yes, there are some potential building blocks, one of which had a spectacular performance in Detroit (and another of which had maybe his worst game as a pro). But this unit seems far closer to the starting gate than the finish line, with a 17-36 record following a 95-92 win in Detroit.
At the very least, this streak provides hope that even amidst the chaos that has enveloped their season, seeds of culture are starting to sprout green.
As is often the case in the NBA, it starts with defense. The Knicks came into tonight with the fourth lowest defensive rating in the league over their last 10 games, and they held the Pistons to 92 points, the seventh time in their last 11 games they've held an opponent to 100 points or fewer.
A huge part of that, unsurprisingly, was Mitchell Robinson. His lack of shot opportunities over the last several weeks has been the leading story, but he continues to impact the game in other ways. Tonight, those effects were splashier than usual:
In addition to three credited blocks (one seemed to disappear from the box score during the night) and a steal, Mitch had perhaps the biggest play of the game, grabbing an offensive rebound with 22 seconds left and the Knicks clinging to a two-point lead. It led to the Julius Randle bucket that effectively put the game away.
Aside from Robinson, who is very much a pillar of this team's future, the other standout was a player who is perhaps least likely to be a part of this team at all for much longer.
Wayne Ellington, who Marc Berman reported earlier today could be headed for a buyout, had 17 points, including 3-of-7 from downtown. For anyone who thought all he needed this season was consistent minutes to make an impact, tonight was a win for you as much as him.
Other than Robinson and Ellington, no one stood out as a significant positive. Taj Gibson continued his hot streak, getting 11 points on just seven shots, but along with Bobby Portis (11 points, 5-for-10 shooting), failed to provide ample rim protection when Mitch wasn't in the game.
Portis' continued presence as a member of this rotation is the one glaring question mark that comes from tonight. With the trade deadline passed, it would seem that teams around the league have seen more than enough of him to judge whether he can be a value add after a potential buyout.
Frank Ntilikina, meanwhile, was the 11th man off the bench and didn't see the floor in the second half. It was odd, especially since he helped solidify the team's defense when he came in at the end of the first quarter thanks to several teammates being in foul trouble. We must continue to wonder where he fits in New York's long-term plans.
Kevin Knox, New York's 2018 lottery pick, again had an up and down night, but did have a few highlights on the defensive end, starting with a display of some simple fundamentals that have often eluded him...
...and continuing with a louder moment that reminded everyone why he should be playing the four far more often than he is right now:
On the severe downside, RJ Barrett had a night to forget, not only going 1-for-8 but looking generally out of sorts all evening (save for one pinpoint pocket pass to Bobby Portis down low). There's clearly still some rust that needs to be shaken off after his recent absence due to injury.
Overall though, this game and this streak has to feel good for a roster of players that have been through the ringer since training camp. There is (or will be, once the hire of Leon Rose as President of Basketball Operations becomes official) a new head man in charge, and there's no telling what his approach to the continued building of this team will be.
What's more clear is that for the first time all season, almost everyone on the roster can settle in and know that New York will be their home until the summertime. Maybe simply having that level of stability will continue to have positive ramifications, and a cute but currently meaningless winning streak can turn into something more.
A building block for next season, perhaps? The start of a chase for the eighth seed? An argument for Mike Miller to stay on as coach after this year?
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. For right now, a team that has done a whole lot of losing is just happy to be feeling good. And they'll happily take as many wins as possible, any way they come.