Knicks Snap Three-Game Skid, Thrash Cavs
If there was ever a team to break a losing streak against... well, normally one might say "It's the Knicks." In the case of Monday evening, for a Knicks team trying to break its own losing streak, it was the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Knicks, losers of three straight games, went on an unusual road trip on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to Cleveland, rather than their standard Madison Square Garden matinee. The Cavs, meanwhile, were trying to snap their own four-game skid.
A futile tug of war defined the first half, with neither team really showing the desire to take control of a very winnable game. The Cavs entered the half up 50-49, but could (read: should) have been down 49-48 if an offensive basket interference had been called in the final few minutes.
In the second half, however, the Knicks finally realized that this was their game to win. A 46.7% (7-15) 3-point shooting number from Cleveland in the first half fell off a cliff to 22.2% (4-18) in the second half, as the Knicks tightened their defense to levels that honestly don't show up even for bursts most nights.
Perhaps most noticeably vicious on defense in the second half was Frank Ntilikina, who took it upon himself to personally end Collin Sexton's hot streak. Sexton had averaged 21.5 points per game in his last 19 games, including a nuclear 51.6% from deep in his previous six contests. On Monday? Sexton still scored 17, but on 6-20 shooting (1-4 from three).
The box score numbers didn't jump off the page for Ntilikina -- six points and three assists on 2-5 shooting -- but, as usual, his impact on the game was apparent just from watching.
Sans RJ Barrett for a little while longer still, the young core did manage to find some more ways to shine through. Mitchell Robinson struggled to get any offense going but secured four blocks and a steal, and Damyean Dotson had one of his best efforts of the season, scoring 12 points on 5-7 shooting.
What's most impressive, however, is the variety of ways that Dotson is getting his points these days. When he first entered the league, Dot's signatures were 3-pointers and mid-range jumpers. On Monday, Dotson was pulling out strong dribble crossovers and showing a first step that wasn't something he had a couple years ago.
Elsewhere, the starting lineup (much-maligned by Knicks fans on Twitter as being entirely too old for a team focused on rebuilding) came through in the second half as well, after a relatively lackluster first half.
Marcus Morris scored 19 points on an efficient 8-16 shooting from the floor to tie for the team lead in points, but the air was probably sucked out of more than a few Knicks fans' living rooms (and maybe the offices of Scott Perry and Steve Mills) when Morris had a scary spill after a 3-pointer and looked like he could have had a serious ankle injury.
The foul was ruled a Flagrant 1 after review, and Morris actually stayed in to shoot his free throws. But a few possessions later he subbed out and returned to the locker room for examination, which was the true nervous moment. He wound up coming back and putting in a few more minutes down the stretch though, and apparently his ankle was fine.
Still, though, it might be prudent for the Knicks to put their most valuable trade piece on ice until the Feb. 6 trade deadline -- that is, unless the team is actually dead-set on not trading Morris, as some reports have indicated.
Elsewhere, Julius Randle tied Morris' team lead with 19 points, struggling a bit with shot selection but converting some of his standard bully plays that he's been known to have this season.
Elfrid Payton struggled in the first half with just two points and four assists, but ultimately ended up with nine points and eight assists after a great second half. Most importantly, his defensive intensity was at its best in the back half of the game, which is often the differentiator of a good game versus a bad game for Payton.
All in all, the second half that the Knicks put forth in the second half Monday was about the best that the Knicks have looked this season. The win also brought Mike Miller's Knicks to 8-14 -- add those two numbers up, and you might realize that that means Miller secured twice as many wins as Fizdale in his first 22 games at the helm.
In an alternate universe, 16 wins at this point would have the Knicks just two games in the win column out of the 8-seed in the East. As it stands, the Knicks are seven games out of the playoff picture and fast approaching a crucial trade deadline. The next two weeks are going to be interesting, to say the least.