Photo Credit: Julie Jacobson, AP
Knicks pull off an impressive win over the Bucks
With young teams, there is always a win that the coaching staff can point to which shows the culmination of the hard work put in by their players. Last night, against the Milwaukee Bucks, was that moment for David Fizdale and his staff. Throughout the game, there were so many moments which showed the hard work Fizdale put into coaching up his young Knicks players.
So many players stepped to the forefront to lead the New York Knicks to a huge 136-134 win over the Bucks. Early in games, players have to set the tone of the game to let the other team know that it’s not going to be a walk in the park. For the Knicks, Noah Vonleh and Mario Hezonja sent strong messages in the opening quarter.
Noah Vonleh and Mario Hezonja sent an early message to the Bucks
To start the game, the Knicks came on the court with a renewed energy. After suffering two straight losses on the road, to the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia Sixers, the Knicks fed off the Madison Square Garden crowd who came ready to cheer their home squad. Vonleh opened the scoring with a huge one-handed slam after driving right past his man, and later, Hezonja had one of the plays of the game.
Eric Bledsoe drove to the basket and jumped in the air to deliver a pass, which is one of the cardinal sins in the NBA. Hezonja made Bledsoe pay for his transgressions by blocking the passing lane and intercepting his pass. After the steal, Hezonja quickly broke to the basket, and he could feel Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s long strides behind him.
Once he got to the basket, Hezonja quickly rose for the two-handed slam as Antetokounmpo made a belated block attempt. Afterward, Antetokounmpo fell to the ground. Then Hezonja stepped over him as Allen Iverson did to Tyronn Lue in the 2001 NBA Finals. That slam had the Garden crowd jumping like they were at a party and the DJ was playing Kris Kross “Jump.”
Hezonja hasn’t done much to endear himself to Knicks fans since joining, but that one “disrespectful” moment could propel him to cult hero status. Especially since many Knicks fans believe Antetokounmpo was partially responsible for tearing Kristaps Porzingis‘ ACL last season. After Hezonja’s only basket of the game, the Knicks led 14-10. What transpired afterward was the awakening of Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.
Bucks take advantage after Hezonja’s statement slam
Later, the Bucks tied the game at 17 and eventually took control of the first half. Repeatedly, the Knicks battled to keep the game close. At halftime, the Bucks led 66-61. Early in the third quarter, the Bucks weren’t able to build on their lead. The Knicks quickly jumped ahead after Kanter’s basket gave the Knicks a 71-70 lead with 8:48 remaining.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer didn’t like the energy his team was playing with and called timeout after the Knicks retook the lead. Whatever Budenholzer said to his team worked because the Bucks went on a 17-0 run to build a 16-point advantage. Most struggling teams would have thrown in the towel at that moment, but not the young Knicks. Led by the young trio of Damyean Dotson, Kevin Knox, and Allonzo Trier, the Knicks cut into the Bucks lead.
Damyean Dotson, Kevin Knox, and Allonzo Trier lead Knicks back into the game
Knox nailed a couple of threes, Dotson added a three on his own, and Trier ran the point to perfection to end the third quarter. Going into the fourth, the Knicks only trailed by four, 97-93. Throughout the season, the Knicks Achilles heel has been the fourth quarter. At the midpoint, it seemed like the Knicks would fade away once again.
Following a 9-0 run, the Bucks pushed their lead to fourteen, 113-99, with 6:54 remaining. From that point on it was the Knox and Emmanuel Mudiay show. Following Sterling Brown‘s bucket which gave the Bucks a 14-point cushion, Knox nailed consecutive threes and went on a solo 9-2 run. Knox’s offensive explosion helped the Knicks cut the Bucks lead to seven, 115-108.
Emmanuel Mudiay forces the game into overtime
Afterward, both teams exchanged baskets, and with 3:23 remaining, Malcolm Brogdon‘s layup gave the Bucks a 9-point lead. Even at this point, the Knicks could have collapsed, but Mudiay ensured that wouldn’t be the case. Mudiay responded to Brogdon’s layup with two consecutive baskets to cut the lead to five, and with the game on the line, he used Vonleh’s screen to get open and nail the game-tying three with 24.5 seconds left. Antetokounmpo had a chance to win the game for the Bucks, but Dotson’s superb defense forced him to take a tough shot.
Mudiay continues to make an impact in overtime
In overtime, Mudiay continued to show out. He nailed consecutive threes to give the Knicks a 130-127 lead with 2:53 remaining. Every basket the Knicks made, Bledsoe and Antetokounmpo responded with baskets of their own. Bledsoe nailed a three to tie the game at 130 following Mudiay’s early offensive exploits. Then Antetokounmpo followed with a couple of free throws. Tim Hardaway Jr. tied the game at 132 after knocking down a midrange jumper, but Antetokounmpo restored the Bucks 2-point margin with a basket of his own.
Dotson wins the game for the Knicks
On the next couple of possessions, Mudiay committed an offensive foul and Bledsoe missed a three to put the game away. Dotson grabbed the rebound off Bledsoe’s miss, then Fizdale called timeout. The following play to win the game for the Knicks was a work of art. Mudiay had the ball at the wing while being guarded by Antetokounmpo. Dotson faked like he was setting a screen on Antetokoumpo then quickly faded out to the three-point line losing his man. Mudiay fed him the rock, and Dotson rose up and knocked down the three which pushed the Knicks to victory.
Fizdale has his fingerprints all over the Knicks youth
Many young players on the Knicks roster have made strides under the tutelage of Fizdale. Mudiay, who led the Knicks with 28 points, looks like a completely different player compared to last season. Now, Mudiay is showing the potential NBA scouts thought he had when the Denver Nuggets drafted him seventh overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. Knox, who had a career-high 26 points, played the best game of his young NBA career.
Lately, Knox has been under some scrutiny after the New York Post published an article where Atlantic Division scouts criticized his, and Frank Ntilikina‘s, game. Most rookies may have been affected by the criticism, but not Knox. He rose to the occasion and showed the league his complete offensive arsenal. Dotson, who scored 21 points off the bench, has improved his game immensely. Vonleh has shown he can add value to any NBA roster. He finished the game with 15 points.
Also, Trier continues to impress in his role as the sixth man, and Mitchell Robinson continues to make strides on defense. After Dotson made the game-winning three, Robinson made two huge stops on defense. The first stop was on Antetokounmpo, and the second stop was on Bledsoe when he blocked his layup attempt. Last, but not least, Hardaway Jr. has been one of the most impressive players under Fizdale.
In the past, if Hardaway Jr. wasn’t scoring the ball, he was useless. Now, Hardaway Jr. is dishing out assists and crashing the boards if necessary. Against the Bucks, Hardaway Jr. wasn’t efficient scoring the rock. He only had 21 points on 8-of-22 shooting, but he provided 8 assists to help his team win. The only young player who has yet to have a statement game is Ntilikina.
Frank Ntilikina has to show improvement soon
The young French guard/wing has struggled to find his form on offense this season. As a result, Fizdale decided not to play him last night. More than likely, Fizdale is trying to send a message to Ntilikina to step his game up. It’ll be interesting to see how Ntilikina responds once he’s called into the game again.
Overall, the Knicks have shown promise since Fizdale took over the head coaching job. Hopefully, the Knicks will be able to ride the momentum of this huge win to play well in their upcoming games.