Photo Credit: Andy Marlin / USA TODAY Sports
The New York Knicks have been stumbling lately
‘Tis the season to be jolly! The New York Knicks were hoping to spread some Christmas cheer to the Garden faithful with a win against the Milwaukee Bucks. Unfortunately, Giannis Antetokounmpo and his fifty pounds of added muscle strong-armed the Knicks at the world’s most famous arena.
Before the Christmas showdown, the Knicks have been reeling as of late. With the loss to the Bucks, the Knicks have now lost ten of the last eleven games. Also, the Knicks are currently in prime position to land a top-three pick in next year’s NBA Draft. For the players, the constant losing may be a difficult pill to swallow, but for the fans, the constant losing may be a blessing in disguise.
The holiday season hasn’t been very kind to the Knicks. Since the loss to the Washington Wizards on December 3rd, Santa has placed the Knicks on the naughty list due to the players’ inability to close out games. Again, against the Bucks, the Knicks struggles in the second half reared its ugly head. As usual, the Knicks were unable to build on their first-half production.
Energetic Knicks started the game strong
In the beginning, the Knicks came out with the energy of young children excited about opening their gifts on Christmas. Once the players shook off those early jitters, which allowed the Bucks to take an early 10-2 lead, the Knicks were ready to rock-and-roll. Throughout the first half, the Knicks exchanged blows with the Bucks and made some spectacular plays. Noah Vonleh‘s disrespect of Antetokounmpo late in the second quarter stood out the most.
With less than a minute remaining, Vonleh nailed a 3-pointer to bring the Knicks within two, 48-46. On the following possession, Vonleh was guarding Antetokounmpo in the post. Antetokounmpo tried to use his “Greek Freak” strength to overpower Vonleh and utilized a spin move to try and lay it in the basket. Vonleh rose up and sent Antetokounmpo’s shot back to Milwaukee. That play had the Garden crowd going wild.
Antetokounmpo showed why he’s called the “Greek Freak” in the second half
Sadly, Vonleh’s emphatic block was the last great play the Knicks had in the game. Once the third quarter rolled around, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks on a rampage. Usually, Antetokounmpo is known for overpowering his opponents in the paint. Today, on Christmas, he was more in a giving mood. In other words, Antetokounmpo wanted to show the partisan New York crowd his full offensive arsenal.
In the second half, Antetokounmpo mixed up his game on offense. If he had a wide open jumper, he took the shot. If he had an open lane to the basket, he drove to the hoop. Overall, Antetokounmpo gave the Knicks defense fits. Also, Antetokounmpo showed his defensive prowess. His most notable play came in the third quarter when he blocked Allonzo Trier‘s layup attempt, then assisted George Hill for an easy basket. At that moment, the Bucks led 74-61. Later, the lead ballooned to 19 towards the end of the third quarter.
David Fizdale inserted Trey Burke back into the rotation for Frank Ntilikina
Ultimately, the Knicks poor second-half performance led to the Bucks winning 109-95, and there was also some notable moves coach David Fizdale made. One of those notable moves was to insert Trey Burke into the game. After Burke’s poor performance against the Phoenix Suns, Fizdale kept him on the bench for the following two games against the Philadelphia Sixers and the Atlanta Hawks. Due to Frank Ntilikina’s struggles lately, Fizdale decided to give Burke some minutes. Burke only ended up scoring two points in 14 minutes of play.
As a result of Burke getting some playing time, Ntilikina received a DNP and rightfully so. The French point guard has struggled for consistency in his play throughout the season. While he has shown some flashes, Ntilikina has also had some dud performances as well. It’ll be interesting to see who Fizdale chooses to bring off the bench against the Bucks on Thursday. Will Fizdale be willing to give Burke another chance to shine? Or will Fizdale trust Ntilikina to get his act together after one DNP?
No Mario Hezonja against the Bucks
Another notable move Fizdale made was not playing Mario Hezonja. Lately, Hezonja hasn’t been playing well, and with the return of Lance Thomas from injury, there’s no surprise Hezonja has been warming the bench in the previous two games. What makes this move notable is the fact that Hezonja made the dunk heard around the world when he threw it down on Antetokounmpo in the previous matchup against the Bucks. Also, Hezonja added insult to injury, after the dunk, when he stepped over Antetokounmpo like he was Allen Iverson in the 2001 NBA Finals. That dunk put Hezonja in Knicks lore forever.
For the fans, inserting Hezonja into the game would have been exciting for two reasons. The first reason would be to see if Hezonja could make another spectacular play on Antetokounmpo which would ignite the Knicks and the crowd. The second reason would be to see how Antetokounmpo would exact his revenge on Hezonja. More than likely the second reason would have happened, and Hezonja may have caught a Draymond Green case below the belt. That’s if Antetokounmpo’s comments about punching Hezonja in the nether region, in the aftermath of the dunk, are to be believed.
Knicks fans go home joyous
After the Christmas Day loss, the Knicks players are probably not as joyous as they were before the game. As for the fans, their joy must be overwhelming. Don’t be surprised if you hear some Knicks fans singing “on the road to Zion” in their best Damian Marley voice.