Figuring out the New York Knicks from game to game is difficult enough these days, let alone guessing what they’ll do from quarter to quarter or even spurt to spurt.
In a league of runs, the Knicks (9-7) seem to be taking that NBA cliché to extremes this season.
That was once again the case at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, when New York overcame an early eight-point, second-quarter deficit with 14 straight points, then allowed the Los Angeles Clippers (5-11) to get within two on a third-period run of 15 consecutive points, before the Knicks immediately answered with the next 12 points en route to an easy 107-85 win.
The victory marked a quick 46-point turnaround for a team which in its previous game, suffered its worst loss of the season (during a 24-point defeat in Toronto on Friday night).
It was also the 10th time in New York’s 16 games this year that the Knicks were involved in a result decided by at least 13 points. New York is 5-5 in those contests. The margin in six of those 10 games was more than 20 points, with the Knicks splitting those games as well.
So what is New York at this point of the season? Based on the above, it’s hard to tell.
Mainly, the Knicks are consistently inconsistent. Yet so far, that’s good enough to exceed far lower preseason expectations while being tied (with Philadelphia) for sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
Fittingly, New York is also .500 during a recent four-game slump by its best player, forward Kristaps Porzingis, who after scoring a team-high 25 points on inefficient 7-for-20 shooting, is averaging 20 points per game on just 34.2 percent shooting (25-for-73) over his last four games after starting his third season with 30.4 points per game on 51.3 percent shooting (121-for-236).
Winning with a combination of solid team defense and some timely shooting — especially from reserve forward Doug McDermott (who made five of seven 3-pointers while scoring 16 points of the bench) — the Knicks let the Clippers make their first four 3-pointers and fell behind, 15-10, a little over three minutes in before holding Los Angeles without a point for the next seven minutes.
Losing their ninth straight game and 11th in the last 12, following a 4-0 start, the Clippers missed 22 of their final 28 shots from behind the arc and were limited to just 37.5 percent shooting (30-for-80) overall.
Although he’d of course love to return to the way he was playing before, Porzingis was happy to have his teammates help him out.
“That’s great, when guys are involved,” he said. “Doug came in shooting the ball [well] and we were looking for him, and (enter) Enes (Kanter) was staying on the boards the whole night.”
McDermott twice made key 3-pointers to stop Los Angeles runs and start turnarounds for New York.
He drilled a much-needed 3-pointer in the second quarter to spark a 14-0 Knicks run right after the Clippers opened their biggest lead, 34-26. That stretch began a larger 30-10 half-closing run that extended New York’s advantage to 56-44.
However, true to the Knicks’ fickle nature this season, following a Porzingis 3-pointer which put New York up by a seemingly comfortable 17 points in the third period, Los Angeles got back in the game with the next 15 points.
“We relaxed a little bit and gave them a couple of easy ones,” head coach Jeff Hornacek admitted. “You can never relax in this game.”
Responding to some strong words during a timeout called by Hornacek, the Knicks went on a 19-2 spurt to go back up by 17 again, before extending that lead to as many as 26 points in the waning moments of the game. That deciding run, like the one in the second quarter, started on a well-timed McDermott 3-pointer, which initiated a string of 12 straight New York points.
McDermott and Porzingis were two of six Knicks to score in double figures, along with forward Tim Hardaway, Jr. (13 points), Kanter (12 points, game-high 16 rebounds), point guard Jarrett Jack (11 points, game-best seven assists, with just one turnover) and shooting guard Courtney Lee (10 points).
Those contributions weren’t lost on the Knicks’ coach.
“I thought Jarrett was great tonight,” Hornacek noted. “He really controlled things and got us off to a good start… he just had us organized.”
On Kanter, Hornacek added, “He only had four shots (make three), but he had a big influence on the game.”
And while McDermott’s offensive contributions were obvious, Hornacek was more pleased with his play at the other end of the floor.
“You know Doug’s going to get shots and he’s going to make them,” Hornacek said. “He’s a great shooter. As coaches, we tend to look at his defense more… he was really good defensively.”
Porzingis said that its on he and his teammates to make each other find the elusive level of consistency the Knicks have been seeking.
“If we hold each other accountable, and we go out and actually try to do the right things, then that will [yield] the results that we want,” he said.
With the up-and-down way things have gone for New York so far this season, it would probably shock no one if the Knicks got revenge on Toronto in their next game (at home, on Wednesday night), after some big runs by each team.
“It was a bad showing [up] there,” Lee said of the teams’ first meeting of the season on Friday. “We missed a lot of open shots, we weren’t executing and it seemed like they were hitting every open shot and getting every open shot they were looking for. But it’s another opportunity with them coming here to play in front of our fans… and [to] just play our brand of basketball.”
Except that with the sharply varying results the Knicks have shown so far this season, even they may not know exactly what that is.
In time, maybe that will become clearer. For now though, it’s least better than widely anticipated, an improvement on what the way New York had played over the past few years, and perhaps something to build on moving forward.