Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In the NBA, teams usually get the day off after playing two consecutive games. But the Knicks lost in Brooklyn on Friday and were embarrassed at home by Boston on Saturday, so they lost the luxury of an off day on Sunday.
"Coach Fiz was on our tails yesterday," Bobby Portis said. "We were supposed to have an off-day….We came in and still put the work in."
The work wasn't apparent early on Monday against Chicago. But a key adjustment in the second half -- and some timely shooting from Portis -- helped New York rebound from a 18-point deficit to win for the first time this season.
In the second half, RJ Barrett noticed that the Bulls big man was up when defending ball screens. This left the short roll open for Julius Randle.
Randle had struggled with turnovers for much of the night, but he was able to make plays late against Chicago's pick-and-roll defense. He had three assists -- all on three-pointers -- in the fourth quarter. Two of them were on Portis 3s on consecutive possessions.
"He finally said, 'Wait a minute. I'm running into traffic right now. I've just got to move the ball. It's not going to be me tonight,'" David Fizdale said. "That's a big step for him to do that."
Portis' play, rightfully so, will get the attention. He had 11 points in the fourth quarter to key New York's comeback win against his old team. Those two late 3s were the key baskets in the Knicks' 15-0 run to end the game.
Fans chanted Portis' name after his 3-pointer with 1:09 to play gave the Knicks a five-point lead.
"Nineteen thousand fans, man. It's fun when they call your name," said Portis, who finished with 28 points on 10-for-14 shooting. "That's actually the first time that's ever happened."
Portis' night was remarkable. As was Barrett's The rookie had another strong outing, finishing with 19 points, 15 rebounds and five assists (and eight turnovers) in New York's win. He's been, arguably, the league's best rookie so far.
But Randle's adjustments -- in the big picture -- may have been the most important development for New York on Monday.
RANDLE FIGURING IT OUT?
Prior to the game, Fizdale said Randle was still getting adjusted to his role in New York. The Knicks are asking Randle to share the ball, defend, score consistently and lead this young Knicks team - something he didn't need to do for his previous employers.
"Now he's juggling that and trying to figure it out. And I think step-by-step, he'll get there," Fizdale said.
Initially, Monday looked like more of a learning experience for Randle. He had five turnovers and had missed seven of his 11 shots in the first three quarters; his team trailed by double digits for much of the game. But Randle's play in the fourth quarter helped New York avoid a tough 0-4 start.
Fizdale said earlier Monday that the coaches have been working with the forward to help him make certain reads.
"We put him in a ton of situations in practice so he can start seeing those outlets when people are really loading into him. He's going to get better and better because his agenda is pure," Fizdale said. "I always feel like guys improve when they're about the team."
Randle finished the night with 13 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. He also had five turnovers. But it seemed like something clicked late in the game.
"I've just got to relax, get my teammates involved more and let the game come to me," Randle said before tipoff. "If they're going to play me like that I've got to just accept it and let the game come."
Randle draws a ton of attention from the opposing defense. For much of the first four games, he seemed to be overly concerned with bullying defenders around the basket. If Randle can continue to find open shooters in the ways he did in the fourth quarter Monday, it would pay major dividends for New York.
At halftime on Monday, one opposing exec wondered why Fizdale wasn't playing more shooters against Chicago.
"There's no spacing," the exec said, noting that the Knicks seemed to be trying to force post-ups early in the season.
Fizdale played Wayne Ellington and Kevin Knox more often in the second half - and it seemed to pay off. New York outscored Chicago by 17 in the final two quarters. Knox had 10 points on five shots in nine second-half minutes. Ellington had just two points in the second half but seemed to help open the floor for the Knicks. New York outscored Chicago by 20 in Ellington's 14 second-half minutes.
It will be interesting to see if Fizdale plays either shooter -- or Allonzo Trier -- more often moving forward in an effort to create space on offense.
After the game, Fizdale noted that Knox's shot selection has improved dramatically in Year Two.
"He sees the game a little slower. I think he's physically more confident," the coach said. "He spent a lot of time working on his shot and simplifying his shot. When it leaves his hands I feel like it's got a really good chance of going in now."
If you didn't see the game and just checked the box score, you wouldn't think that Frank Ntilikina played well against Chicago. He finished 0-for-6 but, as Fizdale noted, the third-year guard impacted the game significantly in other ways.
"It didn't matter," Fizdale said of Ntilikina's scoreless night. "His minutes were fantastic. He guarded. He set the tone defensively. He made some nice plays to set people up. He got us organized. The shots will fall for him. The thing I'm proud of is how he kept himself ready, like I knew he was.
"Every day he wasn't playing, he was in the gym getting a sweat going. 'Just let me know coach, I'm ready when you need me.' I was really proud of his effort," Fizdale added.
Ntilikina had two rebounds, two assists and three turnovers in 22 minutes. He played behind Elfrid Payton on Monday - a rotation spot normally taken by Dennis Smith Jr. With Smith Jr. away from the team mourning the loss of a loved one, Ntilikina was the first guard off of the bench against Chicago.
In general, Fizdale is still trying to figure out his bench rotations and his players are still trying to figure out timing/spacing on offense.
SYMPATHY FOR SMITH JR.
Smith Jr., as you'd expect, will have all the time he needs to mourn the death of a close family member over the weekend.
"He's got to take care of his family. Obviously we want to get him back as soon as he can. But when you lose somebody like, you've got to take care of his family first," Fizdale said. "….It's been tough. It's really tough."
Mitchell Robinson wrote Smith Jr.'s name and number on his headband and sneakers as a tribute to his teammate.
"Just letting Dennis know, you're still with us no matter what. That's my boy, that's family," he said.