When Knicks coach David Fizdale shuffled his starting lineup Friday, inserting a pair of players who had not even gotten off the bench in the first two games of the season and sending out five players with an average age of less than 23, he knew he was taking a chance.
Oh, and he was putting them out there against the Golden State Warriors, the two-time defending champions with a lineup arguably as good as any in NBA history. Any hesitation, Coach, about doing this?
“No, nope. Not even a little bit,” Fizdale said before the game. “I remember how silly and irrational I was with my confidence as a kid. I would have wanted to be thrown in there as well when I was young . . . These kids really believe in themselves. They understand where we are, they understand what we’re working towards, but I don’t think they’re afraid. I think they’re just irrational enough to think they can beat the Warriors, so that’s pretty cool.”
Much of the Madison Square Garden crowd seemed more interested in cheering for Kevin Durant, hoping they could encourage the potential prize of next summer’s free-agent class to join the team. But irrational thinking carried a three-point lead into the fourth quarter Friday night as the Knicks’ no-stars lineup frustrated talented Golden State.
Then reality settled in, and the Warriors outscored the Knicks 47-16 in the final quarter in their 128-100 victory. Durant scored 25 of his 41 points in the quarter, including 22 in a span of 5:08.
With the score tied at 91, Durant drove down the left side for the lead. Trey Burke momentarily put the Knicks ahead with a three-pointer, but it was just a bump in a showcase for Durant.
When he finally misfired on a three-pointer, the ball bounced out to Steph Curry, who drilled a three to send the fans for the exits and the Golden State stars to the bench. The Knicks’ 10-point lead, the first three quarters of battle — all that disappeared in a flurry of baskets as Golden State converted 19 of 26 shots in the final quarter.
On the court afterward, Curry, who finished with 29 points, complimented the Knicks for their effort.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” said Tim Hardaway Jr., who led the Knicks with 24 points. “No moral victories. We wanted to win. Point blank. So thanks, that’s excellent, but at the end of the day, we’re going home with the L.”
The Knicks ended the first quarter and first half tied with the Warriors and were up three entering the fourth. Frank Ntilikina, enjoy your first career start at point guard against Steph Curry. Mitchell Robinson, you’ve played in three NBA games — after no college games? Sure, why not? Damyean Dotson, meet Kevin Durant.
The win wasn’t the objective as much as the message for the young lineup.
“Earn respect,” Fizdale said.
The Knicks did that for three quarters, really for the entire game. It was the Warriors’ talent more than any give-up by the Knicks that determined the outcome. Ntilikina matched a career high with 17 points. Dotson had 12 points and Robinson added seven points and six rebounds. Burke had 15 points off the bench.
Fizdale had hinted that the starting lineup he began the season with could change and that the end goal is not wins and losses this season. He knows the losses are going to come.
“I was proud of them,” he said. “They were really competing. And the biggest thing, I felt like we were just happy to be in it. For whatever reason right now, we just don’t see ourselves as a team that should be competing, and I’m trying to get that belief in them. But we’ve taken three really good teams pretty deep. I’m trying to get them to understand how to play a full game. And believe in yourselves.”