By Lamar Battle
In what turned out to be one of the more exciting NBA games of the season so far the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the New York Knicks Monday in Madison Square Garden.
Cavaliers star Lebron James fanned the pre game flames by saying the Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. is the player the Knicks should have picked instead of the guy they got rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina. Lebron raised the ire of Knick strong man Enes Kanter who came to the defense of his rookie.
The game itself provided a bevy of thrills as LeBron, Ntilikina and Kanter became involved in a shoving match that saw the rookie Ntilikina confronting LeBron directly.
The Garden erupted as the Knicks used emotion from the dust up to race to a 23 point lead over a Cavalier team that seemed dead in the water.
Ultimately the Cavaliers erased that huge lead to win the game and illustrate the difference between an experienced team hardened by winning and an up start just learning how good they can be.
So what are the take a ways:
LeBron is still a gun fighter,
An older one but a gun fighter nonetheless. LeBron stoked the flames that knocked most of the Knick players off their square, guarded Kristaps Porzingas with six minutes left roughed him up and then dropped the three point dagger right in his grill. All of that while serenading the City with possibilities of a free agent signing next season. Not a bad days work.
Kristaps Porzingas may not be a franchise player,
At least not yet, Porzingas allowed himself to be rough housed and thrown to the floor all game long. He has added muscle for this year but apparently not enough as Jae Crowder, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James took turns treating young Kristaps (who had his worst outing of the young season) like a rag doll and the physical play affected his game Kristaps will need to develop his legs as they are key in holding offensive position close to the basket. If he continues on his current trajectory he will get stronger and more experienced sooner rather than later. ( Good news for the Knicks)
Frank Ntilikina is a player,
The 19 year old last remnant of the Phil Jackson regime may have come one step closer to NBA legitimacy. Everyone is aware of Franks defensive chops and how could he not be effective on defense with that 7 foot wing span.
In all fairness this player is a potential diamond in the rough with natural play making abilities and the gumption to take the big shot when the opportunity presents itself.
The Knicks are smart to bring him along slowly as this selection will start to pay dividends in year two.
Knicks Coach Hornacek needs to get up to speed,
In today’s game there are a handful of teams that play effective help defense and they are Boston, Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland (only in the playoffs).
Notice the Knicks like a lot of teams were not included. One of the best indicators of an organizations viability is their teams ability to play help defense.
Why is that?
Because it is truly hard to teach and enforce. The sacrifice, energy and rotations needed will expose teams that don’t listen to or respect their coach. Of course it pays to select the right players as smarts and unselfishness are key.
The Knicks led by Kristaps Porzingas are starting to experience early season success but until they start playing real defense they won’t seriously challenge battle tested teams like the Cavaliers.
When the smoke cleared the old gunslinger sensed a young gun ( Porzingas) in town but like those before him ( most notably Micheal Jordan) He dealt with the young challenger in a way that will probably leave a lasting impression.