Ja Morant, Grizzlies show just how dire things feel around these Knicks

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In a different season, Mitchell Robinson’s stone-cold rejection of Ja Morant’s windmill dunk in the final minutes would have blown the roof off the Garden to punctuate a special night. This was how the Knicks of the Nineties did it, the Charles Oakleys and Anthony Masons, knocking some high-flying foe on his rump and staring down at him with a don’t-even-think-about-it shake of the head.

But these are the 2021-22 Knicks, and so it was just another foul at the end of just another loss to a club that has its act together in ways the Knicks only wished they did.

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The Memphis Grizzlies? Now there’s a basketball team. The Grizzlies are young and fun, long and lean, and fixing to cause big trouble in the Western Conference playoffs. They own the third-best record in the West at 36-18, which would land them atop the Eastern Conference standings, three country miles ahead of a consistently underachieving opponent they just defeated by a 120-108 count.

What’s the point of saying the Knicks are in serious trouble anymore? What’s the point of saying they are running out of time to show some urgency and save this season?

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Nothing much ever changes. On a night when Morant shoots 9 for 27, scores 23, and fails to deliver the monster game he wanted to deliver in the Garden, the Knicks couldn’t pounce and bring home a potential season-changing victory before leaving for a five-game road trip out west and starting a 16-game stretch that will likely see them as underdogs in 15 of them.

“I’m not worried about down the road,” Tom Thibodeau said. “I’m just thinking about the next game. We’ve just got to try to get the next game. The season’s moving along pretty quickly right now, and there has to be an urgency to this. Don’t look too far ahead.”

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memphis grizzlies, new york knicks

Ja Morant tries to dunk the ball over Mitchell Robinson.

Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

It’s hard to avoid the temptation. The Knicks have lost seven of nine to fall to 24-28, good for 12th place in the East. Twelfth. They travel to face the Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Warriors, and Trail Blazers, then play three of four home games against Brooklyn, Miami and Philly, before confronting a seven-game road trip that starts at Philly and Phoenix and ends at Dallas, Memphis and Brooklyn.

In other words, maybe the Knicks will get ’em next year.

Robinson did give the home team 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks, and did send a little message to Mr. Morant for the next time he tries to thunder dunk over his head. Evan Fournier did score 30, and RJ Barrett, the third-overall pick in the 2019 draft, did go point for point with the second overall pick, Morant, who is the surefire superstar Barrett is hoping to become.

Midway through the second quarter, Morant gave the people what they paid for. When he gathered the ball on the fast break, ahead of the field, the crowd released the unmistakable sound of anticipation of the dunk to come.

memphis grizzlies, new york knicks

Ja Morant dunks the ball against the Knicks on Wednesday.

Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

A little more than a minute later, starting from the right wing, Morant dribbled into the lane with his left hand, then put Julius Randle in the spin cycle with a dramatic turn to his right and a basket off the glass. On his next possession, Morant powered past Barrett and Immanuel Quickley for a left-handed layup, drawing more ooohs and aaahs.

The Memphis point guard then dropped the hammer inside the final minute of the first half, catching the ball on the break and throwing a lob pass to Ziaire Williams, who returned the favor with an alley that Morant ooped with two forceful hands. He held the rim for an extra second or two, his hair bouncing with unmitigated joy. After he nailed the landing, Morant raised his left hand to the sky and said, “Oh my God.”

At a spindly 6-foot-3, he is a combination of in-their-primes Allen Iverson and Russell Westbrook. So that’s why the Garden projected a vibe of expectation all night. Even in grim times, Knicks fans could always appreciate the greatness of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James.

memphis grizzlies, new york knicks

Evan Fournier

N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Nobody’s putting the 22-year-old Morant in that category, at least not yet. But Knicks fans are going to hurt for a long time over missing him in the draft by one pick the way they hurt over missing Steph Curry by one pick. Thibodeau called Morant fearless and his performances amazing.

“Just in the paint, creating havoc,” he said. “He puts a lot of pressure on you at all times.

“He’s an offense unto himself. The explosiveness … his ability to change speeds, change direction, stop on a dime, go a different way, Eurostep. … It’s a lot to deal with, and then the explosiveness at the rim. So you’ve got to really guard him with your whole team, and he can still make plays.”

So entering the building Wednesday night, New Yorkers thought there was a chance of witnessing something pretty special. If they got an improbable Knicks victory along with some magical Morant moves, all the better.

They didn’t get that improbable victory, surprise surprise. Nothing much ever changes about these Knicks, other than the margin of defeat.

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