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David Fizdale's lineup overhaul works for three quarters before Knicks ultimately give up the fight against Warriors


It took David Fizdale five games to basically tear up the lineup.

From Wednesday’s blowout defeat in Miami to Friday’s blowout defeat to the Warriors, the only player who kept his starting position was Tim Hardaway Jr at shooting guard. The results were mixed, as a starting group consisting of Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson, Noah Vonleh and Mitchell Robinson surprisingly hung with the Warriors for three quarters but was then destroyed down the stretch of a 128-100 loss.

“I just saw that look of, alright, we’ve done enough tonight,” Fizdale said. “We played hard enough. I just got to get these guys to understand how to play 48 minutes. Right now we’re playing college ball. Forty. We have 3 ½ really good quarters and with a champion, that’s not enough. That’s not even enough when you’re an established team against the champions.”

Frank Ntilikina tries to slow down Steph Curry Friday night. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

Center Enes Kanter was shockingly removed from the lineup for Robinson, and he was tellingly short with the media after the defeat.

“Um, you know. Just went out there to do my job,” he said after a long pause following the question.

Trey Burke and Lance Thomas were also replaced by Dotson and Vonleh, respectively. Ntilikina remained in the lineup but moved from small forward to make his first-ever start at point guard.

The average age of that lineup is 22.6, and three of the players – Ntilikina, Robinson and Dotson – have played no more than 83 games in their young careers. To overhaul the starting lineup and remove the two longest-tenured veterans took some guts from Fizdale. But to do it against Golden State with arguably the greatest lineup of all-time?

David Fizdale overhauls his lineup Friday night, and it works for three quarters.
David Fizdale overhauls his lineup Friday night, and it works for three quarters. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

Apparently there was no hesitancy.

“No, nope. Not even a little bit,” Fizdale said. “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. Like I said, we’ve got a tough young group. 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.”

But after the game, Fizdale accused the Knicks of not believing they can win.

“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,” he said.

Ntilikina played well in the first half and finished with 17 points in 26 minutes. He also allowed Steph Curry to drop 29 points on 10 of 18 shooting.

“I think we just let go,” Ntilikina said. “We did (make) some mistakes that we didn’t do in the first quarters. I think that’s what a champ does, getting used to close the end of the games. That’s what the playoffs are and for us, we just gotta learn. We just gotta compete and find out what we need to close this game.”