In his first game as a pro basketball coach, Derek Fisher got his first win as a pro basketball coach.
On Friday afternoon at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, Derek guided the New York Knicks’ Summer League team to a 76-64 win over the Dallas Mavericks in the kick-off game for the Las Vegas Summer League.
Afterward, Derek talked about what it meant to him to coach his first NBA game, even if it was on a slightly smaller stage than the one he’ll be taking in October when the Knicks open regular season and the game begin to count.
“It was a great feeling.[There was] definitely some emotion coming into the building today, and this morning as I started to really think about what this meant, that this would be the first time I actually got to coach my team in a game situation,” he said. “The players made me look, probably, better than I am right now. But the same way that I asked them to work hard and continue to do the things that they need to do to get better, that’s what I’ll do.”
The Knicks looked at their best on Friday, paced by NBA First Team All-Rookie selection Tim Hardaway Jr., who tallied a game-high 25 points on 6-of-15 from the field and 10-of-12 at the free throw line. The Knicks’ first pick in this year’s draft, Cleanthony Early added 13 points for New York and recently acquired point guard Shane Larkin added 10 points and five assists.
On the boards, the Knicks were paced by Cole Aldrich, who hauled in 15. Aldrich, a free agent, made quite an impression in his 2014 Summer League debut and was later re-signed by the Knicks.
Derek commented after the game that he was pleased with the entire effort from his team, top to bottom, particularly the professionalism that they brought into it.
“I thought our entire team was great today,” he said. “It’s a Summer League game, but it’s a NBA Summer League game. We talk about ‘Every time we step on the floor, we’re professionals’ and I thought they brought that type of mindset to the game today.”
In the first few minutes of the game, it looked like Coach Fisher’s debut might not go as well as planned. Though Hardaway’s scoring kept the Knicks afloat in the opening minutes, the defensive rotations of the Knicks were not on point and Dallas eventually wound up taking a six-point lead 15-9 with 3:32 left in the first.
But Larkin quickly turned the tide with a trey and the New York defense regrouped, allowing just one point — on a free throw — the rest of the quarter. On the other end, New York’s other draft pick Thanasis Antetokounmpo finished the quarter with a flurry, tallying the Knicks’ final five points on a trey and a layup to put the Knicks up 17-16 after one.
The teams traded shots early in the second until Hardaway really found his rhythm to push the Knicks ahead. Over a two-and-a-half minute stretch, Hardaway Jr. scored all eight of New York’s points to stake the Knicks to a five-point lead. Minutes later, a trey by Early pushed the lead to its highest point of the half, eight. But Dallas finished the half strong and at the break the Knicks lead was just three, 34-31.
The Knicks offense continued to roll in the third, while also holding the Mavericks to long stretches without scoring. The teams again traded baskets in the early minutes of the frame, leaving New York clinging to a two-point lead at the halfway point of the third.
But Dallas scored just eight points in the final 6:35 of the third and just four points in the final 4:10, including a nearly four-minute stretch without any points that allowed the Knicks to take control and pull ahead by as much as 13.
The bar for that run was set by Early, who evoked some “ooohs” and “ahhhs” from the crowd with a ferocious fast break jam.
Afterward, Coach Fisher commented on the energy that his team played with.
“It was a lot of fun today, to watch these guys play with the energy and the passion that they love to play with,” he said. “Those are the things we’ll have to do going forward.”
The Knicks managed to close the game strong as well. After taking a nine-point lead into the fourth, New York held an advantage at or near double digits for the duration of the frame. The closest Dallas got was 60-54 with 6:58 remaining, but after Derek took a timeout, the Knicks responded with a 7-0 run to push the lead back to 13 and they cruised from there to the 12-point win.
Perhaps most impressive was the way that Coach Fish’s charges quickly grasped the Triangle offense concept, which was installed just this week in practice. Early even admitted to doing some homework on the system that Derek has implemented by watching old videos of the Bulls and Lakers running it.
“You just have to pay attention, honestly,” Early said. “We took a lot of time just to get through the offense, run through it and learn as much as possible. Then, on your off time, it’s really easy just to go and check out videos of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, the Bulls and the Lakers, just running through the offense, and seeing their positions. It’s all set up in a way so that if you make a pass, you know what you’re doing. I’ve tried to learn as much as possible talking to Phil, Derek, Shannon [Brown] and the guys who have run it before….I try to do as much as possible to get up to speed.”
D-Fish was impressed with the way the young Knicks were able to non only grasp and run the concepts in practice throughout the week, but how they put it to work in Friday’s victory.
“We’ve talked all week about how difficult this is for these guys to do. We’re cramming months worth of information into these guys in four days and trying to get them out here and be ready to play an NBA game,” Derek said. “It’s not an easy task. But I thought today, for a first time trying to do what they did today and running the system, they were fantastic. We know we’ll have to be better tomorrow. But I thought they were great today.”
And their efforts made Derek a winner for the first time in his NBA coaching career.
LEBRON’S MOVE CHANGES EAST LANDSCAPE
Just hours before Derek made his coaching debut in the Summer League, the NBA landscape shook when LeBron James announced via SI.com that he would be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four seasons, four trips to the Finals, and two NBA titles with the Miami Heat.
During his postgame press conference, D-Fish was asked if the announcement surprised him, and he noted that after hearing rumors over the last few days, he wasn’t shocked, but complimented LeBron on the way he handled the decision.
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised. It appeared that he was seriously considering it for some days now, so it’s not so much of a surprise,” Derek said. “He appears to be a smart young man, and has always thought of himself as more than just a basketball player. So from that standpoint, it looks like things are going to work out and I’m happy for him and his family, if that’s what he truly wants.”
LeBron’s move will have an obvious impact on Derek and the Knicks in the Eastern Conference as the reigning conference champion Heat try to move on without James, while the Cavaliers, who missed the postseason last year, just got a whole lot stronger. Derek noted that still having to face LeBron four times doesn’t make his job any easier, while surveying the seismic impact his decision has on the league.
“LeBron is still in the East, so he still makes my job difficult in terms of playing him four times a year, and hopefully in the playoffs as well,” Derek said. “Guys of that level — LeBron, Carmelo, those type of guys — they shift the league when they make decisions. LeBron has obviously done that, and they’ll probably be some dominoes that start to fall around the league now that he’s made his decision.”
Among those expected is that of Knicks free agent forward Carmelo Anthony. Reports surfaced on Thursday that Anthony would be returning to New York, but there was no official decision from Anthony on Friday, and Fish noted that he has yet to hear anything new on the subject since he last addressed reporters about it on Wednesday.
“I haven’t heard anything different,” he said. “We’ve talked all week about the fact that it’s not our decision. It’s a decision that Carmelo has earned, to become a free agent and decide what’s best for you and your family, and your professional and personal goals. We’ve expressed how excited we’d be to have him back, but until that happens, we just have to keep focusing on what we can control and trying to help these young guys get better during this summer league process.”
The Knicks will be back in Summer League action on Saturday afternoon as they open proceedings in Las Vegas for the second straight day, this time against the Portland Trailblazers.
Tip-off of that contest is slated for 4 p.m. ET and the game can be seen locally on MSG, nationally on NBA TV or online through NBA Summer League Live.
- NY vs. DAL Postgame: Derek Fisher (NYKnicks.com, July 11, 2014)
- SummerKnicks 76, SummerMavs 64 (Posting and Toasting, July 11, 2014)
- 1-on-1 Postgame: Cleanthony Early (NYKnicks.com, July 11, 2014)
- Fisher Wins in Summer League Debut (ESPN New York, July 11, 2014)
- Knicks Win Fisher’s Summer League Debut (ESPN.com, July 11, 2014)