Is it time to dig the glass slipper out of the back of the closet?
Last year’s NBA 2K League Cinderella team, Knicks Gaming is once again moving on at the Ticket tournament despite being one of the lowest seeds in the tournament.
They did it in Orlando this time, without star center Dayvon “Goofy757” Curry, who watched amiably from the bench as the Knicks overcame a nine-point halftime deficit against Jazz Gaming to push both their play-in game to overtime and themselves, eventually to a 78-72 victory.
Last season, Knicks Gaming avoided the No. 16 vs. No. 17 play-in game by one seed. Then, as legend holds quite true, they swept through the tournament en route to earning an automatic berth in the NBA 2K League playoffs. There, as a 5-9 No. 8 seed, they upset top-seeded Blazer5 Gaming in the first round before eventually sweeping Heat Check Gaming in the inaugural NBA 2K League Finals.
Point guard Adam “iamadamthe1st” Kudeimati averaged 26.7 points per game in the Ticket last year, winning tournament MVP and using the tournament to spark a personal season turnaround that saw his scoring and assist numbers jump. In this opening game, he played with a custom SCUF Gaming controller, modeled after the cover of NBA 2K19, evoking last year’s magical tournament run.
Adam was back at point guard for this energetic victory. The win comes in the tournament’s new play-in round. With the league expanding to 21 teams for 2019, seeds 12 through 21 now match up in play-in games for a spot in the main bracket. The Knicks, seeded 18th, won’t have an easy road, but this win gives the dream another night to live.
“It’s only one of the first games, so there’s a long way to go, but it’s a good start to the tournament,” Adam told DIMER.
The Knicks point guard finished this game with 4 points and 16 assists on just 1-for-8 shooting from the field. Hardly glamorous, certainly, but he made his lone 3-pointer count, drilling the first shot of overtime to give his team a lead it would never relinquish.
“I was struggling big-time offensively, just trying to get my teammates involved,” he said. “My teammates did such a great job. We all showed up when we needed it most.”
A great job, indeed. Malik “OriginalMalik” Hobson scored a game-high 30 points and hit 7 3-pointers, earning Player of the Game honors for his performance. Harry “Hazzaa” Hurst, who played for Mavs Gaming last season, chipped in 17 points. Eric “Yeynotgaming” Ward, a holdover from last year’s title-winning team, scored 7 points and secured 6 crucial steals.
With Goofy on the bench, the Knicks turned to Idris “IdrisDaGoat6” Richardson at center. Another holdover from the 2018 team, Idris was drafted as a center but eventually moved to power forward as the Knicks found 2018’s best lineup. In lieu of Goofy, Idris was the easy choice for head coach Kyle Rudy after a week of practice at center. The former fifth-round pick turned in a masterful 20-point, 15-rebound performance.
“He’s someone who I have so much confidence in,” Rudy asserted. “He stayed composed and he made huge plays for us all game.”
Rudy himself was similarly composed toward the end of the game, through no thanks to a habit begun at last year’s Ticket. During the team’s tournament run in 2018, he started drinking a can of Red Bull during each game, and when the team pulled off the improbable he continued with the habit, supplemented by a bottle of water.
“I’ve been drinking Red Bull basically every single game,” he admitted. “My heart was beating like crazy in overtime with all that going on.”
The Knicks almost did him a favor. They came a millisecond away from winning the game in regulation. They gained possession with 22 seconds to play, the game tied at 64. Out of the pick-and-roll, Adam found Malik, according to plan, but the timing was off just enough, due to a good Jazz closeout, to cause the sharpshooter to miss. Ball rims out, in comes overtime.
After Adam hit the first three in overtime, the Knicks outscored the Jazz 14-8 in the overtime period. Idris snared some massive rebounds to keep the team afloat during a back-and-forth stretch, and Malik hit two colossal 3-pointers with under a minute to play to ensure the win.
“I’m so proud that we were able to persevere through adversity, not getting what we wanted at the end of the game,” Adam said.
They’ve still got a long way to go. The win ensures them a matchup with Mavs Gaming, who sit 10-1 on the year and who, as the Ticket’s No. 2 seed, has one of the strongest bids to win this tournament and the league as a whole. Dimez, in a live interview on stream, declared himself the biggest Knicks Gaming fan—for the moment. He knows that the Knicks are vulnerable, especially without Pro-Am teammate Goofy. The Knicks fell to the Mavs at the Turn tournament in round two.
This year hasn’t been kind to the Knicks. They entered the tournament just 2-8, on the ropes of playoff contention. They’re not a more talented team with Goofy on the bench, and Adam will need to score more for the Knicks to defeat teams ranked higher than the 15th-seeded Jazz. Last year’s Cinderella story is written in stone, and this year’s, despite the emotional opening win, has not come close to telling itself.
The glass slipper doesn’t look like it will fit this time. But for one night, Knicks Gaming gave the NBA 2K League—and themselves—a reminder that midnight hasn’t struck yet.