Resilient Knicks Keep on Rolling


1. Before we even get to the historical hysteria we’ve just witnessed on consecutive nights at The Garden, I’m compelled to share with you a tweet I received during the third quarter when, once again, things looked bleak but the Knicks were, at the very least, still scrapping and clawing.

Is that really all you ask for as a fan? You know during an 82-game season there’s going to be nights when the other team is just better. Just don’t be easy to play against. Too often over the last few years, the Knicks were just simply too easy to play against. And that doesn’t inspire people.

For three quarters of this game, the Hornets were just better. But there was something about their three-point shooting — they hit 10 of 15 at the half and 13 for 25 after three quarters — that made me keep thinking the law of averages eventually kicks in. As long as the Knicks continued to grind, maybe, just maybe…

Full disclosure, when Kemba Walker hit that fling three off the glass with 5:34 to go to make it a 109-100 deficit, I was almost resigned to the fact that we’d be discussing a tough home loss to a hot-shooting team. But the Knicks kept grinding. They came out of a timeout and drilled a couple of threes to get it down to 109-106 and with the crowd roaring again, the Hornets knew they were in one.

[Watch Tonight’s Knicks-Magic Game on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]

And that’s really what has made this seven-game run something to behold: The emergence of a resiliency that can galvanize a young team that doesn’t know it’s not supposed to be this competitive this soon.

2. What also makes it easy to enjoy this team is the true presence of a defensive determination, that for years, has been absent from the teams this franchise has put on the court. Not just moments of defense, but an establishment of it as an identity, especially late in games.

After the Hornets rained three’s for most of the game — a lot of it was the result of a lack of closeouts but also some torrid shooting by Charlotte — the Knicks defense turned off the water in the fourth. Charlotte made just 2 of 12 in the final quarter. They had 94 points after three quarters and were held to just 19 in the fourth.

And it was a collective effort. It was Frank Ntilikina, playing important crunch time minutes and looking very much up to the task. It was Doug McDermott taking on the challenge when Jeremy Lamb waved away his teammates and tried to take him in an iso that led to nothing. It was Courtney Lee forcing a late and critical turnover.

It was Lance Thomas, once again, warding off drives by waving those long arms like Bruce Lee.

Sure, the NBA these days are all about offense, scoring and three-point shooting. Sure, the crowd loves them some Kristaps Porzingis and the 30 points he drops a night. But there’s something special about a team that gives you all it has on defense. When people ask why New Yorkers loved those ’90s Knicks teams so much when they didn’t win a championship, the simplest reply is: That team made defense a personal vendetta.

We just like that kind of attitude around here. As they once said in Sparta, “Return with your shield or on it!”

3. The Knicks bench scored 45 points and 20 of them came from Doug McDermott, who was nearly perfect in hitting 7 of 8 from the field and all three of his three-point shots. McDermott is known to be a shooter from his prolific college career and yet on this third team in four seasons, he’s yet to establish himself in the league. Jeff Hornacek seems to be trying to unlock his potential as a bigger, more versatile Kyle Korver-type, who constantly runs off screens and cuts to the basket. McDermott also has good defensive instincts and has shown improvements as a very determined defender.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford pointed to McDermott’s contribution as a key to the game.

“McDermott was the difference in the game, in my opinion,” Clifford said. “Porzingis is going to get his. He got 11 right away. Marvin Williams did a good job on him, making it hard for him. McDermott was terrific.”

Catch the pregame show on MSG Network before the Knicks-Magic game Wednesday night, as Wally Szczerbiak plans to work the Wally Wall to show a few clips of how sneaky good McDermott is at cutting to the basket for easy scores and impressive dunks.

4. Some history just took place. Al Trautwig asked if I could remember a Knicks team ever winning back-to-back games after coming back from such big deficits. My answer was no. It was the right answer. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time in the shot clock era (since 1954-55) that the Knicks won consecutive games when trailing by double-figures going into the fourth quarter. The Knicks trailed by 12 going into the fourth against the Pacers on Sunday and by 11 going into the fourth against the Hornets on Tuesday.

While that’s cool history, remember the aforementioned law of averages.

5. This game ended a five-game homestand for the Knicks, who won four of the five games. The Garden seemed to really come alive again during this stretch of games, which certainly had drama and some spectacular moments. And over this five-game stretch, the Knicks offense put up some eye-popping numbers. They averaged 111.8 points per game and shot a blistering 50.7% from the field while on defense they recorded 6.8 steals per game and 6.0 blocks.

The Knicks are now one of the best home teams in the NBA at 5-2 and boast a 110.4 scoring average that is 6th highest in the league. They’re also the second-best shooting team at home (49.1%), behind only the Golden State Warriors (50%).

Home court is an obvious comfort zone for a young team, so that’s what makes these early wins so important to their collective psyche. The Knicks will get a lot of experience at home as they’ll be back for three more home games after Wednesday’s game in Orlando. In fact, the Knicks will play 12 of their first 17 games of the season at The Garden. That’ll be 30% of their home schedule already done before Thanksgiving.

[Watch Tonight’s Knicks-Magic Game on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]

Now, we know The Garden isn’t like any other home court. Opposing teams come into this building looking to make a name for themselves or put on a show. In recent years, opposing teams have enjoyed the big stage at the expense of the Knicks. But this season, are we seeing an end to that?

One example was Ntilikina getting to James Harden late in the third quarter of a blowout loss to the Rockets last week. Harden already had a dominant quarter and the game was essentially over. But Harden was looking to demoralize, but Ntilikina hounded him and came away with two steals and contested a three-point attempt at the buzzer. Against the Nuggets, there was Nikola Jokic, a year after he dropped 41 at the Garden against KP and the Knicks, draining an early rainbow three. Porzingis quickly responded with a straightaway three over Jokic and then backpedaled with his eyes locked on Jokic.

It was Lance Stephenson coming down on a break and rising up with the intention of dunking on the Knicks prodigy. Stephenson, who is from Brooklyn, knows what posterizing Porzingis would do to the fans. Most of the time in the NBA, defenders step away and let the dunk happen. Porzingis saw Stephenson approach and opted instead to meet force with force. Stephenson wound up in the first row and his dunk attempt was obliterated.

And then on Tuesday, when Dwight Howard caught a vintage alley-oop dunk that drew a reaction from the crowd, Porzingis buried a three over Howard, stared him down and on the next possession, caught his own alley-oop that brought the crowd to it’s feet.

These are subtle moments, but ones that stand out to someone like me who has watched this team so closely over the last six years.

[Watch Tonight’s Knicks-Magic Game on MSG and Download Free on MSG GO]