5 THOUGHTS ON THE WIN:
1. What do we make of Michael Beasley? He did it yet again with his third 30-point performance of the season. It was another night of unstoppable offense that caught everyone — not just the opponent — by surprise. And, as usual, it leads to the call to see more of it.
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No one puts up 32 and 12 in 25 minutes. Literally, no one had before in franchise history.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Beasley’s 32 points in 25 minutes were the most by a Knicks player in 25 minutes or fewer since Johnny Green scored 33 in 22 minutes against the Warriors on Dec. 30, 1964.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked what changed after the Celtics seemed to take control of the game with a nine-point lead midway through the third quarter.
“Beasley hit every shot,” Stevens said.
It was quite a show and one that turns the Garden into Rucker Park. We’ve seen these before from the likes of Nate Robinson and J.R. Smith. It’s always the free-spirits that draw the loudest reactions, because there’s something entertaining about seeing these guys suddenly lock-in.
“When things break down,” Jeff Hornacek said, “You’re like, ‘Just get him the ball.'”
With Beasley, his postgames are almost as entertaining as the actual game. When asked at what point he started feeling the hot hand, Beasley replied, “January 9, 1989.”
That, of course, is the day he was born.
Stevens called him “a professional scorer,” and that may be the perfect description. But while the second-half explosion was quite a show, you have to remember his first half was uneventful. In 7:39, he had just 4 points with 3 turnovers.
That’s the thing with players like this, you never know when it’s going to happen. This is why, while some still start to push the idea of him being a starter, Beasley is exactly where he needs to be. The Sixth Man role is perfect for him at this point of his career.
Plus, Beasley is doing this at the four spot, which is where Kristaps Porzingis holds the starting spot.
Hornacek has something here, there’s no doubt about it.
2. Porzingis was saved by Beasley, because he would have been the lead story if the Knicks had lost this game. Porzingis had the worst game of his career and was left on the bench in crunch time. KP handled it well with some self-deprecating humor.
“I think, thanks to me, the game was close,” he said. “I kept it close.”
He later added another one-liner: “Kobe says you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take? Well, tonight, I missed 100 percent of my shots.”
Porzingis missed all 11 of his shot attempts and had just one point in 23 minutes. He quickly dismissed any notion that the performance was the result of his sore knee. “Not at all,” he said.
He was joking after the game, but he was fuming when he left the game in the third quarter. He went straight to the tunnel underneath the arena and let out a few primal screams.
“I needed to walk out and calm myself down a little bit,” he said. “It was just a bad moment for me.”
He returned to the bench and spent the rest of the game as a cheerleader, which was important for his teammates to see.
“KP’s comeback lifted everybody,” Hornacek said. “Even though he didn’t make any shots, his presence lifted everybody.”
Now to see if he plays in the back-to-back in Detroit. He sounded like he couldn’t wait to get back out there and put this game in his past.
3. Hornacek was anxious through the entire fourth quarter, even as Beasley and the bench built the lead to 11 points.
“Every 10 seconds,” he said he was asking himself when he should put the starters back in the game.
He kept talking to Jarrett Jack. “Keep all these guys loose,” he said. “Keep them loose.”
The starters, however, were enjoying the show and the Celtics, in the second game of a back-to-back, made a few pushes but never really threatened.
That took some guts by Hornacek and it also shows he has developed a very good feel for his team. He admitted you won’t often see him stay with a lineup of entirely bench players in crunch time of a close game, but for one night it was exactly the right move and one that does a lot for the collective confidence of the team.
4. Of that bench lineup Hornacek employed in the fourth quarter, we’re seeing a trend over the last few games that has changed the identity of the bench. That’s the backcourt duo of Frank Ntilikina and Ron Baker, who have become a relentless defensive tandem. Hornacek really likes what he sees from them.
“Those two guys have really shown the defensive presence,” he said.
The duo played the entire fourth quarter together and took turns defending MVP candidate Kyrie Irving, who shot 3-for-7 in the final quarter, though he did get nine points. Ntilikina had a steal in the quarter and hit a pair of threes, while Baker’s box score doesn’t show the impact his hustle and relentless close-outs had on the court.
Are we starting to see the formation of a second unit? Do the Knicks have more depth than anyone thought they would?
5. A peek at the standings show the Knicks (17-14) are still seven games behind the Celtics (26-9) for the division and conference lead, but they’re tied for the 6th spot in the East with the Wizards and Pistons, percentage points behind the Bucks (16-13) for 5th and a half-game behind the Pacers (18-14) for 4th.
They’re right in the thick of things as we creep toward the mid-point of the season.
So I know people always say “don’t look down” when it comes to rock climbing and playoff berth hunting, but I do believe this is a rare case where you need to assess the situation. So, as one of the top 8 teams right now, you don’t need to worry about catching anyone. You just need to see who you need to stay ahead of as we get into the toughest part of the schedule.
The Miami Heat (16-15) are right there while the reeling 76ers (14-17) have slipped three games back. That’s what, to me, makes Christmas Day a very important game for the Knicks. Push the Process deeper into the abyss and rid yourself of another threat.
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