Knicks End Road Trip On a High Note

5 thoughts on the win:

1. Let’s get right to the useless stats because this game was an about-face from what we saw on this trip. After three straight games allowing over 120 points per game — 127, 123, 130 — the Knicks held the Suns not just under 100, but under 90.

It tied for the lowest point total the Knicks allowed this season, which goes back to the Nov. 20 win against the Clippers (same final score). It was also the first time in 10 games that the Knicks held an opponent under 100, going back to the Jan. 7 win in Dallas (100-96).

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Are the Suns bad? Yes, they’re bad. In fact, they’re not just bad overall, they’re the worst home team (8-17) in the NBA. As usual, there were a lot of Knicks fans in Phoenix, so the Knicks enjoyed some support in a game that at the very least salvaged a tough seven-game road trip with a 3-4 record.

The Suns made threes (11-for-33) and were really bad from two (22-for-61) and this game was over after the Knicks opened the second half with a 14-2 run to go up 16 in the longest third quarter in the history of basketball.

That third quarter took forever.

It also saw the early exit of Devin Booker, the Suns’ leading scorer, who picked up his second technical foul of the game with 4:03 left. The second T came after he shoved Enes Kanter, who let out a needling “Whoo!” in Booker’s ear after Kanter spiked his drive attempt.

Booker had a bad game all around for Phoenix, with two techs and an infuriating Flagrant-1 on Tim Hardaway Jr. (more on that later). Give credit to Courtney Lee, who took on the challenge of defending Booker (4 for 12, 12 points, -24).

2. So what inspired this sudden change of attitude? A players-only meeting that was held during breakfast.

“Lance, he held everybody accountable in that meeting,” Lee told MSG Network’s Rebecca Haarlow after the game. “When he spoke, everybody listened.”

Lance Thomas talks with Rebecca Haarlow about what he said at the Knicks players-only meeting and how the team responded.

We’re hearing a lot about these players-only meetings around the NBA. They usually happen around this time of year, when the schedule becomes a grind and the All-Star break is still a few weeks away. It’s not just the struggling teams, either. Two of the top teams in the East, the Cavs and Celtics, each had team meetings to air out issues and try to get back to the focus of early in the season.

We’ve outlined all the issues here over the last few blogs on this trip. Almost all of them came down to one simple element: effort. The Knicks issues involved turnovers, loose balls, giving up offensive rebounds and weak-side defense. We weren’t talking about selfish play and poor shooting. This wasn’t a slump in talent, it was an absence of effort.

That’s fixable.

“We just challenged everybody,” Lee said. “Whatever you’re doing out there, just take it up another level.”

Remember Herb Brooks: “Gentlemen, you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.”

Courtney Lee gets the walk-off interview with Rebecca Haarlow, speaking on how the Knicks performed in Phoenix, guarding Devin Booker, and the clubs meeting earlier this morning.

3. Enes Kanter gave a throwback performance to earlier in the season, when he was a catalyst at the start of games for the Knicks with his energy, effort and toughness. Kanter poured in 15 points in the first 11 minutes of the game as he dominated Greg Monroe, who started in place of Tyson Chandler (illness).

Kanter finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but it was more than just his stats that made an impact on the game, it was the return of his bravado, which had not been up to the standard of earlier this season. Kanter had been brooding for a while about his playing time and role, especially late in games, and it took away from the big personality that Knicks fans fell in love with earlier in the season.

But in this game, Enes the Menace was back and it was great to see. He goaded Booker into that second tech and effectively ended the game by getting the Suns’ best player off the court. He talked tough, played tough and, naturally, he kept it going on social media after the game:

Suns forward Jared Dudley took the bait.

Grab your popcorn. This is just getting started.

Ohhh snap!!!! (Dudley does have a Dad-bod thing going though).

Jared was basically flailing with that response. Kanter didn’t need to continue, but Knicks and Suns fans went at it all night long on the thread.

4. Tim Hardaway Jr. was back in the lineup after sitting out in Denver as part of the recovery plan from his stress injury. He played 35 minutes, which means his minutes restriction is officially over.

He also made it clear he has no intention of missing any more time, no matter what happens. Timmy was looking like the Black Knight from “Monty Python and The Holy Grail” throughout this game. No matter the injury or how bad it looked, he just kept coming back.

“Just the will to win,” Hardaway said.

“Just a flesh wound!” said the Black Knight.

Hardaway Jr. finished with 15 points on 6 of 13 shooting, despite twisting his ankle badly when he landed early in the game and then falling head-first into the basket support in the third quarter after the Flagrant-1 by Booker.

That’s toughness, for sure. It’s also the determination of a guy who sat out six weeks and doesn’t want to miss any more time.

Tim Hardaway Jr. reflects on the Knicks' road-trip ending win over the Suns and explains how a team meeting helped stabilize the team before the game against Phoenix.

5. More Trey Burke, please. He scored 18 points in 18 minutes on 8 of 14 shooting and that’s after starting the game off 1 for 5 with a couple of bad turnovers. Burke was yelling at himself for his early blunders, which made Hornacek smile. Apparently, Burke and Hardaway are one in the same when it comes to rage in the huddle and intensity on the court.

The Michigan Wolverines backcourt needs to become a thing, doesn’t it? Burke absolutely shredded the Suns in pick-and-roll in that fourth quarter. Even Hornacek, who has been resistant to making a dramatic change in the lineup that would take minutes away from either Jarrett Jack or Frank Ntilikina, had to admit Burke’s play can’t be ignored.

“When he plays like that,” Hornacek said, “we got to find time for him.”

Jeff Hornacek holds his post-game press conference after the Knicks' 107-85 win over the Suns in Phoenix.

Before the game, Hornacek called Burke’s role a “game-to-game decision” based on matchups and how effective the other guards are playing. Ntilikina, as we’ve seen on every game of this trip since Brooklyn, was careless with the basketball and did not shoot the ball well. He saw only nine minutes of action.

Hornacek has an idea of playing Ntilikina off the ball to perhaps take pressure off his suspect handle and let him focus on defending two guards. The one issue there is when you’re off the ball, you need to be able to knock down open jumpers. Can he do that?

Despite the issues on the trip, perhaps the Knicks had two epiphanies that will impact the rest of the season: 1. the re-discovery of their effort level on defense and, 2. the arrival of Burke, a scoring point guard who needs to play.

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