The truth is, Kevin Knox was playing soft. He did look lost. He was struggling to physically compete.
But what the Knicks loved about him during the predraft process wasn’t just his frame, his length and his scorer’s mentality. It was also his work ethic, which comes from a pedigree of a military family and a father who played pro football. It was an unflinching personality that kept shooting even after missing a few shots.
It was a determination to use a story that quoted unnamed NBA scouts and coaches criticizing his play as fuel over two days of practice that led to his best night as a pro so far.
Kevin Knox scored a career-high 26 points, including 13 in a critical fourth quarter push that saw the Knicks battle back from a 13-point deficit in the final 6 minutes to force overtime and had the Garden roaring the loudest it’s roared since Kristaps Porzingis was doing MVP things last November.
“And that’s what it’s all about, this is this culture we’re trying to build,” Tim Hardaway Jr. said of Knox’s determination through the criticism. “And he’s the definition of it.”
With two second round picks and a rookie on the court in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Knicks produced their most exciting home win of the season, which saw big shots by the Knicks, a bad miss by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and a critical free throw miss from Brook Lopez before a last-gasp rebound attempt failed before the final buzzer.
Oh yes, overall this one ranks up there with the emotional win in Memphis on Sunday.
Sandwiched between were back-to-back road losses in Detroit and Philadelphia that could have been dispiriting for David Fizdale‘s young group. But one thing we’ve learned about this team so far one quarter into the season is they don’t stay down for long. And they’re getting even harder to keep down in games.
“One thing about our kids,” Fizdale said, “they come in the gym the next day and they didn’t hang their heads, they didn’t doubt they didn’t make excuses. They just got back to work.”
Fizdale’s favorite reclamation project, Emmanuel Mudiay, came up big again in crunch time like he did in Memphis. He scored 28 points, with 16 coming in the fourth quarter and overtime. Mudiay made a couple of off-balance three-pointers — including one with 24.1 seconds left in regulation to tie it at 124 — while the Knicks managed to survive game-winning attempts by Antetokounmpo (33 points) at the end of regulation and overtime.
“One thing about our team,” Mudiay said, “we’re always going to fight.”
Mudiay, who looked tired against Detroit and Philly, once again seemed to lose his legs in the second half of this game and Fizdale pulled him from the game. But he re-entered down the stretch and suddenly looked re-energized. “The way he responded,” Fizdale said, “was fantastic.”
Damyean Dotson, the second round pick from 2017, also capped off his big week back in the rotation with 21 points off the bench and a huge three in the final minute out of a timeout. Dotson was 5 for 5 from downtown in the game and made 10 of 14 from three in the last three games.
Mitchell Robinson, this year’s second round pick, also factored into things late when he entered the game for Noah Vonleh, who fouled out. Robinson also eventually fouled out but managed to stay in the game long enough to have a huge impact on defense, especially in containing The Greek Freak.
All that was missing was Frank Ntilikina, who never entered the game for his first DNP-CD of the season. Fizdale explained that Dotson’s play earned him those minutes and he had to stay with him. Fizdale was quick to heap praise on Ntilikina for his energy and enthusiasm on the bench. “And that’s not easy when you’re getting a DNP,” the coach noted.
He also used Dotson as an example for Ntilikina to see how a player can go from sitting a few games to right back into the rotation and contributing. It’s about staying ready.
“You can see from these guys,” Fizdale said, “none of them are ever in the dungeon.”
– Antetokounmpo has been a Knick killer in recent games but despite his gaudy stat line (33 points, 19 rebounds, 7 assists) this wasn’t an easy game for the MVP candidate. In fact, after the game he was so annoyed by Mario Hezonja stepping over him following a dunk, he said he would “punch him in his [groin] next time.” Should make their next game — Christmas Day at the Garden — a little more interesting to watch. But Antetokounmpo had all game to get back at Hezonja (who only played 12 minutes) but he did exact some measure of revenge a few plays later when he drove hard at Vonleh and dunked and then shouldered Vonleh as he shouted an expletive at him. But Vonleh showed once again how valuable he is becoming as a defensive presence on the court with several good plays against the Bucks star, not to mention the fact that he also went 3 for 3 from downtown to finish with 15 points before he fouled out.
– Trey Burke suffered what is for now being called a knee sprain when he was rolled up on early in the game. An MRI will be taken, but preliminary x-rays taken during the game were negative. For the Knicks to lose Burke for an extended period of time might push Ntilikina back to a point guard role, but we have seen lately that Fizdale is not hesitant to employ Allonzo Trier in that role. Trier ran the point for most of the second half and finished with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in 17:14.
– The Knicks made a season-high 20 three-pointers in the game, which tied a franchise record. They’ve only twice before hit 20 threes in a game, the last time was April 9, 2013 against the Wizards, when they went 20 for 36 in a 120-99 win. Three Knick players hit 4 threes in that game. One was Iman Shumpert, the other was in the building for this game, Steve Novak. Can you guess who the third was? Hint: it was not JR Smith, nor Carmelo Anthony.