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Knicks 118, Timberwolves 114: “O’Quinning and Winning!”

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Lee was out, Noah was out, but their replacements helped carry New York to victory.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

There was much rejoicing in Knicksland when Phil Jackson acquired big man Kyle O’Quinn back in the summer of 2015. Here, we thought, was a young man with the ability to become that which is most rare of MSG commodities: a legit two-way role player. Instead, the bearded lug tantalized fans with his unique skillset all too rarely while mostly hurting the team on both ends of the court. It is those brief flickers of talent which make him far more frustrated to watch than a limited player like, say, Marshall Plumlee.

Then there are nights like Friday’s 118-114 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. O’Quinn didn’t just have the best game of his Knicks career; he had the best game of any Knicks center in 2016-17 — 20 points on 9-11 shooting, 13 rebounds (7 on offense), 2 blocks. He bullied emerging superstar Karl-Anthony Towns down low, particularly late in the game, after a particularly egregious stretch of careless ball from the second unit allowed Minnesota to take their first lead of the game, 102-101. With 5:41 remaining, and all the momentum on the side of the Wolves, KOQ grabbed a missed free throw from Kristaps Porzingis and gave the Knicks a lead they would not relinquish. On the next offensive possession, he pulled the same trick on a Derrick Rose missed free throw, carrying the rebound through multiple Wolves like Jim Brown wrecking old-timey football players. Then, to top it off, he rejected Towns in probably the best defensive sequence of the season. As P&T’er “The TrailBlazer” noted, it was a prime example of “O’Quinning and Winning.”

Have yourself a night, KOQ:

Notes:

  • Derrick Rose had one of his most efficient games of the season — 24 points on 9-15 shooting, 5 rebounds, 5 assists. The big difference for me was his skill for drawing fouls, something that happens all too rarely. Rose was downright crafty, pump-faking defenders and drawing contact. He needs to keep that up, since he can’t hit threes and isn’t terribly efficient in the restricted area (51.9 FG%, which is 3.8% below the league average).
  • Carmelo Anthony bounced back from three of the worst games of his career — yes, I know he hit the game-winner on Wednesday, but he was still terrible — with a textbook Olympic Melo performance. Fifteen of his game-high 29 points came via the three-ball, as he shot 5-10 from beyond the arc. He also came up with 3 steals, which is always fun. Bombs away, Melo!
  • Kristaps Porzingis had his worst game of the season, which happened to coincide with perhaps the worst game of Karl-Anthony Towns’ season. This is what we get for having hope for a great rematch, I guess. Kristaps shot 2-6 from downtown and 0-6 from inside the arc. It was a disturbing flashback to the dreaded Kurt Rambis Era: too many post-ups too far out of position. He was flinging up bank-shot attempts from angles so impossible it looked like a broke-ass game of HORSE.
  • Your under-the-radar Knick of the Knight: Justin Holiday, who stepped into the starting lineup in place of the injured Courtney Lee and produced 13 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals. His three-point shooting has cooled off of late, which is troubling, since he can’t hit a shot at the rim to save his life. Still, he usually gets the job done.
  • The Knicks were missing two regular starters in Lee and Joakim Noah, so naturally this ended up as only the second game this season in which all five starters (Melo, Kristaps, Rose, Holiday, O’Quinn) scored in double-figures. This was also the second time three Knicks reached the 20-point threshold, so naturally one of the three was Kyle O’Quinn. Friday Night Knicks is as weird as ever.
  • Mindaugas Kuzminskas had a rather nondescript performance, yet still managed to dunk in Cole Aldrich’s grill and elicit “KUUUUUUUUUUUUUZ” chants from the MSG faithful. Also, his girlfriend is a ballerina who apparently works with Ansel Elgort’s ballerina girlfriend. Of course Cheese is dating a ballerina. I can imagine the two of them dancing together in the forest as they pick mushrooms.
  • Ansel Elgort has been on the Knicks Celebrity Minute more times than just about anyone over the past 2-3 years and I still don’t know what he does.
  • Clyde gonna Clyde:

Mike Breen was off calling a game for ESPN, but Clyde showed how much he missed his dear partner by calling Zach LaVine “LaBreen” at one point. He also implied that he has never been starstruck by celebrities, though he did stalk Elgin Baylor down the New York City streets for a few blocks when he was a rookie.

And so the Knicks are back above .500. They play Sacramento at home on Sunday, which presents a damn fine opportunity to climb even higher in the standings. If Kyle O’Quinn plays even close to as well as he did Friday, he might actually make Boogie Cousins work.