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MSG Dispatches: Defiant Knicks still believe in each other

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Lee accounted for 12 straight points during an integral fourth quarter stretch in the Knicks’ win over Charlotte.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As a lighthearted Carmelo Anthony addressed reporters after New York’s 110-105 Friday win over the Charlotte Hornets, Kristaps Porzingis barged into the locker room, blasting Earth, Wind & Fire’s hit “Boogie Wonderland” from his portable speakers.

Anthony shook his head before laughing. The media followed.

Locker rooms tend to be cheery after a win, that rings true in New York even with the trade drama surrounding Anthony and a team president in Phil Jackson seemingly determined to move on from his All-Star forward.

It’s scary to imagine what the Knicks’ locker room would have felt like had Courtney Lee not saved the day.

On the stat sheet, Lee had a solid game, tallying 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting (2-for-5 from three) along with four assists and three steals.

But if you let his coach and teammates tell it, he was the catalyst behind New York’s defensive stand that helped hold Kemba Walker to 2-for-11 three-point shooting and Charlotte to just 20 fourth-quarter points.

“He was a big reason why we won this game tonight. You know Courtney gets most of the credit,” said Kristaps Porzingis, who finished with 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting. “His defensive stance that he took in that fourth quarter. Offensively getting it going, getting the crowd back into the game, getting us into the game. He was a big reason why we won.”

The Knicks entered the final period down 87-82 but proceeded to hold the Hornets scoreless from the 8:11 mark until there were two minutes remaining with the game tied at 99 apiece. Lee scored nine straight points then found Brandon Jennings for a corner triple to give New York a 105-101 lead with 1:19 left in the fourth.

Anthony later hit the biggest shot of the night — a fadeaway jumper to give the Knicks a 109-105 lead.

“As a team, I thought we picked it up in that fourth quarter. I thought we got some stops,” said Anthony, who had a cold 8-for-26 shooting night for 18 points and 11 rebounds. “Courtney got it going offensively. And even defensively, Courtney got it going. ... We followed his lead.”

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek made it plain: When the team gets stops, good things happen.

“We played defense. It’s as simple as that,” he said matter-of-factly after the game. “You don’t just stop guys with one guy playing good defense; it’s all five guys. And during that stretch, they were all over the place helping each other out and blocking shots, scrambling to the three-point shooters that they have. So, that’s what wins you games.”

When Hornacek sat Joakim Noah (0 points, 2 rebounds in 11 minutes), he turned to Kyle O’Quinn, who stepped up off the bench with 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in just 16 minutes on the floor. His play helped rejuvenate a Knicks defense that allowed Charlotte’s first-time All-Star to run amok for the first three quarters.

“K.O. came in. He did a good job of protecting the rim,” Lee said. “I think he had a couple blocks in the minutes that he played.”

“Kyle was great,” added Hornacek. “Kemba Walker is a tough guy to deal with. He’s quick. Kyle with his long arms got a couple of blocks. (The bench) really stepped up for us.”

New York had issues defending Walker, who torched them for 31 points on 13-for-29 shooting. But when Derrick Rose exited the game with a sprained left ankle in the third quarter, Brandon Jennings’ scrappy defense forced the Hornets’ All-Star into tough situations.

Jennings helped hold Walker to just 2-for-11 shooting in the game’s final 16 minutes (0-for-4 in the third quarter after checking in with 4:19 left) while the Knicks outscored the Hornets 28-20 in the final period.

“I just tried not to let him get comfortable. I tried to fight through screens, tried to pressure him and tried to make it tough on him,” said Jennings, who chimed in with 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

Added Hornacek: “I thought Brandon did a great job tonight. He was putting a lot of pressure on Kemba from behind and chasing him.”

As a team, New York shot 47.9 percent from the field with six players scoring in double figures. Anthony said the team enjoyed the aggressive version of Courtney Lee that shot 7-for-12 from the field: “This is the Courtney that we like,” he said. “We want him to continue being as aggressive on both ends of the court. We look forward to that.”

But Friday night’s MVP said it’s moving and sharing the ball that makes the game more fun.

“We were playing for each other. It was actually fun tonight,” Lee said. “We fed off our defense, and once we were able to get stops and get out and run, we were able to make plays. I think everybody hit big shots.”

The Knicks (21-27) have won three of their last six and at 11th in the East, they are just two games behind the Chicago Bulls for the eighth seed in the conference. On the flip side of that coin, New York is only 2.5 games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers (17-28), who sit 12th in the East.

But much like Lee was unanimously named the game’s MVP, Anthony and company agree on something else: the Knicks can make the playoffs this season.

“We know that (we can make the playoffs). We still believe that it’s still right there,” he said. “Our goal is to make the playoffs and we see it. We’re right there. Even though we’ve lost some games, other teams are losing games to and giving us an opportunity to still be right there in the picture.”

NOTES

  • Carmelo Anthony, who was not named to the All-Star Game for the first time in eight years, says he wants to enjoy his time off during the break: “I’m gonna utilize that break to the best of my ability to be honest with you. Imma take that time off and get some rest during that break.”
  • X-rays came back negative on Rose’s left ankle. It is unclear if he will miss time due to his injury.