The New York Knicks are in a weird position, roster-wise. Everybody knows about their glut of well-paid centers, but there is also a logjam at the guard position, with players like Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, Jarrett Jack, Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker, Damyean Dotson all deserving of minutes based on their play and/or promise. The injury to Hardaway has opened up some minutes for the younger guys, but Sunday’s game against the Hawks really showcased what can happen when the end-of-the-bench guys get a chance to shine.
The particular bench bro who sparked New York on this evening was Baker, who chipped in 9 points and 4 assists in a surprisingly robust 31 minutes of action. As we usually say with dudes like Baker, however, the impact went way beyond the stat sheet. The Fifth Beatle was all up in opposing ball-handlers, creating havoc among the Hawks’ offense when grouped with the likes of Ntilikina, Lance Thomas and the ever-impressive Doug McDermott. Baker came up with 2 steals—though one of them came from Frank using his colossal squid arms to deflect a pass from the 6’10” Ersan Illyasova—and often returned the favor by haranguing Hawks into tossing careless passes into the black hole that is Frank’s wingspan (3 steals for the rook).
Yeah, the Knicks (Baker included) fouled too much in the closing minutes, making this game much closer than it should have been. Yes, they still had trouble guarding the three-ball (especially with the non-Ron, non-Frank, non-Doug starting lineup). Whatever. It was cool to see Ron back, healthy and doing his thing. His thing is defense, which is a thing I happen to enjoy. I enjoyed some of the lineups Jeff Hornacek used in the second half. Now, if only I had the confidence that Horny will go back to those lineups next game. Alas.
—I would be remiss if I neglected to include Kristaps Porzingis (who played a lot of center in this game) among the Small-Ball Turnover Patrol. Kristaps grabbed 2 steals and blocked 3 shots to go along with 8 rebounds and 30 points (first time he’s reached that mark in a while) on 10-23 shooting. He shot 9-10 on free throws, which was a refreshing change from recent games—the free-throw attempts just haven’t been there for him of late.
—This really, really felt like a game which Frank Ntilikina would fail to score. He was sporting a goose egg midway through the fourth, and blew an easy layup a few minutes earlier. Surely he’d be content merely handing the ball off to Beasley or Porzingis and...oh my God did he just pull up from 30 feet?
Frank went on to score 7 straight points for the Knicks. His confidence waxes and wanes, as you’d expect from a 19-year-old, but let no man say he can’t get NBA buckets.
—I don’t really have much to say about Doug McDermott that can’t be better said by the box score: 23 points on 9-13 shooting, +10. I will add this: only 2 of those 9 makes came on three-pointers. Kid can get buckets in all manner of ways. I wouldn’t mind seeing him start in place of Lance.
—Ten minutes. One point. Six fouls. Some heroes don’t wear capes.
Michael Beasley actually tried a bit on defense...hence the six fouls. The Knicks outscored Atlanta by 11 points in those 10 minutes, so it wasn’t bad exactly. The Garden knows who to shower with appreciation, as P&T’er LatvianPrankster noted.
—Tim Hardaway doesn’t need to take the court to make a positive contribution.
Knicks are back to .500 with the suddenly pretty good Lakers on deck for Tuesday.