The Knicks opened 2017 with a 115-103 loss back on January 2nd to the Orlando Magic. Carmelo Anthony led them in scoring that night with 19. Derrick Rose added 18. The leading scorers off the bench were Brandon Jennings and Mindaugas Kuzminskas. Kristaps Porzingis was unavailable. The defeat dropped them to 16-18, part of a six-game losing streak that torpedoed the 2016-17 season.
The Knicks ended 2017 with a 105-103 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Carmelo is a Thunder. Rose is a hypothetical Cavalier. Jennings plays for China Shanxi. Kuz is weighing EuroLeague offers. Kristaps Porzingis was available last night. Very available. He’s the main reason the Knicks overcame a late eight-point deficit to notch their third road win of the season, but he wasn’t the only one. The win brought them to 18-18, snapping a four-game losing streak. The Knicks haven’t been more than a game below .500 since their 0-3 start. That feat, like last night’s roller-coaster win, is not a reason to drop confetti from the rafters. But it is a sign of growth.
The first half was all Knicks. KP was active and decisive, rising up for shots before the defense could body him or take cheap shots at his elbow. The Knicks combined for 24 assists and just 6 turnovers. They needed to be efficient, because New Orleans’ twin towers of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins combined for 60 points (on only 43 shots), along with 28 rebounds. New York rolled into the half up double-digits and pushed the lead up as high as 16 in the third. Then right around the time Porzingis left with his fourth foul, Davis decided “Nope.”
The Brow began tearing through the Knicks on both ends, dunking and punking them, and not only poor Ron Baker.
By the end of the third the Knick lead was down to one, and it didn’t take the Pels long to pull ahead as many as eight. Enter: Joakim Noah. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. On a night when Enes Kanter was a net negative and the team needed a big man who can defend, there was Noah. Appearing for just the fifth time this season, he took on the Cousins assignment, gobbled some rebounds, and scored two clutch baskets to help keep the Knicks within striking distance.
Late in the fourth Cousins hit a three and a driving lay-up on consecutive possessions, and it felt like the Knicks were headed for a fifth consecutive loss and an unhappy New Year’s. But the key sentence from earlier, and hopefully the difference-maker going forward this year and for many years to come, is “Kristaps Porzingis was available.” KP hit a corner three, his first of the night, then threw down a driving dunk between Davis and Cousins to tie it at 103. On their next possession, Noah drew the attention of both bigs down low and kicked it to Porzingis, who hit a jumper from the free-throw line to give the Knicks the lead. Cousins tied it with a pair of free throws, but then Jarrett Jack, who played exquisitely in the fourth, drew a foul and hit both free throws to put New York up two. Davis missed a three at the buzzer.
The Knicks, led by an in-form KP, missing their second-best player, and possessing an increasingly interesting 19-year-old rookie, came back from down 5 with 1:30 left on the road against a Western Conference playoff team. 2018, can’t wait to meet you.
- 30 points on 50% for Porzingis. My favorite nights as a baskethoops viewer is when dominant big men face off. I still remember the first time Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal met (the player of the game that night, naturally, was Charles Smith). Shaq vs. Yao was appointment viewing. My heart grew three sizes like the Grinch seeing KP matched up with Davis and realizing we got a franchise big who takes a backseat to nobody, even the pre-Giannis chic choice for “post-LeBron best player alive.”
- Nine points and four assists in the fourth quarter alone for Jack. I officially don’t know what to think about him anymore. Early in the game I was making jokes at his expense.
I'd say Jarrett Jack's jumped the shark, but Jarrett Jack can't jump.— Matthew Miranda (@MMiranda613) December 31, 2017
But every time I feel like the Jack contingency has run its course, he reminds me of the extent to which intelligence and awareness can supersede little things like being able to shoot, or dribble when pressured. The Jarrett Jack Experience is without question the strangest plot twist of this season.
- A classic Frank Ntilikina box score: 8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and a +4 rating in 28 minutes. I’m getting the feeling a lot of people don’t know what to make of Frank, but we’re all excited and tempted to wanna be prophets instead of people. All I wanted from Ntilikina this year was to cement his place as a rotation player worthy of 20+ minutes a night. He’s already established himself, as a teenager with a smaller sample size of experience compared to his rookie peers, as an invaluable rotation piece, and could earn promotion to the starting lineup later this season. Every night he shows something new; against New Orleans he had a beautiful driving scoop lay-in. I don’t know what he’ll end up being. I can say, after 36 games, I’m glad he’ll end up being whatever he ends up being for the Knicks.
- The Knick bench outscored the Pelican bench 42-10. Ya know, when you add Noah to the mix with guys like Doug McDermott and Michael Beasley...it’s fun to think what that could look like.
- Props to Noah. I know people hate his contract, and that he’s certainly not on the upswing of his career. But I’m not writing off a big man who communicates on defense and is a willing, gifted passer on offense. Maybe there aren’t any other teams who can throw two All-Star bigs at you like New Orleans can, but there will be other times this year the Knicks need Noah. All you can ask of a guy who’s been stuck on the bench is to be ready when his number’s called. And he was.
- Don’t forget to show some love for the Knick defense. The Pelicans are second in the NBA in shooting accuracy (49%) and sixth from downtown (38%). They shot 45% from the field last night and just 23% (6 of 26) on three-pointers.
- Walt Frazier is a big fan of Dave Bliss’s beard. If that does anything for you.
Quoth Ewing Finger Roll of Doom: “Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat...from the jaws of victory.” The Knicks’ next chance to snatch anything comes Tuesday when they host the Spurs. That precedes a three-game road jaunt. Let’s see if the 2018 Knicks are able to build upon the momentum with which they polished off 2017.