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Knicks 114, Pelicans 109: “The Mudiay game”

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Man, you well, Emmanuel!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at New York Knicks Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

Remember May?

A 114-109 Knicks win over the New Orleans Pelicans gave New York its first winning streak in 30 games, dating back to last season. What would have been The Allonzo Trier Game most nights instead became The Emmanuel Mudiay Game. The wins have come against two of the eight teams to advance in last year’s playoffs, and as was the case Wednesday in Boston, it was an all-around effort.

The Pelicans have struggled all year on the road, with just two wins in nine tries outside the Big Easy. But between Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic, Julius Randle and company, they’re so good at scoring, though so, so not good on the other end. Some real frisson-y sequences for New Orleans.

Like in the Boston game, New York was blitzing from downtown early, hitting eight of their first 13 (spoiler: they’d make just four of their last 20). Between that cooling and AD putting up 12 in the second en route to the usual dominance, how would the Knicks stay in the game? Emmanuel Mudiay and Allonzo Trier, that’s how.

Mudiay is on the verge of becoming reliable at the rim, using his strength and horiztonal athleticism to finish drives. Studies suggest the falling down is easier to swallow when he’s appealing for and-ones rather than missing lay-ups. He was also active on the other end, more than once looking like an All-Pro cornerback.

Meanwhile, Trier was aggressive from the get-go getting to the hoop, scoring a dozen in his opening dozen minutes He’s not a narcissist blindly in love with his outside shot; he looks to push, to get to the iron. Must have done so eight or nine times tonight. May he never lose that edge.

A couple sweet assists, too, including these.

New Orleans was turning the ball over a lot. One thing that kept them in the game: they were straight killing it on the offensive glass. Of course, those boards only matter if you convert them; if you don’t, you’re susceptible to run-outs.

The Knicks led most of the first half despite Tim Hardaway Jr. missing his first 11 looks. One miss late in the half would have put New York up 10; instead that miss was followed by this Wesley Johnson three to cut it to four and make sure this game didn’t get off the rails for the Pels.

It became clear by the middle of the third this was one of those games where neither team can pull away. Mudiay’s improved finishing, coupled with his rebounding, makes him a surprisingly effective one-man fast break. He was out on the run a lot tonight.

After trailing for a while, the Knicks regained the lead on a Trier three off a Kanter off-the-dribble assist after he’d successfully handled an ill-advised pass. That whole sentence sounds wrong, but it’s true.

Late in the third, after falling and coming up gingerly, Davis had to leave the game with a quad/hip issue. A few minutes later, Nikola Mirotic hurt his ankle after hitting a three and landing on Mitchell Robinson’s foot, a play the refs reviewed and changed to a flagrant. The game was up for grabs entering the fourth.

With Davis out, Holiday upped his aggressiveness and New Orleans went up nine. To their credit, the Knicks kept clawing back. To their credit, the Pelicans repeatedly rebuffed them. At times with extreme prejudice.

With just over three minutes left, the Knicks were down four.

But Davis returned, which felt like as good a reason as any to cave. The Knicks didn’t. A minute later Trier, who set career-highs in points (25) and rebounds (8) while falling one shy of tying his high for assists, hit free throws to give New York the lead, 104-103. Mudiay again played cornerback.

After the steal and a pair of free throws, part of a 14-2 run over most of the last half of the fourth, yet another BEAUTIFUL Mudiay drive and lay-in were part of his Knick career-high 27 and essentially put the game out of reach. Mudiay (15) nearly outscored the Pelicans (19) by himself in the final frame.

Winning is fun. Wednesday felt good. Today on top of that is better.

Notes:

  • The Knick bench outscored the Pelicans’ subs 47-29.
  • In addition to another double-double, Noah Vonleh added four three-pointers, five assists, two steals and two blocks. The “Can we re-sign Vonleh?” ground swell is already underway and we’re not even into December.
  • At least once a game, Vonleh misses a shot because he’s too far under the basket.
  • Mitchell Robinson fouled out in 9 minutes. Kevin Knox had three fouls in his first three minutes and had to be benched.
  • Kanter had another double-double. Even blocked three shots. But it always seems like he’s on the verge of doing something unhelpful, and I’m calling it now: after the opposing team scores, especially when the pace is what Clyde Frazier would call “NBA action,” Kanter frequently inbounds the ball before getting both his feet out of bounds. Bet the refs will get him on this sooner than later, hopefully not in a big spot or close game.
  • I struggled with irrational anger toward ex-Knick Doug McDermott every time he missed a three-pointer. I felt like that was the only thing he was out there to do (which isn’t fair to Doug; he’s an intelligent cutter off the ball and gets a ton of buckets at the rim), so when he missed it I was like “Then what’s even the point of you, Doug?!” I feel the same thing whenever Kanter misses a tip-in. Not fair. But it’s there.
  • Frank Ntilikina’s one basket of the night:
  • Mario Hezonja strikes me as a guy who struggles till mid-March, then averages 15 a game and 44% from downtown the rest of the way to get his season’s numbers to a respectable level. Someone signs him next summer, says they’re comfortable the guy they saw late in the year is who he is, and next March we’re watching him roll into town with Charlotte or Minnesota or something and we barely remember him.
  • Pros gonna pro.

Quoth Things WIll Be Better Next Year: “The Mudiay game.” Wednesday was The Trey Burke Game and tonight was Mudiay’s time to shine. Dare we dream Frank is the next point guard to author the definitive game of his Knick career? Next game is Sunday in Memphis. David Fizdale pro’ly ready for that one.