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Knicks 126, Hornets 124 (OT): “Who is Michael Jordan going to slap tonight?”

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The Lukanuel Korniay game!

NBA: New York Knicks at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The first piece I wrote for P&T examined why we follow the Knicks during lost seasons. Four and a half years later, New York’s 126-124 fourth quarter comeback and overtime win in Charlotte answered the question better than I ever could. We sift through rivers of darkness hunting for fractions of light, waiting for the day the light is whole again. It’s not — not yet. But nights like this offer hope it’s finally a matter of when and not if.

Ten players started, nine were cold and the tenth was Kemba Walker. The All-Star was pumped from the jump, and before your couch seat could get warm he found Nic Batum for a corner three to make it 23-8 Charlotte. The only Knick with the knack? Kevin Knox.

David Fizdale has talked about being tired of losing games in the first quarter. The Enes Kanter/Noah Vonleh/Knox/Tim Hardaway/Emmanuel Mudiay setup gets blitzed time after time; before Knox started starting again it was happening with Mario Hezonja out there. The Knicks gave up 38 in the first quarter to Boston, 30 to Brooklyn, and 39 in Cleveland. Tonight after one, they trailed 33-16. Charlotte followed that up with a 39-point second quarter, so these problems are pro’ly systemic. The deficit reached 21.

Knicks against the world? I hear that, brother. Insult turned to injury when Mitchell Robinson landed on Frank Kaminsky’s goofy foot. Robinson sprained his left ankle and did not return. Try to remember him in his better moments tonight:

It took the Knicks until midway through the second to reach the Hornets’ point total from the first. That is some daunting math. Speaking of wild numbers: New York got out on the giant-squid-level rare 5-on-1 fast break, led by Ntilikina. What happened next stunned onlookers.

If Vegas gave you odds on Ntilikina not passing the ball on a 5-on-1 and you took that action, you’d win enough dough for everyone reading this to retire.

Malik Monk dunked and got mouthy with Hardaway about it.

People been effing with Tim of late. My inner abuelita wants to grab a rolling pin and beat all his harriers into silence. Later Monk bumped into Hardaway trying to drive baseline. It looked like he pulled something after the collision, and he had to leave the game to get checked out.

The universe, naturally aware I’d make a karma joke after that, gave me a taste of my own medicine, pushing Marvin Williams into Ntilikina’s knee.

Ntilikina nearly became (k)Nee-li-killed-a. I’ll be here all weeks, folks.

Knox’s 17 was almost literally all the Knicks had going for them. If not for him they would’ve been down 50.

Meanwhile, Charlotte had 20 assists on 27 baskets. Pretty sure this was the 20th.

The were Knicks down 19 at the half and down to nine healthy bodies. And there was no Ron Baker to pull their fat out of the fire. The defense showed up in the third, holding Charlotte to just 21, but they were still down 93-74 with 1:30 left in the quarter. The Knicks needed The A-Team. Turns out that means Hezonja, Courtney Lee, Mudiay, Vonleh and Luke Kornet.

Kornet hadn’t scored in limited minutes this season, but he saved them all for tonight and the Knicks needed every one of them. A Kornet three-pointer and follow-up dunk cut the gap to 11 and helped them on their way to an 18-5 run. The defense was what keyed the comeback, and in an unexpected twist, tonight that defense, for a while, was a zone. Kornet helped make that work, too; it hadn’t when Kanter and his Kevin Willis arms were out there.

At one point the Knicks had three fast breaks in a row: a Hezonja dunk off a steal, a Mudiay drive and finish and Lee drawing a foul. Kornet learned the ways of the force and realized he doesn’t need to actually defend to stop people. The mere threat is often enough.

In addition to Kornet’s coronation, it was a banner night for Mudiay. It wasn’t only meaningful because of the numbers he put up; it’s that on a night when both Kanter and Hardaway were pretty meh, Mudiay took the wheel and took control of the game. He was bossing Kemba by the late stages.

With just over four minutes left, a Hardaway jumper gave New York its first lead since they were up 6-5. Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams scored consecutive hoops because the minor characters have to do things to offer contrast to when the main characters do main character things.

Batum hit a three, then set up Jeremy Lamb for two. Charlotte was up four. Vonleh went all Conan the Barbarian and just took two back, then Lamb, who looked gassed, missed two shots. Mudiay went strong at Williams, using his strength to create just enough space for the short bunny to tie it up. Kemba missed a three, setting up Mudiay for the Hollywood finish.

Hollywood’s all about sequels and remakes these days, dog. You know that. So twas off to overtime, where Hardaway hit a three as the shot clock expired to open the festivities. Kornet kept hitting roundhouses from downtown while Mudiay took jabs at the midrange; the Knicks got up by six. Threes by Batum and Williams sandwiched a lovely Vonleh bounce pass that split two defenders and led to Knox hitting one of two at the line.

Mudiay hit another jumper to set a career scoring high. Kornet got stuck on a switch against Kemba, but contested him on the drive (FORESHADOWING). In a bit of poetic justice, Mudiay found some small measure of inbounds success after failing to inbound the ball late in the loss at Cleveland.

Kornet blocked a Williams three-point attempt, but Batum made one anyway to cut the Knick lead to two. One last gasp for Charlotte. They fouled Knox and he missed both free throws. Kemba came flying up the floor and had a runner ready that would have exceeded the grasp of lesser man. But Luke ain’t lesser: his presence forced Walker to brick. Game over. Comeback complete. And what a comeback! Their biggest since 1992.

Ima open my veins like Frankie Pentangeli and you can shoot this shit straight in ‘em.

Notes:

  • Bill Pidto reported this was the first time all five Knick starters have scored in double figures. That’s not true. Is it?
  • Mudiay scored 29 of his career-best 34 after the half. I wonder if there’s a middle ground for Knick fans re: keeping him. Like, he’s pro’ly not gonna make this sort of thing a habit. Odds are he’ll pro’ly never be an All-Star. But when has he done enough for more fans to be cool with retaining a 22-year-old point guard on the upswing?
  • Ntilikina left with a sprained right ankle. If this game meant anything to history, the sheer human carnage would have made it legendary.
  • Fiz cracking on Kornet’s hops:
  • Watch what you say, Coach. Mom’s be out here lurking.
  • Jason Kidd was not a good shooter, but he was in big spots. Knox averages fewer than a block per 36, but I feel like his blocks are often big blocks, in spectacle and/or significance.
  • You ever work with someone who, whenever there’s a meeting with a specific goal in mind, is always asking questions that don’t address that goal, or want to take the talk into tangential, meaningless directions? That’s Hezonja on offense. When north/south ball movement is required, Mario is always there to swing it sideways. When ball movement is what’s needed to break down the D, he’s there for a pull-up.
  • Did Lee have tattoos removed? Did he have very small, faint tattoos added? Check out his arms next time you get a chance. Something’s going on there.
  • Charlotte honored Muggsy Bogues, an original Hornet, with a bobblehead.

Bogues is the shortest player in NBA history. A legit nuisance as a defender, he once averaged a hair under 11 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than five to one. Bogues is an indelible part of Charlotte’s NBA history. Why is he getting a bobblehead and not a jersey retired? Maybe because there’s some weird bad blood from the iconic owner toward the iconic player.

  • Do you know who led the first-year Hornets in win shares?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAFIuvCXYVc

Quoth iamcarbonbased “Who is Jordan going to slap tonight?” I’d guess the four Charlotte guards: Kemba, Lamb, Monk, and Tony Parker combined to go 17 of 50 from the field, 7 of 25 from downtown and take just two free throws. The Knicks next chance to slap somebody is Sunday in Indiana. If revenge against one 1990s nemesis is good, revenge against a second would be doubleplus good. See y’all then.