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Timberwolves 108, Knicks 104: ‘At least it was quite watchable basketball’

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Quite.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

That wasn’t so bad, was it? The New York Knicks lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves, 108-104, in a game that featured a decent amount of inspired play and—dare I say it—good coaching decisions. As P&T’er xobserverx noted, it was watchable, which is pretty much all that matters these days.

The biggest story line to come out of Friday night was Jeff Hornacek’s decision to bench starting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay for the final 43 minutes (!!!), leaning instead on the far more effective duo of Frank Ntilikina and Trey Burke. Mudiay allowed Wolves PG Jeff Teague to stroll to the bucket at his leisure over during the first few minutes, but Hornacek surprised just about everyone with his quick and thorough hook. I damn near dropped my cup of green tea when I realized that Frank and Trey were in fact starting the third quarter (Frank replaced Courtney Lee, who was also pretty terrible in this one).

The moves works, albeit not enough to overcome the vastly more talented Timberwolves. The Knicks did take the lead with a 15-0 run spanning the second and third quarters, but they just couldn’t quite make enough plays down the stretch. Whatever. It was a compelling game.

Notes:

Frank Ntilikina bounced back from a tough game in Miami to record a health 13-point, 5-rebound, three-assist performance in a career-high 37 minutes. His defense on Andrew Wiggins was superb: Wiggins shot 2-6 when guarded by the lanky Frenchman. It was inspiring to see Frank bang in the post against the former No. 1 overall pick, who still has a few seasons of NBA strength training on the rook. Frank even defended the likes of Taj Gibson on switches, and once again held his own. Well done, Francis.

—Speaking of good defenders...Trey Burke? Yes, that Trey Burke! New York’s diminutive Allen Iverson clone gave Jeff Teague the business throughout the game after the Minnesota point guard opened the night torching Mudiay. I didn’t notice him being quite as good on the offensive end on Friday night, though, looking back, the numbers are pretty damn good: 15 points on 6-11 shooting, 9 assists, 3 turnovers. The Knicks would be happy with those numbers every night.

—The definitive star of the night for New York was Tim Hardaway Jr., who dropped a career-high 39 points on the T-Wolves. Timmy had one of his unstoppable stretches in the third quarter, pouring in 19 points as the Knicks briefly took control of the game.

Still, as impeccable as his final shooting line was—14-25, including 6-11 from three—Timmy had a few ghastly misses in this one. I’m talking straight-up air balls, and on some fairly uncontested attempts, too. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player that hot miss his shots that badly. Not that it’s a bad thing, per se—if you’re gonna miss, you might as well miss badly.

—Kyle O’Quinn was pretty bad for his second game in a row. But he also yelled at Jeff Hornacek, so I forgive him.

Luke Kornet played pretty much all of his 21 minutes at the power forward position against Minnesota’s big lineups and kinda held his own. Dude is clearly not a 4 in the NBA, but he hit a couple threes, made a double of nice dishes inside, and didn’t get completely overwhelmed on defense. That’ll do.

So the Knicks are still tanking, but maybe now they’re tanking smarter? Only time will tell.