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Knicks 103, Kings 101: “They’re so happy. I’m happy.”

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“MIKE VAN GUN-DY!!!”

NBA: New York Knicks at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The tortoise beat the hare Friday: the Knicks, trailing all night beneath a barrage of Sacramento three-pointers, rode a steady trickle of twos to a 103-101 victory, their first winning streak in eight-and-a-half months.

The Kings started out hot as hell from inside and especially outside the arc, especially Buddy Hield. Give Hield an inch and he’s getting his shot off, and the Knicks were giving and he was taking and making, not only from deep but this, too:

Hield also busted out some breakaway dunks, put-back dunks and put-back follows. “Put-back follow” is redundant, but it conveys how everywhere Hield was. The Kings were up 12 after the first quarter.

Twas Julius Deion Randle keeping the Knicks at a respectable distance while his teammates were in a collective drought, scoring 17 in the opening half on just 10 shots, and even effectively harassing Hield on one memorable defensive possession. Even so, Hield had 22 by the break, but the Knicks didn’t quit on each other. Despite trailing by double-digits much of the half, despite Sacramento’s deflatingly hot shooting from deep, there was no devolving into isos and hero ball. New York kept moving the ball, kept running actions and looking for one another. A late first-half run pulled them within single digits.

Early in the third it was looking like one of those games you wish you hadn’t stayed up for. Randle was 8-of-13 shooting when the rest of the Knicks were just 15-of-41. The Lord loveth a cheerful spin move.

But Hield was unrelenting. Late in the third he’d missed just two of his 13 shots, and after a Cory Joseph breakway the Kings led 77-61. Moments later, still down by 14, a critical moment: Bogdan Bogdanovic squared up for a three from the top of the arc. Mitchell Robinson nearly jumped out of the gym to contest, so Bogdanovic kicked it left to Joseph and cut toward the lane. Joseph passed it back to him, and it looked like Bogdan was setting up a short runner, only he recognized Bobby Portis rotating out to him, so he kicked it to the right corner, where Nemanja Bjelica was all alone for three. If Bjelica hits, the Kings go up 17. Sacramento was not missing pretty much all night. But this time they did, and after that the Knicks closed the third on an 11-3 run, cutting the lead to single digits as they had late in the second quarter. Would the fourth turn out any better than the third? It would! This was no fake comeback. This was the real McCoy.

For nearly six minutes bridging the third and fourth quarters, the Kings didn’t score a point. Meanwhile, Portis and Damyean Dotson were hitting multiple threes, including one by Dot with the shot clock expiring that really should’ve been worth four.

Also hammering away at the deficit: Robinson’s offensive rebounds and points in the paint. Five games in a row and seven of nine Mitch has played 25+ minutes. Give.

Success is often as much what others don’t do as what you do. Hield checked into the game after a rest and immediately hit another three to put the Kings up six. On their next set he pulled up from the top of the arc for a good look at a trey that would’ve pushed the lead to nine, but it rimmed out. Bogdanovic got away with an eight-second violation (GOD that angries up my blood), but karma led Hield to a carrying violation right after. The Knicks were getting some breaks. It’s better to be lucky than good; it’s best to be both. Last night, they were.

Elfrid Payton played perhaps his best game as a Knick, especially in the late-and-close minutes. After hitting from downtown, he scored again to give the Knicks their first lead since 2-0. Hield tied it back up, but then an absolute frozen rope of a pull-up put New York back on top, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The tortoises were switching effectively, rotating perfectly, and all those threes the hares couldn’t miss for 42 minutes weren’t falling.

Another critical break for the Knicks: after Hield missed a three-pointer, Joseph got the rebound and was in prime position to lay it in and tie the game, but the refs called him for a loose ball foul on Knox. Luke Walton appealed, and the call, which was a bad call, was overturned. But instead of the game being tied, Sacramento had to inbound, and this happened:

Suddenly Hield was human, but Randle remained metronomically steady; this bucket capped a 12-2 run. The Knicks really made it a habit to close quarters strong last night.

In the final minute, Joseph missed a corner three that would’ve tied the game. On the other end Payton drove, lost control, got it back and missed baseline tosser. The Knicks got the rebound, and with the shot clock running down RJ drove at Joseph — the lane was beautifully spaced open — and missed. Then:

The Knicks were outscored by 24 points on three-pointers and hit just six of 10 free throws. But they were efficient inside the arc, dominated points in the paint, had 24 assists to just nine turnovers, won the second-chance points battle 22-9, and their bench outscored the Kings’ reserves 53-26. Sacramento opened brilliantly and nearly coasted all the way to the win because of it. But Team Tortoise just kept chipping away until the away win was theirs. This was a fun one to watch. It’s fun to hope your team figures out a way to pull it out, and then they do.

Notes:

  • You’ve heard of activist judges. This game featured some activist refs. Neither team was having it: demonstrative, bipartisan griping for 48 minutes.
  • A forgettable night for Frank Ntilikina. On a positive note, he took the Knicks’ first shot of the game, an aggressive long two. He missed. A couple minutes later, he took another open look. Missed. A couple minutes later, he took another open look. Missed. Even though he was missing, he was taking shots when he had them. Payton is smart about shooting when he should, just to keep the defense honest. Maybe Ntilikina is picking up on that.
  • On a negative note, after making a lay-up for his first basket, Frank drove into the paint and had 6’0” Yogi Farrell on him. He drew Bjelica’s attention, which left Portis open for three; Ntilikina passed it out, but Portis traveled after Bjelica ran out to contest. It was the right play by Frank, I suppose. But I’d like to see him go over the top of the shorter defender, if only to keep the aggression going.
  • No Dennis Smith Jr. tonight. He was available, but didn’t see any action.
  • No Allonzo Trier, either; he apparently suffered a concussion after banging heads w/DSJ in practice.
  • I really like Payton. The whole playing-well thing goes a long way. But I also just dig his vibe, going back to his Orlando days.
  • I don’t remember a lotta dudes who shoot their free throws with the arc Payton does yet shoot line drive jumpers. If you’re looking for hope for Barrett at the line, look no further than Payton. He hit 55% from the stripe as a rookie, has improved every year and is now up to 80%.
  • If David Fizdale were winning games by playing Payton more and Frank and DSJ less, we good?
  • Good MSG trivia tonight: who holds the Knick rookie record for double-doubles?
  • Did you know Bobby Portis is second in the league in double-doubles off the bench? What a time to be alive.
  • That Buddy Hield/DeMarcus Cousins deal...fair to say the Pelicans would take a mulligan.
  • Wayne Ellington was inactive due to neck pain. He rocked a suit-jacket-and-hoodie look that kinda made me wish I made enough money to make that my daily wear.
  • Twenty-four scoreless minutes for OAKAAKUYOAK Trevor Ariza. I believe when New York drafted in him 2004 he was the youngest Knick ever, just 19. 16 seasons, $100M+ and one championship ring later, he’ll still always be the guy Isiah Thomas traded for Steve Francis to me. What a time to be alive that was, too.
  • When Farrell scores, the Kings’ P.A. announcers calls “Yo-gi” and the crowd answers “FARR-ELL.” Mike Breen relayed this tradition and sounded like he said “the crowd goes feral,” and I lucked into an instant idea for a short story.
  • Only Marvin Bagley’s third game this season. He looked rusty. He also looks like such a natural scorer, man.
  • 14 points, 9 boards and just two fouls in 25 minutes for Mitch tonight.
  • Harrison Barnes hit a three after Robinson failed to switch in time. Knox, visibly frustrated, took it out on the Kings on the other end, going strong to the hoop for two. Yes, please.
  • Knox is going to be the first-ever casualty on a fast break. By the end of so many he looks like a crash-test dummy.
  • If you’re old enough to remember the Kings’ red and blue crown logo, who comes to mind when you see it? I always think of the guy Indiana took second after losing the Patrick Ewing frozen-envelope lottery.
  • Trivia answer: Willis Reed. I guessed Bill Cartwright.

Quoth Melo’s Bucket Hat Collection: “They’re so happy. I’m happy.” You should be! With the new, worsened lottery odds, these wins aren’t the moral quandary they once were. Your basketball team won. They won on the road. They came from behind to win. They’ve won two in a row. Those are all fine things. Mike Miller might be Jeff Van Gundy 2.0; he’s already the Knicks’ first non-losing coach (2-2) since Mike Woodson. Sophisms is big, man. Next game in Sunday in Denver. Eat an edible that night, in honor of Colorado’s legal marijuana, and ‘cuz the Nuggets are not the Warriors or the Kings, and you might need some help in the feeling-good department.