That was right around Thanksgiving, the first, last and only time the Knicks had a winning streak this season. Until last night’s 108-103 comeback over the Orlando Magic. New York has won two in a row and three of their last four while remaining three wins “ahead” of Chicago for top-three lottery odds. All is well.
All was not well early. Orlando jumped out to a 21-6 lead, par for the course when these teams have met this year. In October the Magic led the Knicks 30-10 and 44-31 after the first quarter; tonight’s 34-20 put the tri- in triptych. The starters were getting run, so the bench got some run, and what a fun run it was.
Emmanuel Mudiay, John Jenkins, Allonzo Trier, Henry Ellenson and Mitchell Robinson scored 31 of the Knicks’ first 37 points, cutting a 16-point deficit to four.
Orlando stabilized, helped by Aaron Gordon continually getting post position at or near the rim and then either having a comparably-sized defender fail while fronting him or little dudes getting caught on switches.
With three minutes in the half D.J. Augustin hit from three to put the Magic back up 11, but the Knicks finished with a push and were down just five at the break. The lead ballooned as high as 14 in the third, and after Orlando’s starters again outplayed New York’s they’d scored 90 entering the fourth and led by a dozen. If the Magic were Grampa Simpson and their lead was Del Monte peas, the Knicks were the hired gun about to put the hit out.
Trier, Jenkins and Mudiay keyed an 11-1 run. Trier in particular had some sweet drives, possibly aided by the fact that he was getting the whistle more than usual; he got to the line 10 times. It was obvious the game meant a lot to the Magic; a win would have tied them with Charlotte for the eighth seed, and even as the young Knicks’ confidence grew the Magic held the lead most of the final frame. But the Knick bench bossed this game, outscoring the Magic backups 75 to 7.
Trier found Robinson for a dunk to tie it at 100, then Junior Patrick got fouled going for an offensive rebound and hit a free throw to give the Knicks their first lead all year against the Magic. Nikola Vucevic and Jonathan Isaac teamed up to share a Charles Smith experience under the basket, missing a million putbacks or having them blocked. An Ellenson three with two minutes left put the Knicks up four.
The Magic went almost the last five minutes without scoring, until a Terrence Ross three-pointer pulled them within three with just under 30 seconds left. Orlando then made the curious decision to foul Trier, an 85% FT shooter, in the hope that he’d miss. He didn’t. Fin, and a fine fin it was.
- The Knick starters took 41 shots to score 33 points. None reached double-figures. When’s the last time that happened? Can this be the last time it happens? Please?
- This Harlan Ellison/Warren Ellis/Wayne Ellenson cat can push the dribble. 13, 9, 5 and a couple steals, along with a Midwest Euro/hood accent I absolutely cannot place.
- On a number of possessions Dennis Smith was guarded tight, used all his shaking and baking to get himself into the paint, forced the defense to collapse around him and found an open teammate. A glimpse of reason for hope come some future playoffs?
- Smith also had at least three truly awful rookie-QB-looking turnovers.
- 16 and 6 for my man crush Jonathan Isaac. He’s gonna be a Knick one day. Book it.
- Consecutive double-doubles for Mitch, including a career-high 17 points. All y’all who wrote off the Carmelo trade the day it happened: 10 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Marys.
- With six blocks, Mitchell now has 3+ blocks in five straight games. The last Knick to do that was Patrick Ewing in 1993-94. See you in June, Golden State. Enjoy your Western Conference championship trophy.
- Few NBA viewing experiences are as vicariously authentic as watching Lance Thomas ball. He really is like if you could somehow make an avatar of yourself, stretch it out to 6’8” and see how it does out there. When he drives and gets any contact, any hint of contact, he curls up like a potato bug.
- Why do I love point centers so? Maybe it’s that they’re exceptions to a rule that doesn’t exist but easily could? Doesn’t it stand to reason there’s a dimension not far removed from our own where the founding ballers realized taller dudes who can pass are at an advantage, so bigs were bred to be distributors, means rather than ends? Vucevic is of that cosmos.
- In 1992 the Magic came to New York for the first matchup between Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal. I always remember the player of the game that night with 26 and 10 off the bench was Charles Smith. Something I didn’t remember: the two teams went 38-of-64 from the free throw line (tonight they went 39-of-52) and just 1-of-12 from downtown (tonight: 18-of-56). In ‘92 the Knicks only took two threes! Hubert Davis played 27 minutes and didn’t take any. The ‘90s were weird, man.
- David Lee was in attendance. The fiancee: “He is remarkably handsome.” She found this especially striking ‘cuz MSG re-played a clip of Lee from his early days as a Knick and let’s just say it never fails to amaze how much the right haircut can make the man.
- Ever have a player on an opposing team you get so used to being there you’re always a little surprised to realize he’s not? For me that’s the Magic and Jameer Nelson. He hasn’t played for Orlando since 2014. But every time I see a little dude bringing the ball up for them — tonight it was Augustin — my brain’s like “Nelson! Still?!”
- Speaking of Augustin: he’s part of a pretty cool NBA pattern. The Association has, at various points, included an A.J., a B.J., a C.J., a D.J., an E.J., a J.J., K.J., L.J., MJ, NJ, O.J. P.J., RJ, and a T.J.
- Clyde Frazier busted out an “amazing grace...in your face” tonight. Every now and then, he’s still got it.
Quoth jacoop: “Praise be.” Amen y amen. The Knicks could make it three in a row and four out of five when they host Cleveland Thursday. I’ma pray for y’all between now and then. Enjoy the cream.