Photo Credit: USA Today
NEW YORK — Coach Hornacek finally found a lineup that works. After a putrid first half where the Knicks managed only 36 points, Hornacek bench Joakim Noah and inserted Kristaps Porzingis at center, helping to ignite 30-12 third quarter that powered the Knicks to a much-needed 93-77 victory at Madison Square Garden. Will this lineup work every night? No, but it showed the unlimited potential of Porzingis when he doesn’t have to chase stretch 4s.
1st HALF SLEEPWALKING: With Dirk Nowitki and Deron Williams both out, you figured this would be an easy night for the Knicks. Instead they labored mightily on both ends. Harrison Barnes ran amuck for 16 first half points as Porzingis struggled to keep up with him off screens. Derrick Rose had to be benched with two fouls in the first. The Knicks trailed 23-15 after the opening quarter, shooting just 4/13 from the field. Melo was completely flat and shot 1-6 from the field.
The second unit, sporting Porzingis as the main offensive option, slowly got the Knicks back in it. KP had a sweet crossover and pullup jumper to get the Knicks within three (28-25). Nonetheless, the ball was sticking too much, and New York could only manage 5 assists and trailed 39-36 at the half.
EUREKA!: Hornacek hit pay dirt by sliding KP to center and inserting Justin Holiday in the starting lineup at power forward. Porzingis’ length and agility allowed him draw three fouls in the third on Andrew Bogut and force him to the bench with four fouls. And Holiday was able to not only keep up with Barnes, but get his own offense working via mid-range jumpers, cutting to the basket, and three pointers (16 points).
Everyone benefited from the floor spread. Melo looked like a new person out there, dropping a blistering 17 points in the third to push the Knicks to a double-digit lead going into the fourth.
OFFENSE AND DEFENSE: New York continued pouring it on the fourth. Melo and KP had their own scoring duel trading three-pointers. Porzingis also got busy in the post abusing smaller defenders and even paid homage to Dirk with a one-legged, turnaround bank shot. Melo and KP both finished with 24 points. Porzingis also added 11 rebounds.
More impressive than the offense was the defense. For the first time this season, the Knicks held an opponent under 80 points. There was no free throw disparity tonight — the Knicks made 16/18 free throws while holding the Mavs to 8/11 from the line.
Yes, we beat up on a depleted Mavs squad. But the Knicks had a continuity we haven’t seen since the Bulls win. They’ll need the same effort when we look for revenge on Wednesday against the Pistons.