Helloooo Glimmer of Optimism!
Despite their best efforts to throw away a close one down the stretch to the Pistons, the Knicks are now winners of the last three at the Garden and looking positively frisky.
Sitting front and center of that success is their 21 year old Latvian goofball, who exploded on Wednesday night for a career high 35 points. Three triples, seven boards, the ridiculous sprinting oop above, and a +16 on the game, Porzingis had the crowd chanting MVP and was dapping up courtside fans as he ran the break after a nasty rejection. And, while the tweaked ankle that kept Andre Drummond out of Monday’s game against the Thunder may still have been bothering him, it’s more likely that Detroit had to sit their star big man down the stretch of a close game because he just couldn’t stay on the court against the Knicks’ budding superstar.
New York has also been utilizing Porzingis in new ways, excising Joakim Noah from the rotation completely during the second half of the Mavericks game and goosing up their bench unit with the Euro menace on Wednesday. Apart from the final possession, they also closed the game against Detroit small, utilizing their three guards in Rose, Jennings, and Lee next to KP and Melo, entrusting the big man to protect the rim from a team that had smoked them previously. The Rambis defensive project still needs work, as Detroit shot nearly 50% from the field and kept pace down to the final open look they created for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the buzzer, but if Porzingis continues to play at this level, the Knicks will be able to compete with all the als0-rans the Eastern Conference has to offer.
New York has also gotten significant bench contributions in the last couple of games from Jennings, Kyle O’Quinn, and Justin Holiday, who was labeled a complete throw-in in the Derrick Rose trade. O’Quinn is always good for a modicum of rebounding and rim-protection, but he also registered a few assists in this game, diming up the high-energy Maurice N’Dour and playing strong defense on Drummond. Holliday was impressive as well, using his length to get in passing lanes and attack the rim; if he can continue to hit spot-up threes at a league average rate, he’s an absolute steal on his 1-year, $1 million contract. During the broadcast, Mike Breen made the point that Jeff Hornacek is still in the process of learning the team and optimizing the rotations. He’s shown the willingness to bench a career starter in Noah, and he’s continuing to get creative with a bench that has too many intriguing players to be underperforming as badly as they have.
The Knicks have more tests coming on their schedule; they leave tonight to fly into D.C for a back-to-back and then host two playoff teams in three days early next week. And, while they haven’t been a group that has been able to string together more than three or four wins in row, there’s a good atmosphere in the Garden right now. If Hornacek can use some of this bench depth to prop up his starters and manage minutes, and Porzingis continues to put on a show, this team should be able to keep those MVP chants coming.