Despite their best efforts to choke away a 17 point, 4th quarter lead the Knicks flew out of Minnesota on Wednesday night with their first road victory in nearly a month. Strangely enough, the league had scheduled the only other matchup between these teams this season for just two nights later, meaning fans had barely finished digesting the awesome Karl Towns-Porzingis “Kumite!” before gearing up for round 2.
Lost in the shuffle of Towns’ 47 point, 18 rebound game (70% shooting from the field! 17 for 20 from the line!) was Porzingis acquitting himself marvelously in Minnesota. The young Latvian torched the T’Wolves in the first half, picking-and-popping for three and showing off a feathery running hook shot. While pretty much every Knick went ice cold after Hornacek took out his go-go Euro line-up with 8 minutes left in the game, it was Porzingis throwing down a monster put-back dunk that broke New York’s scoring draught and stuffing Towns on a key defensive possession. Carmelo may have stolen the show with his second knock-down dagger of the week, but it was 2015’s 4th overall pick and the Knicks’ young, exciting bench that ultimately made the difference in that game.
After the thrilling last-second finish, and a couple of days for the internet to percolate on the NBA’s next great big man rivalry, it was safe to expect another great matchup on Friday. For as amazing as both sophomores were on Wednesday, they spent very little time guarding one another; with Joakim Noah set to miss another game for god knows what injury, and Towns bulldozing his way through the Knicks’ back-up bigs, maybe the contest would gain another degree of excitement as the two faced off against each other in earnest.
Instead, Kyle O’Quinn had the game of his life, absolutely manhandling the Wolves on the boards and finishing pretty much everything he received within 5 feet of the basket. It could have been the demoralizing rebounding of the Knicks, his two quick fouls in the first quarter, or the very Thibodeau-esque 41 minutes that Towns played the game before, but the guy pretty much turned into a ghost in the first half and New York led the Wolves by 10 at the break. In fact, other than Zach LaVine trying to ball his way out of recent trade rumors and an unceasing Timberwolf parade to the free throw line in the third quarter, the Knicks thoroughly outplayed these guys over the course of the 48.
Because Justin Holliday got the start for the injured Courtney Lee, the on-off splits don’t look great for the Knicks’ bench. And, while the eye test might support this as well with Melo and the rest of the starters CARVING up the shaky Minnesota defense, it’s hard to quantify the kind of big-play excitement that happens whenever Brandon Jennings checks into the game. Kuzminskas may not have had the same kind of net scorching outburst as Wednesday, but with him filling in admirably as a back-up three and Lance Thomas finally returning from his plantar fasciitis for a few minutes, this back-up unit is poised to round into a group that can hold, or even extend, leads. Hell, if Hornacek can keep this up AND convince Joakim Noah to swap his starting spot with O’Quinn, they could be the best in the league.
Of course, this is still the Knicks and even a home matchup against the league’s 23rd ranked defense is no gimme. New York could have easily blown this one as well, with Porzingis playing arguably his worst game of the season, were it not for the scoring heroics of Carmelo Anthony. Outside of his game winner, Melo had had a rough game in Minnesota to follow up an absolute clunker home against the Thunder. On Friday night, though, he was transcendent, scoring 29 points on 45% shooting (5-10 from distance and a +22 on the night). Rose did a decent Robin impersonation to this scoring outburst, but you can’t help but wonder how deadly these guys would be if all of their stars are clicking on the same night. With a juicy matchup coming Sunday against the Sacramento Kings defense, maybe this is the night they start to get on that track. Hell, the bottom of the East is wide open right now.