In his recent interview with KnicksJournal.com, Michael Rapaport reminisced while calling Charles Oakley “the ultimate goon.” Despite his post-career drama with the Knicks, there’s no denying that Oakley played with attitude and that he has always there to support and stand up for his teammates.
It’s been a long time since New York had someone with that kind of flare. On Monday night, Enes Kanter emerged to suggest he could fill a similar role moving forward. Upon scoring a basket and readying to head down court, the Cavaliers’ LeBron James bumped and attempted to back down Frank Ntilikina. Following a couple of shoves from the rookie, Kanter came to his defense and got in James’ face. The crowd went wild, continuing to boo James each time he received the ball. Clearly ready to defend Ntilikina’s honor following James’ pre-game comments, the Knicks came in prepared to fight. It became an added bonus that they were able to feed off the crowd’s energy and the excitement level in The Garden.
The arena was rocking. Logging 20 points and 7 rebounds has, refreshingly enough, come to represent what is considered a down game for Kristaps Porzingis. His struggled to find his rhythm from the field as Cleveland bullied him with a more physical effort down low. Much like they did for Ntilikina, Porzingis’ teammates came to support him with impressive on-court production. Tim Hardaway had one of the best games of his career with 28 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. Kanter provided the force down low, manning the boards and adding 20 points and 16 rebounds. Courtney Lee and Lance Thomas provided defensive intensity and veteran leadership, as evidenced by each one coming to Ntilikina’s aid during the skirmish. The youngster was an absolute pest and sparked many of his team’s scoring opportunities by coming up with 6 steals.
Such an electrifying atmosphere provided a window into the great potential the Knicks have to build on. They fired on all cylinders, and any additional heat from Porzingis would have sealed the deal. The opportunity is there to compete, even with the elite teams in the NBA. But alas, such a positive showing didn’t result in a victory this time around.
Instead, New York’s intensity wavered as the Cavaliers came roaring back. A 23 point lead evaporated as James emerged to attack the basket with ease, flexing, posing, and pumping his fists with each passing bucket. He set a certain tone in the fourth quarter, deflating the Knicks and allowing Kyle Korver to explode for a 19 point period. His timely and clutch hooping helped Cleveland edge out New York, 104-101, by the time the final buzzer sounded.
For teams with a clear vision of making the playoffs, it’s difficult to leave room for moral victories. As good as the Knicks have looked early on, this season is more about development than anything else. The team and its still growing core showed its true colors on a night like this. Despite the defeat, this game is absolutely something that the group can build upon and come out better for it. This kind of effort will help them come together moving forward.