Despite a given team’s hunger to compete on a nightly basis, it’s hard to say there are many “must win” games played in November. The NBA season is still young and there’s plenty of basketball to be played with time and room to grow, so this point in the campaign shouldn’t be filled with as much pressure. Still, for a developing group like the Knicks, defeating an opponent on a horrific losing streak, all while putting the end to any bleeding from a demoralizing loss of their own (see Friday night vs. the Raptors) goes a long way toward helping the team gain some much needed confidence.
This is why New York’s 107-85 victory over the Clippers (now losers of 9 straight) on Monday night was so important.
The game started off like many others during Kristaps Porzingis’ recent cold streak. The big man’s shot was flat in the first quarter and he struggled to score the ball while absorbing contact from a physical Los Angeles defense. New York failed to develop much rhythm on the offensive end with their star still in an evident funk. Luckily enough, despite hitting the hardwood with plenty of physicality, the Clippers were shooting bricks out of the gate as well. With both teams struggling, it became incredibly tricky for either side to establish much of a pace to the game. The Knicks shot under 40% in the opening period, and the duo of Porzingis and Enes Kanter was no match for Blake Griffin down low. As his team struggled to convert from the field, Griffin worked his way inside to help Los Angeles jump out to an eight point lead by the second quarter.
Though the Knicks were trailing and the hole looked poised to get even deeper, Jeff Hornacek struck again. The Knicks’ head coach continued proving himself as the perfect puppet master, pulling the right strings and making the right moves to ensure his team stormed its way back. With Tim Hardaway Jr. dealing with foot pain and struggling from downtown, Doug McDermott was plugged in and played his role to perfection. The sharpshooter nailed five daggers from deep in the game, and was without a doubt a catalyst during New York’s 14-0 run in the second quarter. Clearly pumped up to watch McDermott successfully let it fly, the Knicks began playing with an extra pep in their step. Courtney Lee hit some key shots en route to adding 10 points, but his impact went far beyond that. As the perfect glue guy, Lee has been crashing the boards and doing the subtle things, like making a well choreographed pass or applying defensive pressure, to help his team chug along. One could also argue that this was Jarrett Jack’s best game as a Knick. When the offense fell stagnant, he stepped up to knock down necessary shots. When McDermott checked in, Jack had the perfect pulse on the game and knew an energy boost from the reserve was exactly what his team needed to climb back. Needless to say, Jack got him the ball rather quickly. The floor general finished with 11 points and 7 assists.
As New York took a firm hold of the game and maintained control, both Porzingis and Kanter came alive. Finishing with 25 points, Porzingis battled his way back to assert his own physicality. He used his length and agility to catch the Clippers’ defense off guard. Once he developed just a tad bit of continuity, there was truly no stopping him. The 22 year old led the Knicks with 25 points, and the key to his scoring explosion was his aggressiveness. Porzingis sank all nine shots from the charity stripe. Second chance points became a big theme in the second half with Kanter getting his groove back. The center tallied yet another double-double, adding 12 points and 16 boards — 6 of which came on the offensive glass.
Key substitutions and each player’s ability to come through in the clutch and pick one another up helped the Knicks power through this one. This is the type of victory that can help the team continue building camaraderie because of the way they came together. Once things started to click, it proved nearly impossible to shake New York out of its respective rhythm.