Jeff Hornacek’s assessment of the Nets was complimentary, and tinged with a bit of envy.
“There’s no pressure on them whatsoever, so they’re just letting it go,” he said before Wednesday night’s game. “They’re playing to win and they’re not playing not to lose. They look like they’re having fun.”
Fun: a novel concept that seemed foreign to the Knicks when they entered the game. But by the time the final whistle blew on the Knicks’ rollicking, 110-96 comeback win over the Nets, it certainly seemed as if Carmelo Anthony and company may have learned a thing or two from their brothers from another borough.
“I just wanted to be in the game, be in the moment,” Anthony said. “That’s when things started to click for me.”
After a stagnant, tentative first half, the Knicks, led by Anthony, exploded in the second, erasing a 14-point deficit and finally invigorating a Madison Square Garden crowd that seemed to both fear and expect the worst. Anthony scored 14 of his 22 points in the final 3:46 of the third quarter, giving the Knicks a 72-71 lead going into the fourth. This, after he was held scoreless for the first 16:33 of the game.
Anthony’s reverse layup with 4:57 left in the third drew the Knicks within seven, and then he just kept going. He scored the Knicks’ next 12 points in a display so dominant that it looked like it was one of Phil Jackson’s most pleasant dreams.
He got plenty of help from the bench, which scored 25 of its 38 in the second quarter, led by Willy Hernangomez, who had 14.
“When you get momentum from a guy who’s just red hot and making tough shots, the other guys can kind of feel around and get to that open spot and get ready for an offensive rebound,” Hornacek said. “Melo making the shots also allowed us to set our defense.”
After that, it was if the Knicks (3-4) were reminded what they were capable of. Kristaps Porzingis scored 11 of his 21 points in the fourth as the Knicks benefitted from staggering Anthony, Porzingis and Derrick Rose down the stretch.
Brandon Jennings dished out a team-high 11 assists, and Rose scored 14 with four assists. Both contributed to holding the Nets to 11-for-40 shooting in the second half.
Justin Hamilton, who nailed a career-high five threes, scored 21 for the Nets (3-5), as did Brook Lopez.
“This is more first time ever being up close to a scorer like that,” Rose said. “I’ve never played with a player like Melo. So to be a part of it and to witness and I wasn’t on the floor at that time, but just seeing it. We can be very dangerous.”
It certainly didn’t look that way early, and there’s no downplaying how demoralizing a loss to the Nets would have been — a team with no expectations and, currently, no starting point guard with Jeremy Lin injured.
Hornacek noted before the game that “everyone thinks the sky is falling” around the Knicks, and there was certainly an air of despondency in the first quarter.
Joe Harris’ three with 6:45 left in the first gave the Nets a 14-12 lead and ignited an 11-0 run. The Nets shot 5-for-11 from downtown in the first quarter and 50 percent from the floor, generally outhustling and outplaying their big brother at every turn. They led 37-23 in the second quarter.
But that was before Anthony starting having fun in the way only Anthony can. “It’s kind of a zone that you get into,” Anthony said. “That third quarter was kind of another focus level — taking it up a notch.”
Added Rose: “We played hard. There’s nothing like winning in this city.”
And what’s more fun than that?