On the surface, it was just another garbage-time appearance for Jordan Hill, who entered Saturday night's 94-90 loss to the Pistons with the Knicks about to fall behind by 21. But it ended with Hill producing the most promising segment of basketball in his rookie season and making a case for another look this afternoon at the Garden against Detroit.
"This is my opportunity," Hill said, "my shot."
Not that Mike D'Antoni doesn't have enough players who believe they deserve to play (see: Larry Hughes and Eddy Curry), but Hill, the team's seldom-used 2009 lottery pick, could be just what the Knicks need as they reach the midpoint of the season. Al Harrington, who scored 31 points off the bench in Friday's loss to Toronto, has been slowed by knee soreness. Jonathan Bender was left on the bench Saturday night for the first time since he made his debut Dec. 18.
Hill entered Saturday night's game with 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter, and after a Detroit free throw, the Knicks trailed 77-56. The 6-10 forward had six points, three rebounds and a block in 12:50, but it was his energy in the paint that played a noticeable role in a 30-17 fourth quarter that turned a game on the verge of a blowout into one the Knicks had a chance to win. They moved to within two with 17.9 seconds to play on Danilo Gallinari's three free throws.
Hill was able to counter Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva, who had been beating the Knicks inside with soft jump hooks, and also beat him on a nifty up-and-under move early in the fourth quarter. It was a play that had to have assistant coach Herb Williams beaming at his pupil's work.
With four losses in the last five games and a worn-down Harrington looking slow on defense, D'Antoni may tinker with his eight-man rotation. Hill fit well next to David Lee because of his ability to block shots and hit the mid-range jumper.
"If he continues like that," D'Antoni said of Hill, "he'll get some more time."
Notes & quotes: Hughes' frustration with his lack of playing time was reiterated by his "it's a joke" statement after playing 8:24 Saturday. Team president Donnie Walsh doesn't consider Hughes' comments a concern or cause for action. "I understand the disappointment the kid's going through," Walsh said. "If Mike and I sat down and it was bad enough, we might consider something. But so far we haven't done that." . . . In the last two games, Lee has missed completing a triple-double by one assist (25 points, 14 rebounds and 26 points, 17 rebounds). The Knicks have had 80 triple-doubles in team history, but none since Latrell Sprewell (28 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) did it vs. Orlando on Feb. 28, 2003.