On a day when team president Phil Jackson declared in a published report that he is sticking to his plan for rebuilding the Knicks, whether it works or not, coach Jeff Hornacek made an executive decision to bench one of Jackson’s prized acquisitions. And the result was a much-needed win.
With center Joakim Noah, their $72-million free agent, watching from the bench, the Knicks produced a monster third quarter and rolled to a 93-77 victory over the Dallas Mavericks Monday night at the Garden.
After Noah went scoreless and grabbed six rebounds in 15 minutes of play in the first half, Hornacek went small, bringing in Justin Holiday and shifting Carmelo Anthony to power forward and Kristaps Porzingis to center.
The group produced what might have been the Knicks’ best offensive quarter of the season. They outscored the Mavericks 31-12 in the third quarter after scoring only 36 points in the first half. Anthony had 17 of his 24 points in the quarter. Holiday scored seven points, including a three-pointer that gave the Knicks a 10-point lead.
“We tried to open it up a little bit with KP at the five, tried to get the smaller guys in there to see if they could give us a jolt, and they did,” Hornacek said. “We went with a smaller group. It’s nothing Joakim did or did not do.”
Hornacek said he is not thinking of tinkering with the starting lineup, though he added that the team might go small more frequently just to mix things up.
Noah, a defensive-minded center who battled injuries in his final season with the Bulls before coming to the Knicks, did not play in the second half.
“The second half was really good. The coach made the decision to play small. I didn’t get to play,” Noah said. “Everybody wants to play, but it’s good that we won and we found a way to get a much-needed win.”
Porzingis finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds as the Knicks (4-6) won for the first time in three games. Holiday totaled 16 points, shooting 6-for-7. The Mavericks (2-7) were led by Harrison Barnes’ 20 points.
Although the Mavericks were missing Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams, the Knicks’ biggest concern entering the game continued to be defense. They entered the game with the 26th-ranked defense in the league, allowing an average of 109.9 points.
Hornacek believes that part of the problem, especially with the starting unit, is that they aren’t always in a position to execute their help defense.
“There’s good spurts and bad spurts,” he said. “In the starting group, you are playing against the top guys in the league. Sometimes as a defender you say, I got to get close to my guy and don’t let him score because he’s such a great player. But then you are out of the team defensive concept. And even if you are guarding a great player, you still have to be in a help spot and go out to that guy.”
Notes & quotes: Knicks reserve Lance Thomas sat out with a bone bruise in his left ankle. Thomas told reporters before the game that he also has plantar fasciitis in both feet . . . Jackson upset LeBron James’ business manager on Monday by referring to James’ business associates as a posse. Tweeted Maverick Carter: “All the hard work and achievement and [Phil Jackson] still calls us a ‘posse’ every step you take they remind you, you ghetto.” Carter later tweeted that he was not saying Jackson “is racist, I’m calling out his disrespectful language.”